Design Sexy Time

Paul Hesse photo  

When I was in college, a visiting artist gave a presentation on "Sex in Advertising." As this was in the midst of the women's art movement and high critical thinking, the audience expected a relentless assault on the horrors of sexuality in advertising and design. Instead, the artist presented an intelligent examination. She discussed issues such as objectification, subjugation, and patriarchy. But she also talked about less black and white points like seduction, human nature, beauty, and the power of primary impulses such as sex and eating. When she turned from the attitude du jour of the evils of sex and began to explore the possibility that sex might be positive, the audience responded with outrage. They stomped out of the theater in disgust and fury. It was like a stampede of crazed buffalo.

Of course, sex in design can be detrimental and negative. But are there instances when it works? Is it okay to like a poster or ad because it is "hot." For some reason, a large proportion of older male designers in the 1960s and 70s retired and made fine art that was really just thinly disguised soft core porn. Henry Wolf used imagery that might work in Playboy on mainstream advertising.

I've always liked the definition that "good" is about creation and construction, "evil" is about destruction and making someone "less than." Perhaps this is the filter to view this type of work. Is the subject glorified and celebrated, or minimized and objectified?

Milton Glaser

Henry Wolf

Advertising 1950s

Navy Recruitment poster, WWII

Henry Wolf

J.C. Leyendecker

Colin Forbes

J.C. Leyendecker

Tadanori Yokoo

Victor Moscoso

Robert Brownjohn

Men's Fashion, 1978

Peter Behrens

Aubrey Beardsley

Art Direction

 

There is a rather severe difference of opinion about using a cliché in the design world. I like them. They are clichés because we all understand them. As long as the idea is presented in an unexpected way, it’s all good with me. An arrow is cliché. “Oh, Sean,” I’ve heard, “Arrows are so 20th-century.” But, why be oblique and complicated when it is so easy to point someone in the right direction?

Arrows are wonderful because they are symbols that command. The viewer is not being asked, “Would you prefer to turn right, perhaps?” An arrow screams, “TURN RIGHT! TURN NOW!” How many other symbols can do that? Lester Beall introduced me to the wonderful world of arrows. Not, Lester, personally, but through Lou Danziger’s vast historical knowledge. At a time when design was racing faster toward more is more with less and less clarity, the arrow was a revelation. The zeitgeist of that time was , "make less with more." I wanted to make more with less (follow me? More meaning, less stuff.). I could put an arrow on a poster next to a headline and the viewer would read this first. Who knew?

Unfortunately, arrows are a temptation. Like all wonderful things, too much is not good. Judicious usage is needed. As Groucho Marx said: “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defense of Garish Acts

A few weeks ago I attempted to repaint my living room in sophisticated silver grey. This was a mistake. What looked beautiful in the Restoration Hardware catalogue looked like a prison cell in my living room. If I wanted to interrogate visitors, or slam them up against a wall with a shiv this would be perfect. I called my trusty painter Jeirro and he repainted it back to aqua and watermelon pink. Clearly I am doomed to what others refer to as bad taste or garish color.

In defense of garish color I point to some of our finest designers, Paul RandArt PaulTadanori Yokoo, and Paul Bruno. We think of these people as refined craftsmen. But did they shy away from magenta and orange, purple and lime green? No. They embraced it and ignored the calls from the sophisticated elite, “More beige, please.”

I’ve often used the baby mobile argument. If beige mobile and a brightly colored mobile are presented to a toddler, he or she will always gravitate toward the bright one. The bad things in life, rotten meat, deadly deep water, and coffins are dull and grey. The good things, non-poisonous berries, swimming pools, and pink Cadillacs are bright and cheerful. This is why clients react badly when presented a baby shit green poster, and cheer for the bright yellow and happy pink one.

Paul Rand, 1964

Yes, No, Yes, No, I Mean Maybe

I’ll admit it; I’m contradictory. I’ve learned this is a good thing to say. I can get away with so many things. When I change my mind, I can say, “I know I said I like yellow, but now I want brown. I’m contradictory,” or, “I gave that Boardwalk Empire show a chance, today I decided it's boring.” At a lecture a couple of weeks ago someone pointed out that although I talk about clarity and a modernist approach, some of our work had ornamentation. My response, “Well I’m contradictory.” See how well it works.

Consequently, I love Tadanori Yokoo’s work. Theoretically, it should be too complex, layered, and decorative, and I should only like John Massey. But, Yokoo endlessly inspires me. His work is related to psychadelia and the Fillmore tradition in spirit, but also has a unique approach to space. Like traditional Japanese prints, distance is visualized by the placement on the page, not a western 3-dimensional perspective. His work takes traditional elements and combines them with western iconography and popular culture. He doesn’t carefully and harmoniously combine these; they seem slammed together with remarkable energy. Don’t get me wrong, though, I also love John Massey. Why? Yes, you know.

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Priscilla's Beauty Salon, Los Angeles, California

We are now traveling along the Burning Settlers Cabin Trail leaving the world of high-end classic design and entering the land of wonder. This business card may, indeed, be the most inspiring and influential business card in history. First, who knew that business cards could be die-cut with a palette shape. Second, why have I not used people's heads on my business card design? And finally, gradated pastel rainbow forms create an etherial tone. The miraculous Tadanori Yokoo obviously used this business card as the basis for all of his work, as evidenced below.

Tadanori Yokoo, Koshimaki-osen, 1966