Please Remain Seated

I was cleaning out my garage yesterday and a neighbor stopped by to say hello. The door of my garage leads into my rumpus room (yes it's knotty pine, no we don't play bridge in there). There are several Disneyland attraction posters in the rumpus room and she saw them on the wall. "Oh, I love your posters," she said, "I mean I really, really love them." I thanked her and then worried she might come back with a weapon.

This happens anytime anyone sees them. Even hardened academic post-modern/critical theory obsessed designer types like them. "Hmm, that isn't bad, I guess," they say.

Why is that? First, they are remarkably well designed. Second, they're big and people like big things. Third, they remind the viewer of a good experience. And finally, they tap into the common iconography of travel and adventure.

So, let's start with the influences. The Disneyland Hotel poster (above) borrows arrows from Beall's Rural Electrification poster, and geometric shapes from Russian Constructivism.

Clearly the WPA National Parks posters informed the design of many of the Disneyland attraction posters. The illustration style is representational. Larger than life scale defines the space. Dramatic lighting and bold colors dominate. The Grand Canyon Diorama poster is a close cousin to the See America poster.

Early American modernism, ala Lester Beall and Joseph Binder, is related with stylistic elements such as arrows and the use of implied perspective created with scale. The Skyway poster's perspective employs the same device of extreme scale as the Binder Air Corps U.S. Army poster.

The idea of a strong foreground combined with a distant vista links the Frontierland and The National Parks WPA poster. The color choices in both examples veer from the expected, a sunny blue sky or water, to more dramatic options such as an orange sky on the WPA poster and ochre water on the Frontierland poster. Flat color and simple shapes define a silkscreened process in both examples.

Most important, however, is the inclusion of narrative. The posters promise a story. They exhibit bobsledding with super tan people, dangling from a thin wire on a gondola, or braving wild animals through the Grand Canyon Diorama. Each poster conveys a sense of time, place, and typically makes the viewer part of the action.

Yes, this has been an adventure through a serious dissertation on Disneyland attraction posters. But there is no cause for alarm. We have concluded this post, and future posts will return to less words.








Alla buona derrata, pensaci su.

I like Switzerland. It's hellishly expensive and a beer costs $20, but as they say, the trains run on time and the design is nice. Once  in awhile a young designer will ask me, "Don't you think everything would be better if there were standards for all signage and information. Maybe everything could be in Univers?" But, that would end up recreating Switzerland. I like the weird hand-drawn signs on my neighborhood botanica, and the awful use of Hobo at the Boho Café.

Max Huber managed to marry the elegance and simplicity of Swiss modernism with the vibrancy and expression of play. He was born in Switzerland, then emigrated to Italy. The Italian spirit of la vita e bella (life is beautiful) wove its way into Huber's Swiss grids and black and red color palette. His work has joy, exuberance, and a touch of chaos. Like a day in Rome. The colors are vibrant, pure, and aggressive.

I didn't know Max Huber. He died in 1992. But I imagine a dinner with him to be filled with too much wine, wonderful stories, and risqué jokes. I like Herbert Bayer too, but I don't think dinner with him would have been as fun.

Sideways

Gan Hosaya, 1969, ad  

There are times when a project just looks bad, like dog crap. I slave over it endlessly, and then I realize all it needs is to be turned on its side or upside down. Voila, it works. That's the issue when you don't print anything out and only see it on a screen. Sure you can turn your screen upside down or turn it on its side, but that could result in dropping it. The easiest solution is to send a file to print and than flip that baby around in all directions. What was once banal and expected becomes avant-garde and unsettling.

I love work that is sideways or upside down. It gets away from the standard point of view that we have in everyday life which is straight on from about 5 or 6 feet tall. Miraculously, you can see a different view from above or below, or lying on the ground and seeing the world on its side. This is why God gave people bendable joints. Photography at the Bauhaus in the 1920s and 30s took advantage of this ad-nauseum. It was as if everyone there was climbing up the walls and hanging from the balconies. But the images are wonderful.

Posters and ads with moving vehicles are especially adaptable to this technique. Gan Hosaya's 1969 poster for Yamaha is one of my absolute favorite pieces of design ever produced. Think how dull it might have been if he simply let the image be turned 90 degrees. So the next time you're out taking photos, climb up on a table and shoot everyone from above. You'll be asked to leave, but end up with a snappy photo that isn't the same head and shoulders of someone holding a drink.

 

Martin Munkasci, 1935

Diving at the Valley Baths, Brisbane, Queensland, 1938

Paul Rand, Apparel Arts cover

Herbert Matter, 1935

Carl Ally Agency, ad, 1960s

Carl Ally Agency, ad, 1960s

Max Huber, 1957

Max Huber, 1948

Joseph Binder, Graphis magazine, 1948

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, 1926

Art Direction

 

There is a rather severe difference of opinion about using a cliché in the design world. I like them. They are clichés because we all understand them. As long as the idea is presented in an unexpected way, it’s all good with me. An arrow is cliché. “Oh, Sean,” I’ve heard, “Arrows are so 20th-century.” But, why be oblique and complicated when it is so easy to point someone in the right direction?

Arrows are wonderful because they are symbols that command. The viewer is not being asked, “Would you prefer to turn right, perhaps?” An arrow screams, “TURN RIGHT! TURN NOW!” How many other symbols can do that? Lester Beall introduced me to the wonderful world of arrows. Not, Lester, personally, but through Lou Danziger’s vast historical knowledge. At a time when design was racing faster toward more is more with less and less clarity, the arrow was a revelation. The zeitgeist of that time was , "make less with more." I wanted to make more with less (follow me? More meaning, less stuff.). I could put an arrow on a poster next to a headline and the viewer would read this first. Who knew?

Unfortunately, arrows are a temptation. Like all wonderful things, too much is not good. Judicious usage is needed. As Groucho Marx said: “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.”