I bless the rains down in Africa

The first year Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened, we made a family trek to Florida to see it. The weather was remarkably authentic to equatorial Africa. Florida in July is, strangely, rather hot, humid, and oppressive. This forced the animals to sleep in the shade or hide. Leaving, we all agreed it was incredible looking, but perhaps, the Vegetable Kingdom would be more appropriate. A couple of years later, we returned when it was not yet high noon and 115 degrees. This time, the animals were out wandering.

I have a love/hate relationship with the Animal Kingdom. It is visually sublime. The attention to detail is amazing, and the pervasive story of man taming, or not taming, nature is beautiful. But the attractions scare me. I like the Kilimanjaro Safari attraction, but after going on safari in Africa, it was nice, but not really the same thing (yeah, that sounds kind of snooty). The rest of the time, I wander around terrified I will be forced to go on the scary attractions.

It’s hot, and I don’t want to have a fainting spell on the Expedition Everest roller coaster, or the dizzy and spinning Primeval Whirl. That’s embarrassing when grandmothers with canes happily ride these with no fear. I am extremely terrified of the extremely terrifying Dinosaur attraction. The first and only time I went on this, I put my hands over my ears, closed my eyes, and basically curved up into a fetal position on the “time travel” vehicle. The snapshot taken automatically at the end of the ride captures a car of happy laughing people, and someone who looks like he is having a seizure.

Actual safari in Africa, Sean Adams and Marian Bantjes

 

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.

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.

When to Take the Other Path

From Moxie Sozo by Emily Potts

It’s really no wonder that Sean Adams is such a natural leader. Whether serving as president of the national AIGA for more terms than anyone else, directing a team of designers at his former award-winning agency, AdamsMorioka, or leading the graphic design graduate program at ArtCenter College of Design in Los Angeles—he’s an actual descendant of three U.S. Presidents: John Adams, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson. (You’ll have to ask him to explain how that happened, and who slept with whom.) (father's side; GGGGG grandfather: mother's side; GGGGG Uncle, GGGGG 1st cousin)

But, just because he is the most polite, clean-cut, well-groomed guy at any design conference, doesn’t mean it’s been an easy road. People assume he’s had a charmed life, but that’s not necessarily the case. Like his long-lost relatives, he paved his own way to success despite a “whackadoodle childhood,” as he describes it. He was raised in the desert of Reno, Nevada, by parents who were perhaps more concerned with their own needs than their children’s. As unconventional as it was, Adams looks back on it now as his “normal,” though sometimes he’s surprised he survived.

Thank god he did! The graphic design world is a much better place with him in it. Here we talk to him about leaving his successful design agency, his role at ArtCenter, and his new book on color.

Was it a tough decision leaving the firm you and Noreen Morioka built and maintained for more than 20 years?

Yes and no. Around that time (fall 2013), I was in Berlin with my students for a semester, and I was really happy. When someone pointed that out to me, I was like, “Wow, I have not felt this happy in 20 years.” Then I started to realize, I’m happy because I’m worrying about my students more than myself or overhead or a client issue. Then I really started to consider that I’ve got maybe 20 years of good working life left in me. Do I want to spend those years simply doing what I’ve been doing, just out of habit, or is it time to take a new path? I really wanted to focus on young designers and students and the design community

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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.

Color By Any Other Name

There are two subjects that produce that deer in headlights look with a designer: typography and color. Let's talk about color. Clients are often quite clear about color, "I hate that green. It looks like baby shit," or, "It must match the pink of the sand in The Bahamas." But designers default to the swatch palette in Adobe® Illustrator or InDesign. Ask a designer about combining purple and magenta, and you may encounter this response, "What? Whaaaat? Uhhh, Ok." Along the way some well-meaning teacher told him or her that those two colors may never be used together.

 

The Designer's Dictionary of Color

I recently completed a new book for Abrams to address these issues. The Designer's Dictionary of Color (or Colour in Britain) will be available in April. I wanted to write and design a book that could answer the question, does this and this work together? Or how do I convince a client avocado green is a good choice (don't call it avocado green)? And, what cultural issues exist with white in Asia? 

This also gave me the chance to find young designers who haven't been widely published. I added other visual work to help clarify the issues also so that a designer could give the book to a client. The example of Claude Monet's Waterloo Bridge, London, at Dusk might have more impact when looking at mint. Over the next few weeks I'll be providing some excerpts. If I can save one project that uses coral, I will have done my job.


From The Designer's Dictionary of Color; Sean Adams, 2017
Coral
Coral is neither pink nor peach. It is a color that exists between these. It is associated with femininity, gentleness, romance, and the tropics. These connections work to communicate the tone of an idea swiftly. A coral poster will immediately be read as positive and friendly. Coral has more sensuality than pure pink, which can feel juvenile. As the color of the interior of certain shells, and used as a prominent paint color throughout the Caribbean, coral has associations with a carefree and gentle holiday.

Cultural Meanings
Coral roses are a symbol of desire. In Buddhism, it symbolizes the energy of the life force. In China, it is a symbol of longevity. Coral is a sensitive color. If it shifts toward yellow, it will become peach, or a sickly flesh tone. A shift toward the red creates pink. Coral is also known as salmon, a term that was used in automobile color options.

Other Names
Salmon
Watermelon
Grapefruit
Shell Pink
Bright Rose

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.

Right and Wrong

Jason Tselentis at Print magazine was kind enough to feature my etiquette presentation as Number 11 in its 2016 Year in Review. Each term, I give a lecture to graduating students about basic business etiquette. It's one of those things you presume everyone knows and then another designer tells you, "I had lunch with one of your recent graduates. He didn't use his utensils, but ate the food like a cat with his face in the plate."

This is, of course, a rare instance, but it can't hurt to refresh the point that eating like a cat is distasteful and embarrassing. The students laugh and watch me as if I were explaining how to do basic math to astrophysicists. But when I pass out the plastic forks and knives and demonstrate the right way to hold them, the room falls silent. I'm amazed how many people at fine restaurants or dinner parties hold their knife and fork as if they were killing a mammoth. It isn't going to try to get away. There is no need to hold it down with a fork and clenched fist, then stab at it repeatedly.

Shake hands firmly, not as if you were holding a perfume scented handkerchief to your nose. 

I also remind them of basic business etiquette. Stand up when someone enters the room. Don't sit there silently staring at your lap. Open the door for others. Don't chew gum at work. And don't ever, ever say to anyone, "You don't remember me do you?" It's best to remind them, "My name is Sean, we met previously at Joan's club. You were Betty's bridge partner that evening."

Some of these rules may be outdated, but will never be wrong. It's better to err on the side of good manners than being too casual. And if any of the students at least remember that a place setting is BMW (left to right: bread, meal, water), they won't steal my water glass at lunch.

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.

Nothing

Somebody once said, "You don't choose to be a designer. It chooses you." Unfortunately, this is true. Otherwise, I would have followed the path my grandparents' wanted and gone to Harvard, then the JFK School of Government and now be a Senator or Governor.

I've found lately, that I am interested in "non-designed design." That's the stuff that is purposefully or unintentionally void of any design intent. It lacks any sense of typographic expertise of skill and is alarmingly without any pretense of being "designed." Tibor managed this by adding the genius of language, visual and written. But every once in awhile, I see something so badly designed, I love it.

Tibor Kalman, Restaurant Florent

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.

¿Dónde es la fiesta

I'm going to retire a couple of projects I talk about when doing a speaking engagement. So it's time to move them here.

Mexico Restaurante y Barre was a project that had no budget. So rather than fighting this and trying to maintain the highest quality with minimal resources, I suggested we use the philosophy, “Quality is job 2.” Why make it good if it could be done cheaper? 

This sounds good in theory but is difficult as it goes against every impulse I have as a designer. So, rather than designing something that was contrary to my sensibilities, I hired a designer with no talent. 

He had taken one class on design at a community college and then set up shop. He was enthusiastic and would spend hours finessing something. But, again, no talent. Awful with color. Didn't understand typography. And used analog equipment since he never learned any digital tools. And he was kind of a slob.

This designer, let's call him Percival, however, was fictional. He became our alternate personality when working on the project. Like Sybil suffering from multiple personality disorder after her severe abuse during childhood, designing Hobo Italic Swash pushed me into the Percival personality.


Percival wanted the design to feel like a great evening in Puerto Vallarta or Tijuana, minus the part where you wake up the next morning in a street gutter, bleeding, with no recollection of what you’ve done (like a normal weekend). 

He hand-painted the icons and frames with a bad brush using his left hand. He ordered fluorescent paper for the menus and tracked down seafoam vinyl covers (after using Google for "cheap menus"). He ran the bad icons around the borders of the stationery system and didn't bother to proof the text that switched between English and Spanish mid-stream.

Percival's color sense was tragic. No experience with color theory, so the colors vibrated and he designed hideous wallpaper for the stairwell. 

And then, as if things weren't bad enough, he took a batch of my photos from Mexico and applied them to the postcards, with no sense of the content. This led to many odd images, such as a postcard of a random apartment building. La gota que colmó el vaso de agua.

There were some high points. Since there was no budget for a big neon sign, he tracked down a sign painter who painted the logo on the building. But he managed to slip in the order to paint the building magenta. This led to many embarrassing moments at dinner parties when I was asked, "Have you seen that tacky monstrosity on Santa Monica Boulevard?"

I didn't fire Percival after the project was completed. He often returns to help me write drunken email messages at 3am.


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.

Nothing Matters


Mies van der Rohe's statement, less is more, is a basic tenet of modernism. It was a rejection of the decadent 19th-century eclectic Victorian excess. After the terrors of World War I, designers rejected the decorated and regional aesthetic adopted by the upper classes. To avoid another war, they sought to find a universal form of design. It would be based on pure geometry and mathematics. These had no political associations. When all people adopted these simple and pure forms, peace would flourish. 

But people are people. We like things. Nobody wants to live in a cold concrete cell with a mattress and steel chair. But, after the roller coaster of last week's election, I'm up for the simpler approach. 

Restraint is the hardest skill to master as a designer. To stop feels lazy, or unfinished. But the results of saying, "I'm done." can lead to simple and clear harmony. To continue can slowly move a solution from sublime minimalism to ordinary. With the right words, one black and white line of text on a page has power. Add an image, second color, and border, and it's nice. Only nice.

Just say no. Stop, and let something be what it is and no more. Do nothing.


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.

Why Design

How many times have I, as a designer, tried to explain what I do and why it has value? When meeting with my accountant or having dinner with civilian friends, "Are you still doing that art thing?" The other side is people asking me if they should use the $100 logo service or their neighbor's kid who knows Photoshop. And finally, designers telling me they can't impress upon a potential client why that logo is worth more than $100. So I wrote a new course on Lynda/LinkedIn, The Value of Professional Graphic Design, aimed at the people who hire graphic designers, and the second section, to designers.

Also, I'm not as fat as I look in the course. I had a "nipplage" or nipple showing shirt that didn't pass muster, so I was asked to wear another shirt under it.

If you need to hire a designer, watch it. If you need to articulate your value as a designer, watch it now. I worked hard to keep it direct, clear, and free of meaningless marketese language. Here's the blurb via Lynda.com:

There are no shortcuts for professional graphic design. Whether it's a logo, business card, or website, bad design drives away business. But clients often wonder if finding and hiring a professional is worth the effort. Meanwhile, designers struggle to articulate their value to clients who are tempted to DIY.

Sean Adams champions design internationally on behalf of his work with AIGA. Here he breaks down the walls between designers and clients so they can have a more collaborative and successful experience. There are whys and hows, dos and don'ts, and simple strategies for finding good partnerships, cooperating on designs, and negotiating fees, from both sides of the table. Plus, learn ways to gauge the return on investment and provide proof the design is working.

Topics include:

  • Why hire a graphic designer?

  • How do you find a graphic designer?

  • How much do graphic design projects cost?

  • How much should graphic designers charge?

  • What are a graphic designer's responsibilities?

  • How can a graphic designer prove a design is successful?

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 New Page of the Odd Hobby

You spoke and I listened. By popular demand, I've added a new section at the Cabin, The History of Me. It's an ongoing project of my disturbing hobby, the ever growing family tree and images me replacing relatives.

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.

That Perfect Day

George Hurrell, Errol Flynn

Every few months one of the news channels does a story about the unethical practice of Photoshopping models. "They send the wrong message." "Nobody could meet that level of perfection." "It's dishonest and false." Yes, these are all true. But it's not a new concept realized by the power of Adobe tools.

The Greeks slowly refined their sculpture of the human body over several hundred years. The first figures of gods and goddesses were more realistic than Egyptian stylized sculpture. By the Classical period, they managed to perfectly recreate a human body in marble. The figures were perfect anatomically. But nobody liked these. So the sculpture moved toward an idealized version of the human form. Take a couple of ribs out, reposition the oblique, create stances that defy gravity, all good. People liked these.

In the 1930s, George Hurrell mastered a technique that reframed the movie stars of the period as the gods. He posed them in romanticized settings, added flawless lighting, and retouched the images creating a marble like appearance while holding the sharp detail. Other photographers have attempted to recreate this technique, but there is an extra spark in the Hurrell images. Again, the public opted for the fantasy of perfect creatures living in paradise, free from disease, poverty, and depression. 

My headshot has been heavily retouched. I'm rather wrinkled and aged so I demand this. Of course, it's a shock when people meet me in real life. It can be demoralizing when someone shrinks back kind of throwing up in their mouth, but at least the photo is nice.

Veronica Lake

Joan Crawford, unretouched left, retouched right

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.

With a Swirl

Herb Lubalin

I've been told by leading strategists about millennials and what they want. According to marketing experts these people (born between 1980 and 2000) have no interest in artifacts, individual design heroes, or anything not about social causes. I am polite, and listen to this as long as I can before saying, "Okay, that's bullshit."

I spend an enormous amount of time with this generation of young designers. I'll generalize here. They love making things, finding incredible artifacts, and detailing the craft to perfection. They have design heroes and ask for any suggestions for other designers they should know. They work in teams, but have their own distinct vision and value the individual. They care about doing good and want to make this integral to their choices, but they have huge loans and recognize they need to make a living. In comparison to my generation who primarily wanted to get drunk and skateboard, they are remarkable people.

So for today's entries, there is no collaborative strategic focus. No post-it notes were taped to a board to create these. The designer didn't document the process and stop when it was time to make something. These are examples of swirly love.

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.

Promoting Self Promotion

Last week, Lynda/LinkedIn.com released my course, Running a Design Business, Self Promotion. I had a great time writing this course. After 25+ years in the field being called a media whore, it was nice to lay some of the tips on the table, and pass the knowledge on to others. How to get published, how to build your brand, what to avoid, and when to reinvent are some of the topics. 

Rather than turning to other designers for examples of self promotion work, I created a new one. I wanted the viewer to have a sense of how one brand is created, managed, and disseminated throughout a career. Susanna Walker became my new designer. I have several Susanna Walker's in my families history, but they were typically nicknamed Sukey. I considered creating a new firm, Cutsie Pie Dezigns, with a "z", or Flbberty Gibbet Design, but there were too many letters. 

Susanna needed work to populate her website and printed matter, so I designed a body of work. Then I played it out over her career, from youthful exuberance to mature confidence. I ended up liking Susanna Walker. I may hire her to do some work for me. Or I may start the firm, Cutsie Pie Dezigns and create heinous work, then see what happens. Could I promote a firm that traffics in work for Precious Moments figurines?

What not to do.

What not to do.

Precious Moments, if you didn't know.


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.

Covering Covers

Lutz Roeder, Gebrauchsgraphik, June 1965

I've designed several magazines over the years. The cover is usually the land mine. Every hope, desire, and fear seems to coalesce around the cover. I lost one longtime great friend who was the photographer on a cover when the client rejected her beautiful and flawless image for a bad stock photo. It's the part of the project when everyone in the room has an opinion on what a good cover is. In all honesty, there are covers I worked on that are fugly fugly. These were designed by committee and I didn't have the fortitude to say, "You're wrong! You're bad people." But that rarely works either.

As you can expect some of my favorite covers do not have one giant face staring out, but take advantage of the magazine as a personal artifact that doubles as a poster. And if we're honest, we'll all admit we have purchased a magazine only for the cover. Which, I imagine, is liking someone simply because they have a nice face. And...?


Health Magazine, cover studies

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.

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.

X Stands for the Variable

Over a year ago, I began talking with Nik Hafermaas about a graduate program in graphic design at ArtCenter. The undergraduate program had been through a remarkable revitalization and metamorphosis, and the time was right to apply the same thinking and ArtCenter's stellar reputation and network to a masters degree.

I've spent over two decades looking at portfolios from recent MFA grads from other schools. While they were almost all impressive and conceptually thorough, I saw a disconnect with the professional world. Projects were personal and unique, but were often so removed from applicable design I wondered if the designer would be terribly bored leading a branding campaign.

In 2011, ArtCenter embarked on a new course "to learn to create, and influence change". The Graphic Design MFA program embraces new ideas, innovation, and technology, while maintaining a connection to the profession here and now. We can explore the "C" word that everyone runs from, craft: typography, form, content, and the artifact. And we had the physical and intellectual resources to be the leader in leadership and entrepreneurial thinking.

What was truly unexpected was the reception the philosophy of innovation in the real world for real people resonated. Very quickly, several of the profession's leaders signed on as Advisory Board and Visiting faculty. This connection to the field and practice is critical as they will help guide the program, injecting ideas and wisdom based on their professional, rather than purely academic, experience.

Today the site for the ArtCenter Graphic Design Graduate (MGx) program is live and we are building an amazing space with a national American furniture company. I'm excited to serve as the Director of the program, providing designers with the skills and tools to not just succeed, but be the next generation of leaders.

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.

Making the Bed in New Orleans

“When did you realize you had gone from being a designer to being a personality?” one person asked me at the AIGA conference in New Orleans last week. Someone else said, “I can’t believe I’m talking with you. You’re a celebrity.” Good so far, but then added, “You should be a game show host.” April Greiman addressed me as the “Bob Barker of graphic design” repeatedly. Somewhere along the line I wanted to make a t-shirt that read, “I’m actually a designer. I am more than my hair.”

We all make our own beds. Hosting Command X is one of my greatest joys. Working with these seven young designers and seeing their amazing bravery is unbelievably satisfying. I’m not giving that up even if the world decides I am well known only for being perky onscreen. I know seeing me onstage doing this reinforces the “game show host” persona. If that’s the price to work with the Command X superstars, I’ll pay it. 

But, at my core, I’m a designer. I’d rather work on a complex issue and find a smart solution than host the $25,000 Pyramid. I need to figure out how Michael Bierut walked this tightrope. If it were up to me, he’d have Charlie Rose’s job, and I still consider him one of our greatest designers.

I think it’s the hair. I can’t do anything about that. It just happens by itself wanting to be game show or newscaster hair. Maybe I’ll cut it super short, and then people will say, “Oh, that Sean Adams, boy he's fugly, but yeah, isn’t he a graphic designer?”


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.

I am fairly out, and you are fairly in.

President Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy, 1960

"I am fairly out, and you are fairly in. See which of us will be the happiest." This is a quote President George Washington said as he passed the presidency to John Adams. I thought about this today as tomorrow is my last day as AIGA president. On July 1, the job is Su Mathews-Hale's. She will be a dynamic, smart, and visionary president. And, clearly infinitely more patient than me. The floggings will stop.

I stepped in for a second term 2 years ago. I did this, not because I have a huge ambition for power. If I did this is the wrong job. AIGA was in the midst of a controversial issue, the sale of the building. This and the next challenge, the search for a new Executive Director, were critical. And I might be of some help.

Me and Debbie Millman (my first term) 2008

AIGA Presidents, L-R: Clement Mok, Sean Adams, Bill Drenttel, Debbie Millman, Michael Bierut, Ric Grefé (Executive Director), Michael Vanderbyl, 2009

My first term as president from 2007-2009 was like the Eisenhower years. It was a good time. Membership and revenue was high, chapters were growing and thriving, and the organization was efficient and had a remarkable support system of Ric Grefé, Denise Wood, an amazing staff, and nation of volunteers. We had board retreats in Palm Springs (yes, board members pay for it all themselves). The only thing missing was Mamie.

Mamie Eisenhower, 1954

This term was more like the Clinton years. Change is never easy and progress seemed to happen in hard jolts, not a seamless walk. Social media and online conversations create an immediate response to every decision. This is good because dialogue is the basis of a vital democracy. The downside is that rumor and conjecture quickly became facts. At times it felt like there was a vast right wing conspiracy. But, to keep it in perspective, it's AIGA, not the United States Senate.

President Bill Clinton

President Bill Clinton

me at the end of my second term, 2015 (OMFG!)

me at the end of my second term, 2015 (OMFG!)

People ask me how I feel about leaving after so many years. In fact, I'll be staying on the board to work with the Executive Director search committee, but my days of demanding that others bow to me are unfortunately over. 

The best part will be the chance to devote more time to education, supporting young designers, and actually designing. I look forward to spending less time on conference calls (which I hate because I never know who is speaking, and am easily confused). But, I will never again feel the same pride, as I do now serving the profession. 

Me and the fabulous Katie Baker, May 2015, Grand Rapids, Michigan

AIGA is more vital and stronger than any time in history. To all of you who have been part of this two year journey: We did it. We weren't just marking time. We made a difference. We made the organization and design profession stronger, and we leave it in good hands. All in all, not bad.

I will leave with the greatest pride for this organization of ours and eternal optimism for its future. Su, you're on.

The flawless Su Mathews-Hale, Madam President

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 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.