Film Starts Here

In 2001, we started working with Sundance. Over the next 9 years, we had a wonderful time working on the Sundance Film Festival, Sundance Channel, Sundance Institute, Sundance Resort, and a few other Sundance properties. It’s hard to complain about a project, when you are meeting Robert Redford in a beautiful valley in the mountains of Utah. We had a great appreciation for the role Sundance plays in preservation, independent thinking, and artistic integrity. And, something close to our hearts is Sundance’s connection to the American west as an idea. It isn’t about the west of cowboys and Indians, but about vast open space, pioneering thinking, and optimism.

Working with the creative team at Sundance, specifically Jan Fleming and Robert Redford, was a true collaboration. And while it sounds like the party line, that’s how we do our best work. I also love working with Robert Redford because he insists on calling Noreen (Morioka), “Maureen Noriega.”

My Little Town

Every once in awhile, I run into Jeff Keedy out walking his dog. I’ve known Jeff for a long, long, long time, since I was 20 years old. This week, I was thrilled to hear that The Museum of Modern Art selected Jeff’s typeface, Keedy Sans, for its permanent collection. Jeff designed Keedy Sans in 1991 and explains its concept, “Most typefaces are logically systematic; if you see a few letters you can pretty much guess what the rest of the font will look like. I wanted a typeface that would willfully contradict those expectations.”  I like living in a neighborhood with someone who walks his dog, chats about the weather, and is that smart.

There’s a multitude of incredibly talented designers making wonderful typefaces. It’s not well known, but we make typefaces also. It’s usually in the service of a specific client. We designed “Bob” for Sundance, specifically named for Robert Redford so the in-house designers could never say, “I just don’t like Bob.” We designed Taco for our friend, Larry Nicola’s restaurant, Mexico. We’ve even monkeyed with a font here and there. One of our clients at Cedars-Sinai didn’t like the numeral “1” in Sabon, and I hated the “0”. So we fixed them.

I admit I’m envious of Jeff’s abilities and conceptual approach. In the last couple of years, we’ve forced our interns to design typefaces with questionable taste. I’d love to say it’s because we’re interested in the intersection of decoration, pastiche, and legibility, but I can’t. It sounds mean, but I need them. I don’t know where, but I’ll find a home for them. Maybe I can use Octavia in all caps with swashes for body copy. And I like forcing people to do something that makes them want to go home and take a Silkwood shower.

Scary Monsters and Super Imitation Leather

Each time I begin working on an identity project, I think, “Wait, let’s not make a logo, let’s make a mascot.” Most of the time, common sense weighs in, but I’ve actually made it as far as the first presentation. Mr. M. TV, and Sunny Sundance didn’t get any further, but Verbenia Via for Mohawk, and Mr. Cecil for Mr. Cecil’s Ribs became real. The Nauga Monster for Naugahyde is a mascot and a toy. In the 1960s, George Lois proposed the mythical Nauga as part of the advertising campaign to distinguish Naugahyde from its competitors. At the last minute before the launch, the legal department became concerned that people would be confused and think the Nauga was a real animal. Fortunately, people are smarter than house cats (who would frankly also know it was fake).

Design in Space


Several years ago, we pitched the idea of doing a show about “design in film” to the Sundance Channel. Yes, this was stepping out of our job of identity and brand design, but we had their attention via the on-air graphics, so why not? Well it worked as well as teaching a goat Buddhism. They just looked at us as if we had suggested doing a show about watching grass grow. Our first show would have focused Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey. So, I abandoned our idea and focused on deconstructing (that’s French structuralism for stealing) the design of the movie.

Unlike Design Observer, that discussed the film's typographic choices, mainly Futura, with an exemplary intellectual rigor, I am excited by the aesthetics and wacky spacefood packaging. The color palette is a lesson in late 1960s “sophistication”: ochre, avocado green, orange, cornflower blue, paired in black and white settings. The shapes used for doors, windows, on-screen graphics, and the monolith could all be easily converted into high-style corporate identities of the time. My favorite element, however, is the food service tray. The quirky illustrations of specific food items to be eaten through a straw are strangely out of place in the high-design aesthetic. But they give hope that there will be a home for odd and wacky when we are flying on a Pan Am shuttle to the moon.

wacky mashed food mashed corn mashed peas Logic Memory Center The Tycho monolith in a neo-classical Bel-Air style home circa 1968 on screen interface on moon shuttle