Return of the Color

Almost ten years ago, Terry Lee Stone and I wrote the Color Design Workbook. Since then, it's remained a best seller in the graphic design category ( I hate saying that. It sounds like a facebook post from too many people that are more interested in themselves than others). But, it's about numbers. Last year, Judith Cressy contacted me and asked if I'd like to do an updated new edition. Uh, yes, please. 

I had a great time finding new work to illustrate some of the points made. I love when I have the chance to highlight work from designers who aren't published all the time (yet). I'm so pleased with this book. It gives real information (thank you Terry Lee Stone) about color in design. Hopefully, it will lead to a reduced terror of color. As I've said so many time, "No two colors dislike each other. The only crime is to be timid."

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/ 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.

Compositions by the Sea

Foundations of Layout,

A few months ago, my friend Terry Lee Stone suggested that I do a course for I've known Lynda Weinman for years. We served on the AIGA national board together. She's one of the smartest people I know, and Kristin Ellison, who has been my editor on several books was joining So I knew I could trust everyone. I liked the idea of teaching to a wide audience of people. has over 2.5 million members.

I went out to the huge and impressive  production facility and headquarters near Santa Barbara to do a screen test. I thought about saying "I don't do screen tests," but that sounded a little too Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard. I had a little trouble convincing the make-up person that the white people makeup made me look like someone from The Walking Dead and I was actually not that pale. Fortunately it worked and they weren't revolted.

I started working on a course, Foundations of Layout. I thought it would be easy. I've been doing layouts for a long, long, long time. But each movie covers one piece of the puzzle: scale, grids, imagery, etc.. It was like teaching someone how to walk. You do it every day so you forget all the individual things that work together to make your legs move and body stay upright.

I didn't expect it to be as rewarding as it was. I had to go back and distill an idea like harmony into something understandable and digestible. After doing that, I remembered things I'd long ago forgotten. It helped me as a designer and teacher at Art Center.

I spent a week at the studios working with a cracker jack crew. I became obsessed that my hair looked like an old woman's hairdo and they had the crappy job of persuading me otherwise. Of course nobody likes to watch themselves on camera, myself included. But if I get past my old woman hair I'm really pleased with the result. And that has everything to do with the people at

old lady hair


The Delighters

AdamsMorioka design, Managing the Design Process by Terry Stone, 2010

In my own town people know me, so they just think, "Oh yeah, Sean, what a nitwit." But in other cities they may not have yet figured this out. So I am treated either  with warmth or derision. That's all fine. The worse case scenario is when someone assumes I must be a super serious designer. Sitting at dinner next to a designer who is insists on discussing the current state of design is kind of dull. I'd rather know who is sleeping with whom at the table. Actually, the worse, worse case scenario is sitting next to a communist. This happened once. We didn't get along.

When someone rambles on about design being of service to business and how no design can be judged without looking at effectiveness I want to go to the bathroom and slit my wrists just for excitement. Yes, I agree design is a critical component of success in business. Design should be judged by its effectiveness.

But where does that leave the work that I love that really wasn't that effective? Does that mean I shouldn't begin making form until I've filled a wall with post-it notes and focus group studies? Here's the dirty little secret: sometimes I make things just because I want to.

When our great friend, Terry Lee Stone, asked us to design a series of books for her on Managing the Design Process I immediately started thinking about graphs and simple shapes. The end product may not be purely functional or effective. But I sure had fun designing it. A friend sent me a link to Franz Ferdinand's video for Right Action and said it was similar, so it must be cool. Maybe its okay for design to be effective, and once in awhile simply about designers making something wonderful.

AdamsMorioka design, Managing the Design Process by Terry Stone, 2010

AdamsMorioka design, Managing the Design Process by Terry Stone, 2010

AdamsMorioka design, Managing the Design Process by Terry Stone, 2010

AdamsMorioka design, Managing the Design Process by Terry Stone, 2010

AdamsMorioka design, Managing the Design Process by Terry Stone, 2011

AdamsMorioka design, Managing the Design Process by Terry Stone, 2011

AdamsMorioka design, Managing the Design Process by Terry Stone, 2011

AdamsMorioka design, Managing the Design Process by Terry Stone, 2011

AdamsMorioka design, Managing the Design Process by Terry Stone, 2011

AdamsMorioka design, Managing the Design Process by Terry Stone, 2010

Snowflakes from Hell

My friend, Terry Lee Stone, introduced me to the term, “special snowflake.” This applies to young people who have attitude problems. Typically, for their entire lives they were told, “You’re special. You’re unique. You can do no wrong. There is no such thing as competition, everyone is a winner.” So they start college and are shocked when they are told to do a project over, or that their solution is not world changing. Oddly, there is competition in the world. Oddly, some people are better than us at something. Part of the problem is society’s need to celebrate every aspect of a child’s life.

Now I know there will be huge outcry over my next opinion, but the truth must be told. I believe in positive reinforcement. But I do not understand the graduating ceremony for the end of grammar school and middle school. Graduating from high school is an achievement. Some people don’t. Unless you are taken to live in a Unabomber cabin in the woods, everyone will automatically move from grammar school to middle school, and middle school to high school. There is no choice, and no risk of not achieving this. So, why have a graduation celebration?

This leads me to typewriters (I know it’s disjointed, but imagine living in my head all day). When I started high school, my parents gave me a portable red Olivetti Underwood typewriter. They did not throw a big party for my ability to pass the 8th grade. They didn’t send me on the Grand Tour of Europe for the summer. Sensible and appropriate? Yes.

Olivetti's commitment to design was inherent in all aspects, from product design to graphic design. The roster of design consultants could have been made by following the AIGA Medalist list. Olivetti's designers included Bayer, Rand, Lionni, Pintori, and Ballmer. As opposed to other corporations in the 1960s approach to good corporate identity, which was typically a whitewash, Olivetti's made design part of every aspect of the company.

Friends Don't Let Friends Eat Cake and Drive

I was told years ago, that you’re an alcoholic if you do these things:

1. Drink alone

2. Drink to solve your problems

3. Have more than two drinks each night

I know I’m not an alcoholic because:

1. Drink alone: uh, yeah, of course. You can’t wait until bunches of people are around.

2. Drink to solve your problems: why else would you drink?

3. Have more than two drinks each night: I don’t. I have a big Thermo-ware mug, sort of Big Gulp size.

My great friend Terry Lee Stone just wrote a cookbook with Krystina Castella, Booze Cakes. My response to this book did alarm me a little bit. Terry explained that much of the alcohol is baked out when you cook the cake, but the frosting would still have 100% of the alcohol. I don’t particularly like cake, but I immediately wanted to know if I could make a white cake with a cream frosting and maintain the alcohol level. “We should have a booze cake party,” I told Terry. It now occurred to me that I would probably like the cakes in Terry’s book. I also thought this would be a great gift to bring when invited to dinner. Some of the recipes look great, such as the Tequila Sunrise Cake. I usually stay away from tequila. It makes me do bad things like knock off 7-11s. But I’m all for this version. And I’m sure it won’t end up like The Days of Wine and Roses, or Less Than Zero. I can hold my cake.

Bag That Bleach, Dude

One of my favorite blogs is Cathy of California. There are always wonderful ideas and images. I don’t have the time to make many of the incredible items, but a blog that has appliqué items is all good. As you know, my grandmother did have the time and talent to make items. I spent an entire summer organizing her felt, Styrofoam balls, jeweled pins, tacky glue, and thousands of other craft materials. They are all still sitting in 100s of plastic bins. We donated several boxes of yarn to Terry Stone who was teaching knitting to at risk teens. But jeweled pins have limited appeal today unless you have hours to watch reruns of Lawrence Welk and make ornaments.

One of my favorite items is a bag my grandmother made from plastic bottles of detergent and bleach. I use it to carry supplies to school, or as a tote bag when I need to cart items between the house and office. Of course, it’s disturbing to many when the see me carrying an old lady craft bag, but get over it. It’s got everything: orange, ochre, pink, yellow, plastic, imprints of numbers, and a handy pocket on the inside to hold knitting needles. When anyone talks about sustainable practices, take note: we should all make usable items from our empty bottles, or other debris.

The Award Awards

AIGA 1962

Terry Lee Stone and I were talking about the good old days of competitions.  We both agreed that we loved all of the printed ephemera that was produced each year for either AIGA 365, or the New York Art Director’s Club Show, or Western Art Director’s Club. I know this is really, really bad. It’s not a sustainable practice, and the world is a more caring place now that we do these communications digitally. But, to be asked to design everything from the poster to the award certificate for one of these competitions was a choice project. When Lou Danziger was moving out of his studio, one of Frank Gehry’s first buildings, he called Noreen and me and asked if we wanted anything. We managed to walk away with a George Nelson H leg table, Lou’s custom wood flat files, a copy stand, and Lou’s box of awards. For 15 years, the awards been carefully archived away.

Now, they have been released and some are displayed here. I especially love the 1962 AIGA award, presumably designed by George Tscherny. The “XIX” award can be seen on the walls of Sterling Cooper on Mad Men. The green and pink NYADC club award from 1963 has the most incredible swirls. And, finally, the AIGA mailing label on the tube, I know Paul Rand designed the AIGA logo, and the multi-talented Bart Crosby refined it, but this is tempting.

ADLA as seen on Mad Men

NYADC 1963

AIGA mailing label


AIGA 1963

AIGA 1956

AIGA 1964

CA 1963