Mixing Metaphors

George Tscherny, 1970

Here is the issue: we experience the world in scenes. We watch scenes on television, we see them in life from eye level, and we see them in our mind when we listen to the radio or read a book. We experience life watching a play on a proscenium stage. This view of life leads to a way of articulating concepts based on the mise-en-scéne of a narrative. Imagine this: the assignment is to design a poster for American Airlines and celebrate “spring in Paris.”

A standard solution might be to use a photograph of people sitting at café tables and the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop, or a happy couple strolling through Le marché aux Fleurs de l'Ile de la Cité (the flower and bird market). Many contemporary film posters adopt this articulation of an idea. The formula tends to follow the convention of three floating heads of the actors and a vignette of a scene below. 

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3 Heads and a Scene

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.

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.

Graphic Designer Basics

Designers 1

On Thursday night, I spoke at an AIGA event in San Diego. Several people asked me the question, "Where can I look to find examples of great design?" and "Is there a resource for finding all of the industry's history?" The first step is to get a good graphic design history book such as A History of Graphic Design 3rd Edition by Philip B. Meggs.

Then, I suggest designobserver.com, the aiga.org medalist page, and this site burningsettlerscabin.com. Also look at my Lynda.com/Linked In course Graphic Design History. These are a good introduction to learn about individual designers who had an impact.

Next, after finding someone interesting, dig in. Research everywhere and find out more than anyone else knows. I do that every time I find a piece I love.

Here, then is the first of several (meaning more to come) lists of designers everyone should know and explore (not in a dirty way). I'm keeping these (mostly) to dead people for now, so the living won't be up in arms about inclusion. Most of these are covered in other Burning Settlers Cabin posts, just search (on the left).

Saul Bass

 

Herbert Bayer

 

Lester Beall

 

Lucian Bernhard

 

A.M. Cassandre

 

Tibor Kalman

 

Marget Larsen

 

Herb Lubalin

 

Alvin Lustig

 

Herbert Matter

 

Reid Miles

 

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

 

Victor Moscoso/Fillmore Posters

 

Cipe Pineles

 

Paul Rand

 

Deborah Sussman

 

Bradbury Thompson

 

Jan Tschichold

 

Massimo and Leila Vignelli

 

Sending the Elevator Back Down

Filmforum, 1994

When I decided to step away from AdamsMorioka and focus on, forgive the do-gooder tone, working with younger designers, or sending the elevator back down, I worried that people would think I stopped designing myself. Then I realized this was vanity and pride and had no place in moving forward. But every once in awhile it rears its ugly head. At a meeting today, someone asked, "do you have time to work with your own clients in addition to the Art Center work?" I had to admit I recently turned down a signage project because I was already over booked and did not want to start a studio with large staff again. But, I just finished a bandana design for a client.

I felt small. But again, that has nothing to do with the work. It's just pride. And doing something or not because of pride is always a bad idea. The day ended with seeing work I could never imagine doing myself from a group of younger designers. That made it worth it.

I'v been adding work to the BSC site over time, which is like using a time machine. I found a series of projects I did back in 1994, before AdamsMorioka, AIGA, Lynda.com, and Burning Settlers Cabin. You aren't supposed to share old work. It makes you look old. But it reminded me that I was once that young designer, who was helped enormously by Saul Bass, Michael Vanderbyl, Michael Bierut, and Paula Scher.

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 Pleasure of Small Problems

Sean Adams, 2014

Last week, I finished a poster for Dialogues: Poster Art of the Soviet Union. I could do anything I wanted. I chose to stay away from 45 degree angles and Constructivist typography. They just didn't go well with Khrushchev's testicle quote. I had a great time working on it, and hope it is useful for the event. But is it graphic design?

For a long time, the battle cry of design has been "problem solving." Well, what isn't? Create an urban signage system to help revitalize mid-Manhattan. Yep, problem solved. Design an information guide and website to help in an environmental disaster, check. Make an identity system and collateral for a homeless shelter, uh huh. But the problem with narrowing the focus of design onto only a tiny aspect is the inherent exclusion of anything that is deemed as not serious problem solving. If there isn't a multi-page case study, with dense research, clear results, and a sans serif font, then it's not design.

But where does that leave the work that is, frankly, just amazing without a giant purpose? Using the metric of justifying all design by the density of the issue negates most of the work that moved the profession forward. That Paul Rand Apparel Arts Magazine cover with the propeller, really? That had a deep purpose and widespread effect on the garment industry? No, so it's out. The same goes for Saul Bass' beautiful poster for The Music Center, Alexey Brodovitch's Ballet book, and a long list of work that shaped me as a designer.

I'll stick with not defining graphic design. It uses words, symbols, and images to communicate. Some of it solves problems that are big, some solve the problem of making me happy for a moment. That's good for me. Leaving this open allows for work that may be simply ridiculously wonderful.

Unsinkable Brown

Recently, a client asked for brown as a color option on a project. A couple of years ago, I would have resisted. But, brown has slowly been creeping into my mind. First, I found myself admiring the brown tile at the Honolulu Airport. Then, I decided I should move away from my earthquake safe Melmac dinnerware. So, I bought several settings of Heath Ceramics dinnerware.

The Heath colors are subtle, subtle and subtle. Seeing one brown combined with cream or tan plate convinced me that brown could be alright. Some of my favorite design solutions are brown. Does this mean I'm mellowing, or developing, God forbid, good taste? I still resist any attempt to put brown in bathrooms. Brown wall, tiles, fixtures, or accessories should never be used there. I won't go into details, but how do you know if someone previously had an "episode" in the bathroom if everything isn't bright white?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stolen Memories

Have you ever accidentally stolen something and felt like Lindsay Lohan or Winona Ryder? I’m not talking about jewelry, scarves, or children. This is about accidental design theft. It happens to everyone, myself included. I’ll finish a project, be quite pleased with it, and then months or years later find the original inspiration. Usually it’s a piece of design that I love, but have filed somewhere in my brain. My unconscious mind must be saying, “Remember that Alvin Lustig poster? Steal that.” Consciously, I simply presume I had a wonderful idea.

When a friend sends me an example of how they were ripped off, I usually tell them “Imitation is the best compliment.” Sometimes it’s obvious, a poster for an event in Alabama looks exactly like one by Marian Bantjes. Or, a student designs a poster for Vertigo and gives me Saul Bass’s poster. On my way to work, I pass a billboard for the band XX’s new album Coexist. It is remarkably similar to a poster we designed for the AIGA Capital Campaign in 1999. Now, I know an “X” is an “X”, and claiming I was copied is like claiming I own the golden section. I’ve decided to use it as an affirmation, that 13 years later, the original poster is super groovy.

 

Trademark Secrets

Identity design is not easy. Sure you can slam a couple of shapes together and call them a logo. But the core of the issue is perception and building a foundation. Over the last 20 years that we’ve been in business, we’ve been called in repeatedly to take on an identity project after another firm has failed. When I’ve asked to see what didn’t work, I’m given a pile of 8 1/2" x 11" sheets of paper, each one with a different logo idea. Whether or not any of these were great or awful isn’t relevant. The error was presenting like a smorgasbord of stylistic options.

First, no logo ever lives in a void. Showing a mark on an empty page is deceiving. It will never appear in this setting. Second, persuasion and consensus building is a large part of the job. We take for granted that a client knows all that we know. But they don’t. They only know what they’ve seen already. And they’ve been conditioned to think a logo is a wackadoodle illustration that demonstrates their product. Logos identify, they do not describe. If Apple had made a logo that looked like the first Macintosh, they could never create iTunes, or an iPhone.

Saul Bass told me to never speak about design to a client. He didn’t mean stonewall them when they ask about a typeface or color. The idea is to talk in a language they understand and give them reasons beyond simple aesthetics for your choices.

This is probably stupid of me, and I’m revealing some of our inner processes. But if this process helps another designer solve a problem, we all look better. When we present identities, we walk the client through each step and explain in simple English why we make certain choices. This allows the client to participate in the process and eliminates the perception that designers are just goofballs making pretty shapes. It also creates a document that can speak for itself. So, below, find a typical document we create to present an identity.

LFLA_ID_Presentation_07.19.11c

 

 

Why I Design

I learned how to behave by Saul Bass. There seemed to be several options. I could mature into a more seasoned designer and become crankier. I could become bitter and competitive with younger designers. I could desperately try to remain young, wearing clothes better suited for a 14 year old. Or, like Saul, I could be magnanimous and helpful. Saul was enormously helpful to us when we started AdamsMorioka. He provided wisdom I still use. He sat through a long dull lecture at Aspen to wait for our talk. Saul patiently listened to my ambitions, and was always available. Now when I read his recent book, I continue to be in awe.

After Saul passed away, I went to his memorial at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater. It was a truly life changing event to see the collection of his titles on a huge screen with magnificent stereo sound. When I show Saul’s title sequences to my students they are impressed, obviously, and hopefully inspired. But they cannot experience the magnificence of Saul’s work on a wide Cinemascope screen. His titles are each wonderful, but the credit sequence for West Side Story is a miracle. It is moving, eloquent, artful, and beautifully crafted. No matter how hard my day is, this sequence always reminds me why I design.

A Preachy Post That Will Piss Some People Off

When I was younger, I strongly believed in the ethos of compassion and help. As I’ve aged, this has worn away. Often, I now find myself muttering, “damned idiots, dammit, damn, damn.” It’s not particularly eloquent, but it’s my best. As an example, I am completely supportive of design for good, and positive social change. Design is a sharp tool and should be used to make a better world. I do not, however, believe design for commerce is bad and should be hidden away in shame. Too often, we can fall into the trap of only taking on events that promote design for good. But the subtext here is that the work for commerce is less relevant. This only communicates the idea that we are less worthy if we are not designing websites for recycled DIY bamboo huts. Nothing is less true.

As I’ve said, before, we have the chance to make life better for others with every project (assuming you are not designing neo-Nazi newsletters). If I do a job well, the client does better. The employees keep their jobs. They put braces on their kids’ teeth. The orthodontist can send his kids to college. This is no less positive than promoting social causes.

Saul Bass was a designer who understood the balance of design for good, commerce, and cultural change. When I am feeling especially cranky, I am reminded of Saul’s generous nature. On our first day in the studio back in 1994, the first phone call was from Saul. “Congratulations,” he said, and, “What can I do for you two?” He didn’t need to do this. But this encouragement gave us the confidence to plow through the most difficult times. If Saul Bass considered us worthy of a phone call, we couldn’t be that bad. Now, I try to do the same. I do this not because I feel honor-bound or think it will absolve me of previous crimes. That small act made a huge impact on Noreen and myself. So rather than worrying about designing only for Greenpeace, we try to help in smaller day-to-day ways.

Yes, Master. I will do your bidding.

The UCLA Extension Masters of Design program was conceived and managed by InJu Sturgeon. InJu had the genius idea to elevate the utilitarian course catalogue covers working with some of the world’s best designers. Paul Rand designed the first cover in 1990. The program soon became the coveted assignment. Other designers including Saul Bass, Paula Scher, Woody Pirtle, Ivan Chermayeff, and Michael Bierut have tackled the same assignment: education, Los Angeles, the season, and extension. In 1998, we were honored to be asked to design our first cover. This was daunting, solving the same assignment as some of our heroes. Michael Vanderbyl was the encouraging voice for us, and convinced us to have fun. The series could easily have become a hodge-podge of crazed egos. But InJu’s remarkable skill handling designers consistently leads to some of the best work. When working with InJu, it is immediately clear that there is no room for diva-esque behavior. Hence my typical screaming, demanding, and abusive approach was not welcome. And I have never net anyone so adept at motivating me to do better.

It's Not Easy Being Avocado Green

Once again, I was driven to drink by an HGTV home improvement show. Rather than naming these shows Color Splash or Spice Up My Kitchen, they should be named more honestly. I’m thinking, “Search and Destroy Historic Value”, or “Incredible Vintage Tile Replaced: A Spa Bathroom Cheap.” Why would anyone look at a beautiful bathroom with turquoise tile and fixtures that would stand after thermonuclear war and think, “If I could only rip that out and replace it with some bamboo paneling?” On a show last weekend a new homeowner decided her avocado green bathroom was dated. Uh, yeah, that’s what makes it good. So they ruined it. Why? Why? I kept asking as they tore into the tile, “Boy this tile sure is set in here. It’ll take days to take this bathroom apart.” Of course this is God’s way of telling you to stop.

I understand that avocado green is difficult for some. I’ve found that there are two ways to make some one turn beat red with anger in a presentation. First, urinate in the corner and say, “That’s how you treat my work.” Secondly, use avocado green. People really get mad when they see it. Personally, I love it. It’s important to differentiate avocado green from hunter green. Hunter green has more blue, and avocado (or cactus) green has more yellow.

Coming out of the flower child, granola movement in the 1960s, avocado green was popular in the 1970s because marketers wanted everyone to feel good about buying a station wagon that got 7 miles per gallon. As it was avocado green and brown, it was clearly natural. The same went for plates, dresses, washing machines, fondue sets, and anything that needed to be cloaked in “natural.” If marketing people were smart now, they would realize the same thing was happening. Then you could buy an avocado green truck and leave it running all night long, just in case you needed to leave in a hurry. It’s a natural tone; it’s good for the earth.

Angels in Malibu

I have a reel that I show my first year students at Art Center. It’s a collection of my favorite classic film titles. Of course I have multiple Saul Bass titles, such as Psycho and North by Northwest. I have Stephen Frankfurt’s beautiful sequence for To Kill a Mockingbird, and other incredible examples. I also have the title sequence for Gidget. Why? Because I love Gidget. If you don’t you are probably a Communist. The sequence is pretty cheesy, but perfect. So laugh if you must at my inclusion of Gidget in my Top 10 titles list. Some day, however, Gidget will be recognized as genius. A little bit of trivia: Sally Field played Gidget, and her brother on Brothers and Sisters, Ron Rifkin, played Mel, one of the gang on Gidget.

Just Say No to Snarky

Last week I went to Chicago to speak at the Cusp Conference. Pat and Greg Samata, Dave Mason, and Kevin Krueger of smbolic are the organizers and couldn’t have been more gracious, or accommodating. I’ve known Pat and Greg for 15 years and they have always been a huge inspiration to me. Some of the presenters made me rethink some basic issues. It was an amazing experience.

During a break, I sat down with a well-known character in the design world (to be named when I write the book, when I’m old). For 15 minutes, he told me about his enormous success, invention of everything, and impatience with everyone else in the world. He said nothing positive about anything else. He finished with a fine story about slamming other speakers at a different conference.

Now, I may be old fashioned, but I’ve spent a career with designers who embody generosity. From Saul Bass, Michael Vanderbyl, Paula Scher, Dana Arnett, Michael Bierut, Jennifer Morla, and a long, long list (also to be included in the book), the example has always been to give back, reinforce others and be kind. I think the days of unkind and snarky designers are over. To paraphrase Bobby Kennedy, “whenever we tear at the fabric of the lives which another designer has painfully and clumsily woven for himself, whenever we do this, then the whole profession is degraded.” I would propose that the next time another designer is patronizing or unkind to you, you say this, “You sir, are no gentleman,” unless it’s a woman, in which case, “You, madam, are no lady.” You may slap them with your gloves, if you are inclined to a duel. Unless it’s me, then remember I’m easily confused.

Driving in Circles

One of our great mentors was Saul Bass. Saul was endlessly supportive and encouraging. Saul was the first phone call we received that first day at AdamsMorioka when the phones were turned on. Losing Saul was a huge loss that we still feel. After he passed away, The Academy held a memorial service at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater. Another memorial was held in New York. The New York memorial focused on Saul’s identity and graphic work. The Los Angeles memorial was about his title sequences. Seeing these on huge screen with incredible sound was life changing. I love showing my first term students some of Saul’s title sequences. They are inspired and awed, especially by the lack of CGI. It’s amazing what can be done with a few lines and some type.

One of the often-missed sequences is for Grand Prix. There is no flying type, no intense digital effects, and no techno music. Live action, some simple type, and genius editing make a dynamic introduction. The repeating images, repeated usage of circular forms, and sound of the race let us know the subject, tone, attitude, and pace of the film we are about to see. We’ve often said that our job is not to make lots of sweet frosting, but to make a solid cake. Grand Prix is this, the core of an idea expressed elegantly and minimally.

How to be a great designer

Saul Bass. 1971

When we started AdamsMorioka, the first phone call on that first day came from Saul Bass. He called to congratulate us and offer any help. I asked Saul to only give me some good advice. He answered, “Hire a business person more expensive than you think you can afford,” and. “Never talk to a client about design.” I’ve used both of these for the last 16 years.

The year before Saul died, we spoke at the Aspen Design Conference. One of the speakers before us went over-schedule 30 minutes. This designer was well known for temper tantrums, so the organizers didn’t pull him off stage. By the end of his mini-series length lecture, most of the audience left wearily. This left us and the next speaker, Lorraine Wild, with a very empty theater. Once on stage, I looked out and saw a sea of empty seats, and Saul and Elaine Bass. They sat through the long lecture and stayed to support us. That is the mark of a true hero. You’ll see Saul’s work here often, the color palettes alone are genius. He was a remarkable designer and a true mensch.

Lawry's seasonings

Dixie cup designs

more Dixie cups, so nice

Ajinomoto

Ajinomoto

How to write a book

Masters of Design: Corporate Brochures (my preferred title was Corporate Communications

My newest book in the Masters of Design series hit the shelves recently. A few years after we founded AdamsMorioka, a large publisher approached us about a monograph. Saul Bass gave me the advice, “Never get hot. Always stay very warm.” He suggested that we get some more experience under our belt first. We passed, and decided that if we were to write a book, we’d rather make it about something we loved, not just us, although we do have a love/hate thing with ourselves. The first book we wrote, Logo Design Workbook, has remained a bestseller in its category for years. We were asked to write others, Color Design Workbook, Masters of Design: Identity, and the new book.

The Masters of Design series idea came from a book I have, Graphic Designers in U.S.A.: Louis Danziger, Peter Max, Herb Lubalin, Henry Wolf v. 1. It’s a wonderful book with four great designers who weren’t over-published. Emily Potts gave me the green light, and I started writing. I delivered a list of the 20 designers who I believed were the masters in each category to the publisher. We negotiated back and forth in a process not unlike selecting a Supreme Court Justice. Fortunately, everyone I invited agreed kindly to be part of the book. We sent a list of questions and request for images. Most sent everything back in a timely manner, and I began writing. However, some designers didn’t seem to want to send me images or information. That was the hardest part of doing this book. In the end, we received everything we wanted and I love all of the work included. I feel fortunate that I have the true masters in the book.

Now here’s the truth that I don’t typically tell. This happened in the midst of my term as AIGA president, and I was writing a monthly column for Step magazine with a different designer each month. When I was done with this book, and my term was over, I was, well, burned-out over promoting other designers. Not that I don’t love it, and as my mother always says, “A life without service is not a life.” But now I’m taking a break, and just relaxing—except for this post, which is kind of promoting the designers in this book. Old habits die hard.

spread, Michael Vanderbyl

spread

spread, Carin Goldberg

spread, Pentagram

Dream Big

July 1964, Walter Allner

For some quirk of data collection, I am listed in a book about Saul Bass and Walter Allner. This book does not exist. If you’re one of the people who insist I have a copy and won’t give it up, please believe me. If it were to exist, I could retire happy. To even be mentioned with Saul Bass and Walter Allner is a huge honor. In this case, it’s just bad data entry at Amazon. Walter Allner designed some of Fortune magazine’s most incredible covers. Allner, trained at the Bauhaus, was one of the pioneers in the field who brought modernism in typography to American design. His Fortune covers are examples of a minimal and graphic approach. He told his students, “Raise the aesthetic standard — the public is more perceptive than you think.” These covers and his body of work presume that the audience is intelligent and visually literate. There are no big headshots of Britney Spears. In addition, for those of you who are saying, “Yeah, so what, I could do that stuff.” This was before Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. The windows of the Time & Life Building on the 500 Fortune cover are actually turned on. For real.

May 1959, Walter Allner

May 1958, Walter Allner

July 1953, Walter Allner

March 1955, Walter Allner

January 1959, Walter Allner

How to be a Good Designer

History of Electricity cover

Years ago, Lorraine Wild showed me a publication that Eric Nitsche had designed for General Dynamics and it changed the way I look at design. Nitsche had been a hero of mine for years. I tend to like the designers who aren’t the huge names, but do great work just under the radar, like Alvin Lustig, or Lester Beall. Am I self aware? Probably not. Steven Heller wrote a wonderful essay about Nitsche in 1999. Nitsche is not the rock star like his contemporaries, Paul Rand, or Saul Bass, but he is remarkable. His simple modernist aesthetic combines a scientific rigor and precision with an emotional fluidness. That’s not easy.  Michael Bierut says, “Design is 90% persuasion.” (Michael forgive me if I have the percentage wrong, its' not that I don't try hard, it's that I'm stupid). How Nitsche convinced his clients to give him enormous amounts of real estate on a page for nothing is genius. When I showed one of his spreads from a General Dynamics project to Chris and Monica in my office, they both said, “Yeah right. A client would demand that you make the image bigger, or add a few paragraphs.” We’ve religiously collected Nitsche’s books, and I’ve been warned by my staff to not share this secret. But I am convinced that we all need as much inspiration as possible these days. Does that sound political? Sorry, it’s in my DNA.

April issue of Gebrauchsgraphik, 1956

La musique et l’humanisme by Romain Goldron Volume 4 in the series 1966, Editions Recontre

La musique et l’humanisme by Romain Goldron Volume 4 in the series 1966, Editions Recontre

History of Transportation, cover

Advertisement, general Dynamics

postcard, General Dynamics

Annual Report, General Dynamics, spread

General Dynamics, Convair 800 advertisement