On Being Plain

Every once in awhile, I get a hankerin’ to be taken seriously. I’ll see a critical theory article that deconstructs one of my friends’ work and think, “Maybe I should be doing that kind of work.” Envy is a terrible and pointless emotion. But then, I remember our mission. When we started AdamsMorioka in 1993, we wanted to go the opposite direction. There was so much desperate work then that screamed, “I’m serious! I have no sense of humor. I am only intended to be understood by a select group of intellectual theorists.” I wanted to be the Beach Boys, not Bauhaus (the band), Rodgers and Hammerstein, not Karen FinleySteven Speilberg, not Luis Buñuel. This doesn’t mean I'm anti-intellectual, or don't admire artists who push limits. I love things that are way out of the park. And I refuse to deny anyone the right to create whatever they desire. So, what does this mean?

Ed Fella said it best when he called my work American Pragmatism. It’s about being plain spoken and honest, not fancy and oblique. Maybe it’s because I'm from the West and can’t think differently. I'm interested in speaking to the broadest audience possible, making life a little better for them, and treating every other designer with respect and dignity. I'm not interested in excluding or demonizing others because they do work unlike mine. Everyone deserves to be celebrated and revered.

Now the funny part of this is that we both came out of a deeply theoretical education at CalArts. I can subvert, deconstruct, and pastiche with the best of them, but I do it with stealth. As long as the form is seductive, appealing, and aesthetic, I can pour in as much meaningor contradiction as needed. But, I'm human. When someone at a conference says, “You’re so funny. Everything you do is so cute.” This feels minimizing and I’m tempted to do that oblique and complex poster in the nude that nobody understands. Then I remember why I like plain and honest, something that has optimism and joy. So I leave you with these sentiments:

“Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.” — Will Rogers

 “The world belongs to you as much as the next fellow. Don’t give it up.” — Rodgers and Hammerstein

 “T-shirts, cut-offs, and a pair of thongs. We've been having fun all summer long.” — Beach Boys

 “ET phone home.” —Steven Spielberg

I Just Wasn't Made for These Times

When we started AdamsMorioka in the mid 1990s, the design world seemed endlessly enthralled by the discordant, weird, and complex. Unfortunately, we’re none of those things, so we were forced to fall back on our own values and personalities. I recall talking with Noreen at Hamburger Hamlet about this. “Let’s face it,” I said, “We’re just not that groovy.” She agreed, and made a wonderful analogy that the designers doing work that was complex and avante garde were like Portishead or The Smashing Pumpkins, we were like The Beach Boys. This was confirmed years later at a dinner with Ellen Lupton. After dinner, she turned to me and said, “You know, you’re actually smart. I thought you were just a beach surf guy.” I’m taking this as a compliment.

Actually, I liked being more like The Beach Boys than The Boo Radleys. First, Pet Sounds is one of my favorite records. Second, I think they were adventurous and did some amazing things with unexpected instruments and tone. The Beatles gave them credit for being a major influence on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. And finally, Wouldn’t it Be Nice? is a remarkable piece of music that I could listen to endlessly. And, I do at work. It’s like torture, but it’s the price you pay if you work with us.