Where's My Grid Dude?

When I was in Berlin, I loved that people waited at the crosswalk until the light turned green, waited in line politely, and exited the S-Bahn correctly. There were no people shoving to get in before everyone exited, nobody ran across a busy street ignoring oncoming traffic, or tried to get past you in the line at the grocery store. I like order.

Order is good for many things. But too much of it can be cold, as in intimate situations, "No, not that yet. We are still on the schedule for you doing this." Josef Müller-Brockmann managed order without the chilly part. His posters and publications are mathematically precise, but that creates harmony. Müller-Brockmann also was a master at scale. Not only are the elements placed precisely, but the scale of the pieces relate to each other just as orderly.

Of course, many people think of Josef Müller-Brockmann as the grid dude. And yes, he was indeed the grid dude. But if that were his only skill, we would be left with a range of work from A-B. Instead, each piece is it's own unique masterpiece.

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.

1:1.61

Massimo Vignelli, 1971

Like most people, I like order. I prefer my desk to be neat and my books arranged correctly. I have recurring nightmares about a house with an incredibly messy hidden room. Consequently, I'm a sucker for Swiss design. It's that rational golden rectangle that is used relentlessly. I am in awe of the designer who was able to make everything sync so precisely. It must take days to map out every tiny detail to fit into the mathematically rigid grid absolutely perfectly.

Often, when I'm asked, "Sean, just how do you use the golden rectangle? Do I shove everything into it? What if my page size isn't A4?" I suggest that the designer use the golden rectangle as a loose guide. Drop it down, turn it on it's side, see what works best for you. Then adjust the layout so it relatively aligns to the grid. I know someone in Switzerland just threw themselves in front of a train after hearing that, but what else can we do in America with out hideous 8-1/2 x 11 page size?

In my view it's better to try to walk the straight and narrow with the golden section, even if you don't hit it perfectly. It's better than working willy nilly all over the place as if a squirrel was making layout decisions. Now some post-modernist just threw themselves in front of a bus.


Otl Aicher, Rolf Müller, 1972


Siegfried Odermatt


Rolf Müller, 1972


Gottschalk + Ash


E. + U. Hiestand


Carlo Vivarelli

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.

Alla buona derrata, pensaci su.

I like Switzerland. It's hellishly expensive and a beer costs $20, but as they say, the trains run on time and the design is nice. Once  in awhile a young designer will ask me, "Don't you think everything would be better if there were standards for all signage and information. Maybe everything could be in Univers?" But, that would end up recreating Switzerland. I like the weird hand-drawn signs on my neighborhood botanica, and the awful use of Hobo at the Boho Café.

Max Huber managed to marry the elegance and simplicity of Swiss modernism with the vibrancy and expression of play. He was born in Switzerland, then emigrated to Italy. The Italian spirit of la vita e bella (life is beautiful) wove its way into Huber's Swiss grids and black and red color palette. His work has joy, exuberance, and a touch of chaos. Like a day in Rome. The colors are vibrant, pure, and aggressive.

I didn't know Max Huber. He died in 1992. But I imagine a dinner with him to be filled with too much wine, wonderful stories, and risqué jokes. I like Herbert Bayer too, but I don't think dinner with him would have been as fun.

More of the Gold

Delivering on my promise from yesterday, I’m adding to the golden section post. I’ve mutilated several posters by Swiss masters to represent its usage. The mathematical description is as follows: the Golden Section is also known as the Golden Mean, Golden Ratio and Divine Proportion.  It is a ratio or proportion defined by the number Phi (1.618033988749895... ). It is best explained on Designorama or the enclosed Donald in Mathimagicland. I’m not lazy, it’s just complicated.