Watching Glass

I have a bad habit of buying the same item repeatedly. It's not as if I decide I need a few of the same shirt. I forget I have these items and keep buying more. I have a massive amount of khakis and blue Sperry sneakers. Each time I see them I think, "Hmm, now those are pretty nice." I have every possible kind of madras shirt, as if anyone would notice one from the other. And I have way too many eyeglasses. There is a store in Pasadena, Old Focals, which is rather like a heroin den would be to others. I keep buying the same few styles of glasses over and over. Just this morning, I thought, "I like those glasses Harry Hamlin wears on Mad Men. I need to go get me some of those." Of course, I already have several just like them.

And why vintage glasses? I can't get on board with some of those groovy new styles. I don't want to look like I'm a DJ or hip-hop star, although it's doubtful anyone would make that error. If sturdy eyebrow glasses were good enough for my grandfather, and thick simple frames worked for Cary Grant, that's good enough for me.

The Commercial with a Sensayuma

Being in advertising on television is hard. Darrin on Bewitched was in advertising. I recall a campaign of insects walking into a bank with this tagline, “Even the little people matter at Bank Such and Such.” At 8 I knew this was a bad ad campaign. Insects are creepy, and the subtext of the message is patronizing at best. On Mad Men, Don Draper won an award for a commercial with a tiny chuck wagon. I assume this is based on the Chuck Wagon commercial from 1970. Recently, Peggy described an ad with a ballet of beans. I assume this shift is talking about the changes in advertising from the 1950s through the 1960s.

When I’m teaching, I show a 1958 Edsel ad to explain a boring ad. It’s a photo of a car and the copy tells me it’s a car. On the other end of the spectrum is a campaign like the Levy’s Rye Bread campaign from 1964. I see the product, but the copy asks me to do some work. It relies on the viewer’s cultural knowledge. It demystifies a product that might be considered exotic in 1964. And the final takeaway is a sense of humor and success. “Oh, I get it, the policeman must be Irish.” If you ad the fact that most ads in 1964 had a whole bunch of white people and nobody else, these are even more striking. So, why now do I see current ads that show me a car and read, “This is a car.”

Directions from Right to Left

You might have noticed a “Goldwater in ‘68” sign in a window on the Mad Men premier. This may seem trivial, but is part of a more convoluted story. For those youngsters in the room, Barry Goldwater was a conservative Republican Senator from Arizona. He ran for President in 1964 against President Lyndon Johnson. My grandparents, as life-long Republicans, called Goldwater a true conservative for my entire life. They appreciated his stand on conservative issues while rejecting the evangelical right. Lyndon Johnson was the Vice President under Kennedy. He became President after Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. Johnson won the presidency in one of the largest landslides in history.

Obviously there are multiple points of view on the campaign and results. But many consider the “Daisy” commercial to be one of the most successful campaign ads in history. Tony Schwartz at Doyle Dane Bernbach created this commercial in 1964. The ad, made for the Johnson campaign, implied that Goldwater would lead the United States into a nuclear war. The ad aired only once and was pulled after it was deemed unfairly inflammatory.

Now, back to Mad Men. This gets complicated. The Goldwater in ’66 sign is in the window of the ad agency Young and Rubicam where water balloons are dropped on African-American protesters below. Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This led to Goldwater winning states in the Deep South, but losing everywhere else. Later in the episode, Henry Francis tells someone on the phone to not appear with Governor George Romney in Michigan. Henry Francis’ character previously used to work for Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Rockefeller also ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1964 and refused to support Goldwater. This caused uproar at the 1964 Republican convention. And you thought this bog was just about pretty stuff.

Aloha Oy

I’m sure many of you watched Pan Am on Sunday night. Many of us watched it, not for plot or character, but for details. Beside the odd Doctor Who Tardis issue (the inside of the Boeing 707 grew into a wide-body 747), many of the details were correct. The on-board graphics and set design were as obsessive to detail as Mad Men.

As I watched Pan Am, I thought a better program would be Aloha! It would be the same idea, but set in 1976 and on Aloha Airlines. Think about it, you get Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Pan Am, and Mad Men all rolled into one. Aloha is, unfortunately, no longer flying. The reasons cited are economic pressure due to September 11, competition on inter-island flights, and increasing gas costs. I, however, believe the trouble began the minute Aloha dropped its fantastic identity. How can Bookman Swash ever be wrong? They made the tragic, yet typical error, of “updating” when they would have been the hippest airline if they waited a couple of years

And Now for Some High Culture

Now we are traveling from 1970 and hot pink notepads to eighteenth century Japan. There is a scene on Mad Men when Bert Cooper (Robert Morse) shows everyone his new Japanese print, The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife by Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾北斎, 1760–May 10, 1849). This is the erotic print of a woman and her favorite octopus at play. Hokusai was an artist and printmaker during the Edo period. He was a genius at utilizing traditional Japanese methods and introducing western art concepts. At first glance, it may seem that these are simply traditional Japanese ukiyo-e prints.

Hopefully, this won’t seem like a Wednesday afternoon in art history when everyone falls asleep, but I’m going to explain some of the reasons why Hokusai is so amazing. His most famous print, The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, is a perfect example. He uses the western approach to perspective; a small Mt. Fuji expresses distance. The wave in the foreground echoes the shape of Mt. Fuji. This is contrary to traditional Asian methods that show perspective by layering objects on top of each other. The most distant objects are at the top of the page and are not smaller. He also introduces working class fisherman, also a western concept, as opposed to representing only the nobility.

I love the sense of wind expressed so delicately in Ejiri in Suruga Province (Sunshū Ejiri). The simple line used to draw Mt. Fuji allows the air to feel light and active. And Blind Men With An Elephant taken from Hokusai’s notebooks is beautiful, light, and humorous. Now you may be asking, “What the hell does this have to do with anything?” For me, this work ties together so many wonderful elements that I admire: craft, levity, minimalism, innovation, and experimentation. See, that wasn’t so bad. Not at all like those sleepy afternoons in Art History.

Sentimental Journey

One of the things I love most about Mad Men is that we know what is coming. We knew that November 22, 1963 was a bad date for Roger’s daughter’s wedding. We know that Don’s daughter, Sally, is destined for counter-culture rebellion in 1968. Reading The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is the same. Sloan Wilson’s 1955 novel follows Tom Rath as he tries to find direction in a materialistic post-war America. Clearly, much of Mad Men was derived from this. The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is remarkable because it stepped out of the conformity of the 1950s and asked how an individual could function post-World War II. How does someone go from killing an enemy with a knife and then sitting politely in the suburbs or in a corporate setting?

The book was made into a film with Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones in 1956. At a time when other films of the time, like It’s Always Fair Weather, are contrived and feel like a cartoon reality, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is authentic. It doesn’t shy away from issues; it doesn’t gloss over adultery, or depression. On the shallow side, it looks great. The set design is beautiful. This is what Mad Men would look like if it had the budget of an A-list Hollywood movie.

The Award Awards

AIGA 1962

Terry Lee Stone and I were talking about the good old days of competitions.  We both agreed that we loved all of the printed ephemera that was produced each year for either AIGA 365, or the New York Art Director’s Club Show, or Western Art Director’s Club. I know this is really, really bad. It’s not a sustainable practice, and the world is a more caring place now that we do these communications digitally. But, to be asked to design everything from the poster to the award certificate for one of these competitions was a choice project. When Lou Danziger was moving out of his studio, one of Frank Gehry’s first buildings, he called Noreen and me and asked if we wanted anything. We managed to walk away with a George Nelson H leg table, Lou’s custom wood flat files, a copy stand, and Lou’s box of awards. For 15 years, the awards been carefully archived away.

Now, they have been released and some are displayed here. I especially love the 1962 AIGA award, presumably designed by George Tscherny. The “XIX” award can be seen on the walls of Sterling Cooper on Mad Men. The green and pink NYADC club award from 1963 has the most incredible swirls. And, finally, the AIGA mailing label on the tube, I know Paul Rand designed the AIGA logo, and the multi-talented Bart Crosby refined it, but this is tempting.

ADLA as seen on Mad Men

NYADC 1963

AIGA mailing label


AIGA 1963

AIGA 1956

AIGA 1964

CA 1963


Take your shoes off, please

Bertram Cooper's office, Mad Men

Designers like distressed typography on the side of a building, hardware stores in foreign countries, vintage shopping bags, and Muji products. With few exceptions, I’ve found that many like Mad Men. Of course the plot and characters are interesting, but we can’t help ourselves when we notice the ads framed on the walls, Don Draper’s desk lamp, or the multi-colored doors at Sterling Cooper. The genius of the design is that it is not a pure snapshot of 1963. There are older items mixed in with the new ones. Nobody went out and bought everything brand new in June 1963. We all have favorite pieces. I love that there are New York Art Director’s Club awards from that time, and I really love Bertram Cooper’s Japanese inspired office. I need that. I should have it.








George Nelson, Edward Wormley, Eero Saarinen, Harry Bertoia, Charles Eames and Jens Risom Playboy Magazine, July 1961

The Color of Success

Mohawk Via, The Big Handbook

I was reading a post recently about a Mohawk project we at AdamsMorioka designed. “I love the pop sensibility,” read one of the comments, and the others followed suit. I imagine this is the mark of self-delusion, but I didn’t design the piece with that in mind. I just used colors I like. Backtracking, I found the page in my color notebook that I made when I was working on the project. As it turns out, I was guilty. There is a little note, “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” So I appropriated the color palette from the 1967 film. Coincidentally, Mary Blair, who designed It’s a Small World, was the color consultant in the credits. How often do movies have color consultants? The color combinations make the palettes unique: salmon and ochre, baby blue and burnt orange, magenta and avocado. And as a bonus, Robert Morse, who is the diamond of the Mad Men cast, is the leading man in a similar setting in the film. I am considering demanding that people take shoes off when they enter my office.

Robert Morse (Right), Mad Men

Sean Adams color notebook

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Mary Blair color

How to Suceed in Business Without Really Trying, Mary Blair color