The Strange Case of the Designer

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What makes a graphic designer strange? Is it the obsessive attention to kerning on street signs, arguing whether PMS 172 is orange or red, or collecting odd scraps of paper on every European vacation? These may seem strange activities to civilians but they are some of the many quirks that define us. Our ability to find wonder in almost anything, however, is the truly rare skill. There are few subjects for a project that don’t elicit first interest, and then the need to know everything. A sound designer can take drill bits, ducks, polyester shirts, or viral infections and make something incredible and compelling. Contrast that with a non-designer guest at a dinner party. When I ask, “Did you know that a tungsten carbide drill bit can penetrate almost any material?” my dinner partner may look confused and then bored. 

Tobias Frere-Jones recently released a new typeface based on Bulgarian Lotto tickets from the 1930s. This inspiration may seem somewhat oblique to an investment banker but is entirely in line with the way designers see the world. Bulgarian lottery tickets? Why not?

Fere-Jones discovered the typography while researching a project for letterforms as security devices. The numerals are an example of self-verifying numbers. The name of each digit is spelled out beneath. Eighteen months passed and Frere-Jones began to question what sort of alphabet might go along with these monolithic, theatrical numerals?

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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.

Admiration for the Bland

Cats Cats Cats Cats Cats, 1961

From Design Observer

When I present a project, and a client is pleased, I often say, “It’s easy to do good work with a great subject.” Which is, in fact, relatively accurate. For example, many of the books submitted for competition are often about photography, art, or cultural issues. Young designers typically have book projects, completed in school, with the same esoteric content. It’s rare, as a competition judge, that I find a book on semi-trucks. Of course, I have nothing against beautiful books about photography or fine art. I’ve designed many of these. But, I appreciate a beautiful book about wrenches with admiration for the bland subject and beautiful design. Read More
 

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.

Nervous Tension

Piet Zwart, NKF, 1928

When I hear someone complain about a project, I like to remind him or her that every project can be great. You can imagine how many of these people would then like to beat me senseless. In fact, the project that I have in my head when saying this is Piet Zwart’s 1925 catalogue for NKF. Nederlandsche Kabel-Fabriek Delft was an insulated high-tension cable manufacturer. Zwart worked with NKF for ten years. Now, the catalogues should have been dead dull; so dull that you’d slit your own wrists for excitement while reading them. But, Zwart’s work is dynamic, aggressive, clear, and bold. It makes me want to buy insulated high-tension cables.

Zwart pioneered modern typography. He used ideas from de Stijl and constructivism in his graphic design. If you think the insulated cable company was dull, you should see his work for another glamorous and high-end client, the post office, although it was Dutch.