Helvetica is Jan

Speaking after Stefan Sagmeister at a conference is a bad idea. I've done this many times. It's not that Stefan is nothing less than a true gentleman and good friend, it's that when he finishes, I can look out at the audience from the side of the stage and see people streaming out en masse. "Well that's what I came for, time to go," they must be saying. I'm not crazy about doing this, as I tend to come off as, "and now for the easy listening break."

Years ago, I spoke at a conference following someone, not as generous as Stefan, who was one of the hip and cool designers at that time. She talked about the critical theory and deconstruction of meaning regarding a logo she designed that looked exactly like Helvetica, but the crossbar of the "A" was removed. People seemed enthralled. I just thought, "and..."

Now, I've become that person, waxing on about the importance of the differences between Haas Grotesk and Helvetica. Sorry. I know everyone has a major hard-on for Helvetica, but I can't look at it as anything but the less attractive sister of Haas Grotesk, like Jan and Marsha. Originally, Helvetica was Haas Grotesk, but over time changes were made for expediency. Christian Schwartz redrew Haas Grotesk in 2004, based on Max Miedinger's 1957 version.

Compared to standard issue system Helvetica, it's elegant, crisp, warm, and legible. It doesn't suffer from the "generic" look of Helvetica. I've been using it probably more than I should. I promise, however, to not talk endlessly about the lower case "r" at my next lecture. Maybe just a little.

Haas Grotesk (L) Helvetica (R)
Helvetica in Switzerland
Helvetica in Switzerland

Poo Poo Platter

Let's Hula guide, 1956  

Several years ago I judged the ID Magazine Awards and Rick Valicenti entered his controversial piece, "Just My Type". This is an alphabet made from the interaction between Rick and an online porn actress. He suggests she make a letterform with her body, but she tries to maintain a scripted sexual role. Eventually both parties understand what needs to happen and an alphabet is made from her body positions. The piece caused a huge divide with the judges. The issue had more to do with the objectification and use of a woman rather than anything sexually explicit. I fought to include the piece because it forced a dialogue. And it was incredibly well made and thoughtful. Ten years later, it is the only project from that entire day of judging I remember.

As much as I would like to do a project that causes that level of controversy, I don't seem to have it in me. After Stefan Sagmeister sent us his first naked promotion card we considered doing a naked poster also. It worked for April Greiman and Stefan. But we could only think of taking it one step further and making something truly explicit and disgusting. But then we would need to face each other at work the next day. So that idea was out. Instead we stayed the course with a fresh sense of optimism. This seemed to piss people off already.

I've kept a hula dance guide for twenty years, thinking that someday I could make a hula girl typeface, like a watered down version of Rick's project. Unfortunately, there are not enough poses to do this. Nevertheless, the hula guide is a cherished possession. It makes hula dancing look so stiff and un-fun. There is a note that it should be used with "Hula Record's cassette #CHS-500." I sure wish I had that cassette. I hope it's as stiff as the guide, with someone barking orders over Aloha Oe, " Sway! Now! Like the ocean! STOP! Wave to the left!"

Let's Hula, Hula Records, Inc. 1956

Let's Hula, Hula Records, Inc. 1956

When not choking is good

Tomorrow, Thursday December 6, at 11am PST, 2:00 pm EST I'll be hosting a webcast about AIGA's 100 year history. "Boy, Sean," you say, "That sounds as interesting as a lecture about the history of the UAW." And, if it weren't for the incredible images, you might be correct. The difference is the design solutions created by the nation's leading designers over a century. They didn't design an ordinary poster or publication. These pieces ended up in the hands of their peers, and we know that designers often can have opinions. I've had the experience of asking a designer to create something for AIGA, and then watch them choke. There is something about the pressure that all of your friends, enemies, and heroes will see it. That's understandable. But, the opposite is true. When they succeed they create work that is often some of the best pieces of their career. So, if you want to see some pretty nifty design, and you don't mind listening to me blather on about history, join intomorrow, http://www.aiga.org/webcast-100-years/.




Designers in Black, part 1

Sean Adams and the wonderfully jewelled Madame President, Debbie Millman

Last Thursday, I attended the AIGA Design Legends Gala in New York. I was in Kona the week before, and it was a helluva flight from Hawaii to LA to New York, but the Gala is an evening that reminds me why I’m a designer. Of course, there are inspirational speeches and presentations. Debbie Millman gave an eloquent speech about the current economy and why designers are more important than ever. The Medalists, Carin Goldberg, Doyald Young, and Pablo Ferro were remarkable and seeing their work is exactly the shot in the arm I needed. But, many of you are probably asking, who looked good? Fortunately, I’m shallow and took my camera to find some of the best dressed. Now I admit I’m bad at this job. I started and then had a couple of Gin and Tonics, then the gorgeous Marian Bantjes sat on my lap, then I lost interest in the photography. Nevertheless, for your pleasure, here are some of the highlights I found before forgetting I needed to do this post.

Stefan Sagmeister with snappy tie and Marian Bantjes in a dress of her own fabric design

Petrula Vrontikis unbelievably gorgeous and dapper Armin Vit

Pam Williams outdoing Madame Pierre Gautreau by John Singer Sargent

This defines classic and glamorous, Michael Donovan and Nancye Green

This defines classic and glamorous, Michael Donovan and Nancye Green

Board heartthrob Brad Weed and beautiful wife Susan Pappalardo


Immaculately dressed Michael Vanderbyl and ever-charming Gaby Brink

Sean and Kenna Kay absolutely perfect