Shame

After a speaking engagement I like to spend a few minutes with a Q+A session. I often really mess up.

Years ago, I used an image of a run down trailer on a poster for a lecture. The idea was to show my deepest fear, that I would end up in poverty, hopeless, living in a trailer with garbage on the lawn. During the Q+A, one woman stood up and said, "I don't appreciate you making fun of poor people." I responded that was not the intention, it wasn't about socio-economic status, but the idea of losing hope. She continued, "I hope you realize that some of us live in mobile homes." This is where it turned bad.

I should have said, "Yes, you're right. It was insensitive. I'm sorry." But, of course, I didn't. I responded, "Really? I had no idea. I didn't realize that designers live in mobile homes." Of course, I knew designers lived in all kind of houses, but I was on a disastrous roll. This made her mad. "Really, I'm sorry. I didn't know, my office is in Beverly Hills." The audience was now obviously angry. Then someone asked, "What kind of car do you drive?" I should have ignored this and said thank you and stopped. But, I said, "I'd rather not say." "Come on!" someone shouted. "OK, it's a Range Rover, but I drive everyone to lunch. So it's ok."

I was quickly deposited back at the hotel, almost shoved out of a moving car. I didn't have any food, but the woman at the front desk shared a bag of Doritos she brought for her lunch.

In reality, I had lived in the trailer on the poster. In 1980, my step-father at the time owned the trailer park and we lived there for several months between moving from Nevada to Oregon. The trailer was cleaner back then.

more like this than this

the side view

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.

A Designer Walks into a Bar...

I have a friend, a well-known designer, who laments that he never gets to do work that is "fun". His work is serious and beautifully crafted with a deep connection to French structuralism and Freudian theory. I, on the other hand, lament that my work will only be seen as "fun", not "serious". Of course the reality is that nothing is that black and white. His work has light and playful elements, mine can be conceptual and multi-layered.

Herbert Leupin (1916–1999) (yes, another Herbert; it was a popular designer name) was disregarded and ignored as an "advertising poster artist". How could the work be taken seriously when it has a giraffe? Today, his posters are sought after by serious collectors. At first glance, they are funny and light. They exist to sell beer, Coca-Cola, cigarettes, and pens. He wasn't concerned about the theoretical underpinnings. And they are masterful and joyful.

He does what I endeavour to teach: see things in the world that can be seen entirely differently with the slightest move: a shoe becomes a car, a glass of beer enjoys a day at the beach, letterforms become carbonated bubbles. The imagery is light and carefree. And, as Shakespearean stage actor Edmund Kean said, "dying is easy, comedy is hard."

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.