Tight

Strathmore Archives


One of the most elusive skills for a designer is kerning. I am asked often, "How do I know if it's right yet?" regarding the kerning of a word or letterspacing in a paragraph. You know when it looks right. Which is like saying, "make it better," or "I know it's pornography if I think it is." It's frustrating for someone looking for a binary direction, good or bad. 

When I began my career, very open letterspacing was the fashion. It was the 1980s, and the combination of 1950s nostalgia, the introduction of a Basel aesthetic, and the rise of new wave demanded space. It was about optimism, whereas the ultra tight letterspacing of the 1960s and 70s seemed to be about commerce.

That tight letterspacing was more about technology. Photo-typesetting, introduced in the 1960s, allowed the designer to specify type that was touching. This wasn't possible when it was made with individual slugs of metal. Like all new technologies, such as a cool new Photoshop filter, everyone jumped all over it. The tighter letterspacing also allowed for larger typography. Using less real estate horizontally, a word could now be enlarged for more impact. This was especially popular in advertising when the name of the product could be even larger.

I like tight letterspacing. It makes me feel secure. Nothing is lucy goosey and about to fly away. And it kind of screams at the viewer, "13! Dammit."

Michael Manwaring, April Greiman, 1984


Massimo Vignelli

Massimo Vignelli

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/Lynda.com He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

Time for Time

I recently answered a question for a magazine article about focus. Oddly, Michael Vanderbyl told me about two international clients who insisted that he must, “f#%k us!” It was very important he, “f#%k us very hard!” Only later, after several awkward silent moments did he realize they meant “focus.”

Time, of course, is at the heart of the issue. Is there enough time before the deadline to focus on a solution? Can you carve out time during the day to not be interrupted? Does the email requesting another pdf. need to be answered immediately? For me, it’s easy. I can’t think about more than one thing at a time and am rather dull witted. So I have no choice. I must concentrate with no distractions to solve any problem.

I also realize that work expands to fill the time you give it. And nobody has run screaming into the path of a bus because they didn’t receive an email response about a paper issue. Time to think and concentrate uninterrupted is not a luxury; it’s a requirement, regardless of the profession.

Which brings us to this incredible promotion about Time designed by Massimo Vignelli and Peter Laundy fort Champion Paper in 1983. I’ve carted this promotion around with me since I received it in college. It’s a little dinged up, but one of the possessions I don’t allow away from my desk. And it took several hours today to photograph it, stitch the pages together in Photoshop, and post it to this blog. But, it’s important, so it deserved the time.

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/Lynda.com He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

Graphic Designer Basics

Designers 1

On Thursday night, I spoke at an AIGA event in San Diego. Several people asked me the question, "Where can I look to find examples of great design?" and "Is there a resource for finding all of the industry's history?" The first step is to get a good graphic design history book such as A History of Graphic Design 3rd Edition by Philip B. Meggs.

Then, I suggest designobserver.com, the aiga.org medalist page, and this site burningsettlerscabin.com. Also look at my Lynda.com/Linked In course Graphic Design History. These are a good introduction to learn about individual designers who had an impact.

Next, after finding someone interesting, dig in. Research everywhere and find out more than anyone else knows. I do that every time I find a piece I love.

Here, then is the first of several (meaning more to come) lists of designers everyone should know and explore (not in a dirty way). I'm keeping these (mostly) to dead people for now, so the living won't be up in arms about inclusion. Most of these are covered in other Burning Settlers Cabin posts, just search (on the left).

Saul Bass

 

Herbert Bayer

 

Lester Beall

 

Lucian Bernhard

 

A.M. Cassandre

 

Tibor Kalman

 

Marget Larsen

 

Herb Lubalin

 

Alvin Lustig

 

Herbert Matter

 

Reid Miles

 

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

 

Victor Moscoso/Fillmore Posters

 

Cipe Pineles

 

Paul Rand

 

Deborah Sussman

 

Bradbury Thompson

 

Jan Tschichold

 

Massimo and Leila Vignelli

 

Looking for Facts

Tsunehisa Kimura

Maybe some of you remember five years ago when the call to action for designers was the avalanche of information to come. The future would see information exponentially increasing. We would all be buried under masses of data and no way to interpret it. Designers could solve this and organize chaos into order.

The doomsday predictions were partially correct. We are buried under a mountain of information that relentlessly enters our lives. Between mobile devices and social media, we can find information on any subject, although it may not be correct. Rather than creating a culture of schizophrenia and shell shocked consumers of information, we all seem to deal with the avalanche with the answer, "so what? Yeah, I ignore most everything."

I have several books on diagrams and information design. My favorite was published in the early 1970s. The diagrams are so carefully planned and meant to be understood. The goal was to take information and make it easy to understand and digest. Today, I often see the goal to take easy to understand information and design a solution to make it seem more complex. Although I could just be getting dumber.

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/Lynda.com He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

1:1.61

Massimo Vignelli, 1971

Like most people, I like order. I prefer my desk to be neat and my books arranged correctly. I have recurring nightmares about a house with an incredibly messy hidden room. Consequently, I'm a sucker for Swiss design. It's that rational golden rectangle that is used relentlessly. I am in awe of the designer who was able to make everything sync so precisely. It must take days to map out every tiny detail to fit into the mathematically rigid grid absolutely perfectly.

Often, when I'm asked, "Sean, just how do you use the golden rectangle? Do I shove everything into it? What if my page size isn't A4?" I suggest that the designer use the golden rectangle as a loose guide. Drop it down, turn it on it's side, see what works best for you. Then adjust the layout so it relatively aligns to the grid. I know someone in Switzerland just threw themselves in front of a train after hearing that, but what else can we do in America with out hideous 8-1/2 x 11 page size?

In my view it's better to try to walk the straight and narrow with the golden section, even if you don't hit it perfectly. It's better than working willy nilly all over the place as if a squirrel was making layout decisions. Now some post-modernist just threw themselves in front of a bus.


Otl Aicher, Rolf Müller, 1972


Siegfried Odermatt


Rolf Müller, 1972


Gottschalk + Ash


E. + U. Hiestand


Carlo Vivarelli

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/Lynda.com He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

The Oldest Living Rubylith User

Several weeks ago, I was asked to do a short segment for the 25th Anniversary of Photoshop. It sounded fun until I was told I would need to demonstrate some of the tools used before Photoshop. First, this was an honor and scary at the same time. It was wonderful to be asked, but was I the last living designer who remembers what a rubylith was? And then the thought of showing how we used these tools after 25 years was challenging. But, what the heck? If I got any of it wrong, I was the last one alive to know.

During the shoot, I realized that the rapidographs weren't working and I didn't have a true square edge to the drafting table. I hoped that nobody would notice this. But I was surprised how quickly I recalled the process. I didn't have time to mix the rubber cement to the right consistency, or cut the ruby exactly (you'll know what that means if you are old). I liked how meditative the process was. It was slow and careful, a true craft. My hands even got dirty with ink and rubber cement boogers.

When I was finished with my demonstration, I kind of missed the old days of typesetting, the waxing machine, and the quiet concentration of making a mechanical. I recall going to AIGA events in New York in my early 20s. I would see Massimo Vignelli who was always kind and oddly remembered my name. He was flawless in his Massimo simple black and white clothes. Or Ken Carbone, who was also dressed in the most relentlessly crisp white shirts. I had my khakis, pink oxfords, and repp ties with bits of rubber cement, glue, and pieces of tape. I could never understand how everyone else stayed so clean. That was the true secret of life before Photoshop.

Obsessed

Recently, a young designer met with me and talked about obsession. "I'm worried it's wrong, but I get obsessed about something and can't stop," she said. She wasn't talking about Justin Bieber or heroin. She gave the example of string art. "I can't stop looking for it online and want to learn how to do it." Who doesn't?" was my reply.

I don't know where she heard that being obsessed was bad. Sure, if you're stalking someone and build a shrine with sacrifices for them you may have a problem. But I've been working on my OCD family tree for years and never tire of it. Paula Scher makes wonderful paintings of maps. Marian Bantjes works with pattern. Massimo Vignelli couldn't get enough Bodoni. Being obsessed is part of the job.

Ken Briggs was a British designer responsible for many of the beautiful posters for the National Theatre in London. Clearly, Briggs was obsessed with the New Typography, inspired after seeing a copy of Josef Müller Brockmann's Neue Grafik. The posters relentlessly use Helvetica, golden section proportions and grids. But, Briggs took the rigid rules and tweaked them with surprising color choices and offbeat photographic solutions. He added a dry British wit to a sterile approach.

Briggs didn't do this once, or for a couple of months. He did it over and over and over. And thank God for that obsession. The lesson here, obsession makes perfection.

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Magic Journeys

 

I'm a sucker for a nice map. A couple of years ago, I posted about Walt Disney World and Disneyland maps. As a nice by-product, we were then hired to design a new souvenir map for Disneyland. I can't show this to anyone due to the contract, but believe me, it's good. A kind follower of burningsettlerscabin recently sent me this remarkable map of Walt Disney World by Arthur de Wolf. Holy cheese and crackers, I am blown away. This is one of those times I find myself saying, "I wish I'd done that." It's reminiscent of Massimo's 1972 New York Subway map. Fortunately it isn't like the most confusing map I've ever used for the Tokyo Subway system. Try to figure that one out. Now I know why I see photos of passengers being shoved into trains in Tokyo. They obviously are all lost and endlessly changing trains to find the way home.

 

Time Time

I recently answered a question for a How magazine article about focus. Oddly, Michael Vanderbyl had just told me the best story about two international clients who insisted that he must, “f#%k us!” It was very important the he, “f#%k us very hard!” Only later, after several awkward silences did he realize they meant “focus.”

Time, of course, is at the heart of the issue. Is there enough time before the deadline to focus on a solution? Can you carve out time during the day to not be interrupted? Does the email requesting another pdf need to be answered immediately? For me, it’s easy. I can’t think about more than one thing at a time, and am rather dull witted. So I have no choice. I must concentrate with no distractions to solve any problem. I also realize that work expands to fill the time you give it. And nobody has run screaming into the path of a bus because they didn’t receive an email response about a paper issue. Time to think and concentrate uninterrupted is not a luxury; it’s a requirement, regardless of the profession.

Which brings us to this incredible promotion about Time designed by Massimo Vignelli and Peter Laundy fort Champion Paper in 1983. I’ve carted this promotion around with me since I received it in college. It’s a little dinged up, but one of the possessions I don’t allow away from my desk. And it took several hours today to photograph it, stitch the pages together in Photoshop, and post it to this blog. But, it’s important, so it deserved the time.

Mash-up o' Crap

I have a big plastic bin labeled “Favorite Things”. This bin is filled with; you guessed it, our favorite things. Every few months I go through the bin and weed out the garbage. It seems that the Favorite Things bin can become a dumping ground for any item that has no home. If you came into the office and found the bin, you would probably say, “Whoa, what a bunch of crap.” I imagine Michael Bierut’s Favorite Things bin filled with beautiful items designed by Massimo Vignelli, Paula Scher, and Woody Pirtle. Bill Drenttel and Jessica Helfand’s box has rare books by Paul Klee, Alvin Lustig, and Paul Rand. Michael Vanderbyl must have a box filled with a magnificent collection of classic black and white photography.

Our bin, as you can imagine, is filled with Dixie Cups, a piece of wallpaper with a repeat pattern of antique cars, 1972 maps of Berlin from a European Bus company, and other worthless artifacts. Today, I will begin the slow reveal of the items. Today’s mash-up of crap is a 1964 travel pack of Kleenex Tissues, a Technicolor brand envelope, a lovely package of napkin/guest towels, and a Dinah’s Fried Chicken menu. Don’t say you can’t find the height of western culture here at the cabin.