Miss Beachcomber Salon

Bill Tobias and Robert Miles Runyon, Communication Arts magazine, November 1961

Miss Beachcomber Salon of Beauty, 1961

As I rearranged my books again (again being the operative word as it happens too often), I found an issue of CA magazine from November, 1961. First, I loved the cover. So much that I considered never sharing it as I may need to "appropriate" it at some point. Then I found an ad that is truly interactive. The cow is on one page with die cut eyes. The two dots on the following page make the pupils. So simple. No coding needed.

There is a logo with a dead dog, heavyset mermaid illustration, hipster tattoos before hipsters existed, and several other wonderful finds.

I love how un-tortured this work is. None of it feels desperate or is trying to be hipper than any other piece of graphic design ever. It just is. Almost as if someone enjoyed doing the work rather than pulling out hair, smoking endless cigarettes, staying up for several days, then explaining the solution in a six paragraph document. After all, how can you remain earnest and deeply ironic when making pipe smoke with eighty-eights?

Lester Beall, International Paper, 1961

Arnold Varga, Cox's, 1961

Left: Paul Hauge, Miss Beachcomber Salon of Beauty, 1961
Right: Al Parker, McCall's magazine, 1961

Milton Glaser, Tru-Balance, 1961

R. E. Brickner, Footwear News, 1961

Left: Ed Kysar, 1961
Right: Morton Goldsholl, 1961

Saul Bass, First America Corporation, 1961

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.

Design Sexy Time

Paul Hesse photo  

When I was in college, a visiting artist gave a presentation on "Sex in Advertising." As this was in the midst of the women's art movement and high critical thinking, the audience expected a relentless assault on the horrors of sexuality in advertising and design. Instead, the artist presented an intelligent examination. She discussed issues such as objectification, subjugation, and patriarchy. But she also talked about less black and white points like seduction, human nature, beauty, and the power of primary impulses such as sex and eating. When she turned from the attitude du jour of the evils of sex and began to explore the possibility that sex might be positive, the audience responded with outrage. They stomped out of the theater in disgust and fury. It was like a stampede of crazed buffalo.

Of course, sex in design can be detrimental and negative. But are there instances when it works? Is it okay to like a poster or ad because it is "hot." For some reason, a large proportion of older male designers in the 1960s and 70s retired and made fine art that was really just thinly disguised soft core porn. Henry Wolf used imagery that might work in Playboy on mainstream advertising.

I've always liked the definition that "good" is about creation and construction, "evil" is about destruction and making someone "less than." Perhaps this is the filter to view this type of work. Is the subject glorified and celebrated, or minimized and objectified?

Milton Glaser

Henry Wolf

Advertising 1950s

Navy Recruitment poster, WWII

Henry Wolf

J.C. Leyendecker

Colin Forbes

J.C. Leyendecker

Tadanori Yokoo

Victor Moscoso

Robert Brownjohn

Men's Fashion, 1978

Peter Behrens

Aubrey Beardsley

A Magic Kingdom

In recent years, I’ve been concerned I was out of touch. Well, that goes without saying. A common house-cat has more hip-ness than me. But I thought the new generation only cared about working collaboratively, denying the artifact, and deriding more seasoned designers. When I was in my twenties I loved going to a conference and meeting a hero like Milton Glaser. I was thrilled when I received a letter informing me I won an award, or that a book was selected for the AIGA 50 Book show. Contrary to standing opinion, young designers still care about these things. They want community, recognition, individual vision, and love the beauty of artifacts. I cannot express how happy this makes me. All the hogwash research that painted the millennial generation as mindless automatons blindly walking down a road of Borg assimilation with an iPhone in hand is wrong.

Which segues, as usual for this blog, into a crazed left turn. I love these postcards and preview book for Walt Disney World. I don’t love it because it is about the design of meetings or strategy or collaborative teamwork. I love it because it is wonderful. When can you combine teal, ochre, and baby blue? When people discuss the great American experiment, this is it. The freedom to design a booklet with completely wrong colors and make them work. For me, the WDW preview book is design in a nutshell. It serves a purpose, it creates excitement and joy, it promotes an idea and product, it does this is unexpected ways. It talks to me personally. And it has one wacky grid.

So this is my call to action. When you are told that individual vision is irrelevant, or recognition of individual is wrong, or the world no longer needs beauty or heroes, just say no. These are not true. Design can create wonder and joy. Individuals do this, not committees of fifty people.

Walt Disney World Preview, 1970

Looking Back

And now, back to something about plain old graphic design. Down in the basement of AIGA National Design Center in New York is an old vault. The vault is filled with amazing treasures from the history of AIGA since the early 20th century. Most of these pieces were designed by some of the most prominent designers of the time, and celebrate the profession at a specific moment in history. It’s a good measure of “high design” of each era.

Every designer is told that work should be timeless. But that’s impossible. Design is not Darwinian; it doesn’t get better as the world evolves. We are products of our time and place on this planet. I don’t believe I’m doing better work than someone in 1970 just because it’s 40 years later. I don’t worry too much about “timeless” design, which is probably fairly obvious for those thinking I’m still in 1962. To me, these pieces are as incredible today as they were when they were produced. Actually, they’re probably considered better today, because someone down the street isn’t saying, “Ooh, I hate that guy. His work sucks, and I hear he yells at his employees. This poster ain’t that good.”