The Valise in the Foyer

 

I don't think I'm the smartest bulb in the box. But I'd like to consider myself able to, at least, understand most conversations. This scene from Hail Caesar is remarkably close to my experience when people slip into "art rhetoric." A couple of days ago, another designer told me she was interested in pursuing "speculative artifacts of design." Those sound like words, but together, I just thought, isn't that the same as "something?" 

Another person at a dinner party told me he worked on "hybrid technologies." That sounded super cool, but then I realized that meant using motion, print, and web design. Why not just say that? I feel pretty stupid when I need to lean over and ask a friend, "Each word makes sense, but together make no sense. What does it mean?"

I thought the goal of good American English was plain speaking. Say what you mean as clearly as possible. If a simpler word exists, use that. Reject all pretentious language. I was wrong. Now I sprinkle conversations with these words: 

Vernacular
Hybridization
Visceral
Artifact
Self-Referential
Appropriation

Try it. Add them to any conversation. "I was at the studio, or design laboratory as we say, and we began exploring the appropriation of vernacular artifacts. Of course, everyone was amazed at the visceral response and saw the self-referential issues immediately."

Or call your grip a "valise."

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.

Is History Dead

There are some people who take design a little too seriously. Years ago, I knew a designer who refused to speak to me or look at me in the eye. Yes, it's understandable when you get to know me, but this was about design philosophy. I preferred clean, simple, and honest design with optimism. He was a self-identified post-modernist who saw the world as distopian and wanted to reflect that in his work. That was fine by me, I loved his work. It just wasn't what I did.

Even last week at the Paul Rand event I did at Design Within Reach, someone walked up to Louise Sandhaus and me, looked at both of us, turned from me, and said to Louise, "I'm happy to see YOU." Puhleeze. It's not like we're on a reality show.

P. Scott Makela was a post-modernist, genius, and all around nice guy. He never was anything but a good and generous friend. He did work that was different than mine, and that's what makes the field so exciting. He was one of the first people to give me encouragement early in my career. 

I was helping a designer on a project last week based on the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards. It gave me a chance to look back at some of Scott's remarkable work. The typography in Michael and Janet Jackson's Scream video is beautiful, crisp, and launched a digital revolution in font design. 

Scott's work with Laurie Haycock Makela, his wife, changed the profession. It stretched everyone's idea of digital possibilities, and it's damned beautiful.


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 Post about this Blog

One of the tenets of post-modernism is self-referential expression. This post, then is the post-modern one. This is a post about this blog.

When burningsettlerscabin first launched, I designed a nice Victorian logo for the masthead. It worked well with the minimal layout and I had fun making it. After awhile, I grew tired of that version. And its started to feel vertiginously close to hipster design. So I made a new one. This became an on-going hobby. The point of this blog is as shallow as it gets. If I'm interested in something or find an inspirational artifact or solution, I write about it. It's that simple. If I want to, I write. If I don't feel like it, I don't. I know this is absolutely the most wrong thing one can do with all the rules of social media. But, I have so many other rules in life: typographic, social manners, organizing linen closets, age appropriate clothing, and the list goes on.

The masthead follows the same logic. If I feel like making a new one, I do. If it's heinously hideous but I like it, I use it. So, in response to the requests to post one or the other mastheads here they are.

While some have said burningsettlerscabin is their "lite" (yes, spelled that way) version of Design Observer, consider this: In this post, self-referentiality [and the epistemological skepticism it implies] is central to postmodernism and takes its typological and typographic cue from the self-referential, though not mutually exclusive, aesthetics of nostalgia, irony, and satire.

See, the settlers at the cabin are way smart.

Goodbye Robert Venturi

I went to college at the height of the anti-modernist, semantic, deconstruction period. While this encouraged great debate and analysis, it made for lousy cocktail party conversation. The modernists had ruined the world with their evil black box buildings. They created banal and boring buildings. The graphic design was fine in its time, but didn’t work in a multi-cultural world of complex messaging. If something didn’t have at least five historical typographic references and a nod to rococo, it was a failure. More was more. Five varnishes and 12 colors, no problem. A plethora of meaningless forms, sounds pretty. And while you're at it, can you add some Greek columns and floral wallpaper?

I recall seeing The Fountainhead in Film History. In this scene (above) Howard Roark, our modernist hero, is asked to add columns and decorative bits to his pure building. He won't, of course. After the film many students disagreed with his position. They were insistent that the hideous post-modern applications brought his building to life.

In my Junior year, my comfortable post-modern world was turned upside down. I visited one of my professors who lived in a Richard Neutra house in Silverlake. I expected her house to be cold, impersonal, clinical, and boring. But, it was a revelation. The structure had harmony, grace, and elegance. It was surrounded by eucalyptus trees and was warm and inviting. Every space, from a doorway to a hall, was beautifully proportioned. How could I have been so wrong? How much time had I wasted deriding the true one God? I was converted. Today, this scene from The Fountainhead is painful to watch as the pure and simple beauty of the structure is vulgarized and abused like putting Grace Kelly in hooker heels, hot pink overalls, and a tie-dye t-shirt.