The Strange Case of the Designer

39770-Conductor-Design-Observer.gif

What makes a graphic designer strange? Is it the obsessive attention to kerning on street signs, arguing whether PMS 172 is orange or red, or collecting odd scraps of paper on every European vacation? These may seem strange activities to civilians but they are some of the many quirks that define us. Our ability to find wonder in almost anything, however, is the truly rare skill. There are few subjects for a project that don’t elicit first interest, and then the need to know everything. A sound designer can take drill bits, ducks, polyester shirts, or viral infections and make something incredible and compelling. Contrast that with a non-designer guest at a dinner party. When I ask, “Did you know that a tungsten carbide drill bit can penetrate almost any material?” my dinner partner may look confused and then bored. 

Tobias Frere-Jones recently released a new typeface based on Bulgarian Lotto tickets from the 1930s. This inspiration may seem somewhat oblique to an investment banker but is entirely in line with the way designers see the world. Bulgarian lottery tickets? Why not?

Fere-Jones discovered the typography while researching a project for letterforms as security devices. The numerals are an example of self-verifying numbers. The name of each digit is spelled out beneath. Eighteen months passed and Frere-Jones began to question what sort of alphabet might go along with these monolithic, theatrical numerals?

Read More

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.

And

I filmed an interview yesterday for a documentary. One of the questions posed to me was, "Why is design important in this instance?"  I answered with all the correct statements about value, perception, customer experience, you know the drill. But then I told the nerdy truth. As designers, we love things like a serif that others don't see or care about.

For example, I am a sucker for ampersands. I love the challenge of creating a mark with one, or finding the perfect one for a headline. I once replaced every Garamond ampersand in a book, set entirely in Garamond, with a Sabon ampersand, slightly reduced. Because it was better. Did the final reader notice? I hope not. It should have appeared natural and unobtrusive. 

I love the variety of choices from Duchy that is close to the original et (and) in Latin, to the slight variation on that with Cochin Italic, to the pure symbol of Bauhaus. There are some clear winners in the world of ampersand: the Pistilli Roman, Sabon italic, Sentinel, and recently, Museo versions. But, sometimes it's good to be bad. That's when you invite Behemoth, ITC Tiffany Heavy, and City along. But I have a special place for Doyald Young's Young Baroque. That ampersand is fine.

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.

In Bed with the Bembo

Monotype Caslon, The Stinehour Press, specimen sheet

Graphic design is like cooking. If you want to create a successful meal, you need to start with the best ingredients. If I were a chef (which I'm not since I can only make turkey burgers), I would hope to use fresh organic vegetables and spices. I don't imagine I would do well using Rice-a-Roni and Spaghetti-Os. So why are designers willing to stoop to the Kraft macaroni and cheese (that I actually do like) level when picking a typeface?

"Uh, I think it's Caslon."
"I don't know, maybe it's Weirdnamehere typeface"
"It looks ok to me."
"A friend found it."

These are the statements that are the downfall of civilization. It can't just be some trash Caslon you found working the street for free. You'll get a disease. It needs to be the best possible cut of Caslon. But how do you know if it comes from a good family or is from the wrong side of the tracks?

above: Caslon in metal. below: Caslon in digital form

I have a collection of type specimen sheets from Meriden-Stinehour Press. I've had these for almost thirty years. I use these to determine if the digital version is, at least, close to the metal one. Of course changes happen during translation. But I can tell if the ampersand has retained it's original blush of youth or has let itself go.

The lesson here: Stay away from cheap type. Get to know one before getting in bed with it. 

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.

The Slippery Road

Isn't this an oxymoron?

I was looking through an old type specimen book today and found myself repeating, "Oh my God, what have you done?" There were awful mutilations of classics like Garamond and Bembo. They were fattened up as if being readied for a slaughter. I expected this. I wasn't shocked when I found wacky 1970s typefaces. And then I came across the terror. 

This is what happens when type is freed from the constraints of metal and allowed to take on all kinds of forms with photo-typesetting. It was bound to happen. Like most things in life, because someone can do it, they will. 

The 1960s counter-culture was a rejection of consumerism. It wasn't cool to buy stuff. So design evolved. Household appliances, cars, and polyester clothing now existed in "earth" colors: avocado, mustard, brown, ochre, and burnt orange. This way an anti-consumerist could purchase a giant Buick and feel ok. And to make sure that the consumer knew he or she was getting value, things got bigger. Ties became as wide as scarves, jeans had giant bell bottoms, and big hair was the style du jour. 

I'm assuming this is the reason for some of the type mutilation. If I could have a bold font, could it be bolder? Why shouldn't Helvetica have swashes? Aztec temples as letterforms? Why not? And could someone add even more curly items on a typeface? Although I will admit I'm warming to some of these, especially the numerals and ampersands. But I imagine that's the slippery road to hell.


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.

Typography 101

This is basic anatomy for designers. Learn it, love it. For more info: http://www.lynda.com/Sean-Adams/519270-1.html


Typography History Fast


Classification Differences


Typesetting Basics

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.

Italian Types 1

On Sunday I returned home from a two week visit to Italy. Of course, two weeks is never enough. But unlike my ancestors who took six months to do the Grand Tour, I have three weeks between terms at Art Center and Michael has a real job. I found it easy to get used to having four people wait on me at breakfast. I also now know I need someone who can iron the sheets everyday. It’s barbaric to make one’s own bowl of Panda Puffs and Go Lean cereal each morning.

Typically, most of my photographs are of typography or color palettes. This time, however, I also managed a whole series of on nude statues and ceilings. I’m usually the only one taking the close up photos of the type, but there was another woman on the Vatican garden tour doing the same thing. We eyed each other suspiciously.

In my travels of typographic photography in Italy, I discovered something right under my nose: Hermann Zapf was a real Italophile. Who knew? Palatino is named after Giambattista Palatino. Optima is based on Roman capitals. And then there’s Sistina (Sistine Chapel), Michelangelo, Medici Script, Zapfino, Marconi, Aldus (Venetian Aldus Manutius), and Vario.

Yes, I know this is super über geeky. It’s even geekier to be walking through ruins on the Palatine Hill and say out loud, “Oh my God! Palatino! of course!”

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.

Helvetica is Jan

Speaking after Stefan Sagmeister at a conference is a bad idea. I've done this many times. It's not that Stefan is nothing less than a true gentleman and good friend, it's that when he finishes, I can look out at the audience from the side of the stage and see people streaming out en masse. "Well that's what I came for, time to go," they must be saying. I'm not crazy about doing this, as I tend to come off as, "and now for the easy listening break."

Years ago, I spoke at a conference following someone, not as generous as Stefan, who was one of the hip and cool designers at that time. She talked about the critical theory and deconstruction of meaning regarding a logo she designed that looked exactly like Helvetica, but the crossbar of the "A" was removed. People seemed enthralled. I just thought, "and..."

Now, I've become that person, waxing on about the importance of the differences between Haas Grotesk and Helvetica. Sorry. I know everyone has a major hard-on for Helvetica, but I can't look at it as anything but the less attractive sister of Haas Grotesk, like Jan and Marsha. Originally, Helvetica was Haas Grotesk, but over time changes were made for expediency. Christian Schwartz redrew Haas Grotesk in 2004, based on Max Miedinger's 1957 version.

Compared to standard issue system Helvetica, it's elegant, crisp, warm, and legible. It doesn't suffer from the "generic" look of Helvetica. I've been using it probably more than I should. I promise, however, to not talk endlessly about the lower case "r" at my next lecture. Maybe just a little.

Screen-Shot-2014-08-08-at-11.04.51-AM
Screen-Shot-2014-08-08-at-11.04.17-AM
Screen-Shot-2014-08-08-at-11.03.46-AM
Neue_Haas_Grotesk-alphabet
notebook-1957-May-07
specimen-1963-Neuburg_Rudin
poster_front_website_905
Haas Grotesk (L) Helvetica (R)
Helvetica in Switzerland
Helvetica in Switzerland

Mutilated Bodies

Some fonts are bad. They are like that photo of a horrible car crash that you can never unsee. It's not because they are cursed or especially ugly (well, some are), it's because they have been mutilated and left to die. As I've grown older, I'm drawn to typefaces that may, perhaps, strain the limits of good taste.

Last week, I used Davida, designed by Louis Minott in 1965, on an annual report project. Noreen suggested I was not following the corporate system and could be opening the door to future infractions. I saw it as adding some zest and excitement. I see so much good taste sans-serif typography on a daily basis that I'm starving for something wrong.

The problem was getting a good cut of Davida. The original is really well drawn and formed. But someone along the way discovered it in the bin of forgotten typefaces and beat it regularly. The digital version is a far cry from where it began. It's been around the block. My only choice is to redraw it myself and try to save it.

The lesson here is to find the original version of any font, see what it was meant to be before someone redrew it in a dark basement. I pledge to continue to rehabilitate Davida regardless of the current typographic style du jour.

Rundschrift

Many of you have written and asked, "Sean, do you have any more Herbert Bayer stuff to share?" Of course I do. Who knew there were so many Bayer fans? I thought nobody had any concept of anything pre-Brady Bunch, so this is a wonderful discovery. I don't have any snapshots or scandalous photos of Herb doing some wacky thing during Octoberfest, but I've got type. For your holiday weekend enjoyment, here are some of Bayer's typeface designs.

Missionary Position

AIGA article, U&LC magazine 1975

Some of you are probably aware that AIGA has been working on some primary issues for the last several months. The future of the organization, whether the headquarters building should be sold, and a multitude of other issues have been debated vigorously across 67 chapters and 23,000 members. Many of you have sent me kind notes, worried that the stress is getting to me. In all honesty, and this is probably not something I should divulge, I'm not that stressed. First, I know we'll end up in a good place. Second, between the national board, advisory board, and chapter leadership I have the smartest people in the industry working on this. And, third, genetics must be at play. Yes, it's important, but it's not founding a nation.

I found an old issue of U&LC from 1975. It has an interesting article from AIGA about typeface copyright protection. I like that it's set in justified, tightly leaded Tiffany. If a typeface needs protection, it's Tiffany. It's sort of the fat friend who dresses a little too glitzy. I'm also struck by the extreme niche subject matter. It was a time when AIGA was primarily a small New York club with 1700 members. An issue like typeface protection merited a whole page. And I now believe AIGA should drop the current clear and classic logo and go to the Tiffany solution.

 

AIGA article, U&LC magazine 1975

U&LC magazine 1975

The Slow Descent into Madness

I imagine being an interior designer is a hard job. So many people seem to have revolting taste. How do you tell a client that the orange deep shag carpeting and gold columns are tacky? As graphic designers, we face the same issue with typography. I’ve worked with clients who have the most beautifully designed offices, filled with Mies van der Rohe and Eames furniture. But, they invariably pull out a horrible piece of typography and suggest that for the logo. It isn’t the client’s fault; they don’t have the same OCD issues around a correct serif resolution that we do.

For my entire career, I’ve been a typographic purist. We managed to maintain with a handful of tried and true standards. We avoided trendy fonts and anything slightly degenerated or techno. In the past year, however, things have changed. We recently used ITC Avant Garde as a starting point on a wordmark. We re-purchased it, because I deleted it from every computer a decade ago. Last week, I designed a poster for our twentieth anniversary with ITC Bookman Swash Italic. What’s next, clown outfits for everyone at the studio? Linen paper?!

Once, when a client showed me a brochure with Avant Garde, I explained that this was the same as wall-to-wall green shag carpeting. Alternatively, Univers was a fine, tasteful, and well-made area rug. If I’ve accepted ITC Bookman, have I moved into liking Harvest Gold appliances? Is that so wrong? Perhaps the severity of my rules needs to be examined.

Lot's Wife and Mushroom Soup

Over the weekend, I saw a television program about torture methods through the ages. One of these was forced feeding of large quantities of salt. This usually made the victim incredibly thirsty, or killed them. I know what this is like. My grandmother was a terrible cook. Everything was unbelievably salty or overcooked. Mushroom soup seemed to be the base of any recipe, and she deemed crisp vegetables undercooked and unhealthy. Her taco salad was of particular terror. As she aged and lost her sense of taste, the taco salad became increasingly salty. We would never be impolite and not eat it, so a large carafe of water was always needed.

I recently found her recipe for the taco salad. It is in a Better Homes and Gardens book, Jiffy Cooking, published in 1967. I am especially keen on the cover type. I need to find this font, or redraw it. I may be seeing things, but this cookbook is heavy on the phallic imagery. There are sausages, pickles, and other penis shaped foods on almost every page. I also like the spread for a teen party. Ice cream and pickles are featured. Here is a word of advice: if you have a teenage daughter and she requests ice cream and pickles, worry. If the sausages, heavy cream, and canned mushroom soup don’t kill you, there is always the cake with multiple balls of butter for everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

Wonky Type Wonderland

Let’s be honest, when I’m at a party I love when someone gets rip-roarin’ drunk and makes a crazy fool of himself. Usually that person is me, and I’m wearing the lampshade. I can’t say I recall any of the most embarrassing moments, although I did have a taxi go through a Jack in the Box drive thru at 2 in the morning.

I also love when type gets drunk and wonky. I’m not talking about type that is a tiny bit “wacky”. I like the stuff that is out of control all over the place. The 1950s and 60s were a haven for drunk type. I imagine, based on Mad Men, that the designers were smashed at work, so the type followed. Today, there is less crazed drinking at work (most days). This results in stand-up sober, polite typography. Which is fine when it’s at a meeting of neurologists or CEOs, but let’s agree that type should be let out to have a groovy time once in a while.

Fearful Symmetries

Guests visiting AdamsMorioka for the first time are often disgusted. William Pereira designed our building in 1969 as the Great Western Savings and Loan headquarters. Today it is the headquarters for Flynt Publications. The classic mid-century aesthetic has evolved into a lush “Las Vegas casino” style. I’ve grown to embrace the beautiful silk flower arrangement on each elevator lobby and the faux-marble elevator walls. The disgust our guests experience comes from our door sign. Clearly Tiffany Heavy and Optima are not expected here.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the “black rock.” The New York headquarters for CBS designed by Eero Saarinen in 1962. The signage for the building is a flawless version of Didot. Lou Dorfsman commissioned a new version of the font specifically for CBS. This served as the corporate typeface for over a decade. As designers, we disagree on many issues: Fillmore posters sucked or ruled, modernism is over or relevant, AdamsMorioka does vapid and fun or smart and seductive. I don’t think anyone would argue, however, that the CBS Didot signage and collateral is remarkable.

Think of it this way: a client asks you to do a signage program, a designer in your office suggests Didot, what would you say? If I weren’t aware of the CBS program, I’d probably say, “Are you out of your mind? Do you really think that’s legible? Who is going to fabricate these letterforms and not break the very thin parts of the letters? Get the hell out of my office! In fact, leave for good.” Actually, I probably wouldn’t say that. I’m the nice one. Noreen would say it.

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.

A Generous and Compassionate Country

For the last couple of days, I’ve been putting together the gallery space at Art Center. But that’s another story. I stopped the insane measuring and rearranging to go down to the theater and see Lynda.com’s new documentary on Doyald Young. Yes, I put completion of the gallery before graduation at risk. But, there was no question. Doyald, Lynda Weinman, a great film: uh, yeah I’m going to that.

It’s a challenge to make what we do seem interesting to civilians. Hmm, I have a choice of watching car chases and steamy love scenes, or a documentary on someone who works with letterforms. Typically, the 3d explosions win. In this instance though, the letterform film is the right choice. I could carry on about Doyald for hours: he’s one of my great friends and mentors, has a salty sense of humor and the best jokes, is an inspiration to teach and truly help young designers, and, yes, talented as heck. But you can find all of that on the AIGA Medalist page, except the dirty joke part.

At Saturday’s commencement ceremony, he will receive Art Center’s Alumnus of the Year Award for his dedicated work as an educator and lifetime of legendary work in typography, logotypes and alphabets. At Saturday’s commencement, he’ll receive an honorary degree from Art Center, where he studied Advertising in the ’50s, and where he has taught lettering and logotype design in the Graphic Design Department for decades.

This is what made the evening so remarkable: the 2010 graduating class was in the theater also. While Doyald made a few closing remarks, they looked on with mixtures of awe, delight, gratitude, and excitement. In school, they learn how to make beautiful form and combine this with conceptual thinking. This short time in the theater is, perhaps, one of he most valuable hours of their education. This generation of designers is shown first-hand, what it means to be a “good” designer with dignity and magnanimity by one of the great masters. Fifty years from now, when they sit where Doyald is now, they will know that talent is nothing compared to kindness and generosity.

Unwholesome Desires

Whenever someone suggests the idea of a reality show of a design firm, I roll my eyes. It sounds exciting, and Mad Men is kind of that, but it would be like watching paint dry, or the NASA channel. Let me give you an example. Last week, Nathan and I were talking about photo-type and some of the lost display fonts. Exciting, huh? This discussion led me to the Art Center Library and I checked out a book on ITC fonts from 1980. When I was in school, I was told that Herb Lubalin, one of ITC’s founders, was rotting in hell for ITC Garamond. And I’ve walked around with a snobby disdain for all ITC fonts since then. Like this, “Well, I’m sure they work for some people, but I could never.”

Something, however, has gone horribly wrong. I look at Lubalin and Tom Carnase's work and find myself loving the flamboyant thicks and thins, swashes, and extreme x-height. I have a strong desire to use ITC Firenze on everything, including body copy. Is that so wrong? What's next, green shag carpeting, plaid polyester suits, and mauve?

I don’t know what is happening, but I remind myself that life is a journey, and I should allow this to happen. Was this desire for hideous overwrought typefaces always in me? Did I repress it and do bad things without my knowledge? Was I overly zealous in my hatred for ITC Caslon X-Bold No 223 Italic, and those people who engaged in its usage? Was it simply a case of self-hate? I’m facing a difficult time when I will clearly need to re-examine everything I believed.

Here, I expose my new unwholesome desires.

http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html

Nobody Ever Called Pablo Picasso an A-hole

Most good designers know that the best logos are the simplest ones. Of course, it’s difficult to account for a long and arduous process of strategy, typographic studies, hundreds of icons, and system elements, and countless meetings when the result is a simple logo. Simple is hard. Desperation is not pretty on a date, or in design. But, it’s no fun to hear someone say, “That’s it? That took six months and cost ‘X’ amount of dollars?”

This is the same as looking at a Picasso and saying, “I could have done that,” or “my six year old child could have done that.” But, apparently, you or your child didn’t do that, and he did. That’s why he’s Picasso.

One of my pet peeves, including people who don’t use turn signals, is faux handwritten type. If it’s meant to be handwritten, I’d like to see something that was, surprisingly, written by hand. Those fonts that imitate handwriting have been put on earth by Satan to tempt people into laziness. Picasso’s posters should serve as the best example of this. His handwritten copy is light, playful, and energetic. If these posters were typeset in Felt Tip (no offense to the Felt Tip people), they would be flat and dull. And don’t even think about these typeset in Leonardo; you will never close your eyes again and not think about that tragedy. You will wake up in a cold sweat screaming most nights.

The Book of Love

Many of you have written to me and asked, “Sean, just how do you have such impeccable taste in type?” I’d like to say it’s simply who I am, but I must reveal my secret weapon. It’s The Encyclopaedia of Typefaces, published by Blandford Press in 1953. I’ve had this book since I graduated from college. It was $100.00 that was a month’s pay back in 1954. Whenever we buy a new cut of a typeface, we compare it to the cuts in the Encyclopaedia. What we discover is often disturbing and disgusting.

Many designers assume that the Univers they have on the computer is Univers. But it’s an ugly stepsister who has locked the beautiful Univers in a tower. When you see the difference between what we use now to the Deberny & Peignot cut from 1957, you will want to vomit. It’s that different. And don’t get me started on the Garamond. The elegance and grace of the Simoncini Garamond makes me weep. This may seem extreme, but good taste must be paid attention to rigorously. Anything less deserves severe discipline.

detail, Grafotechna Garamond Italic

The Long, Long, Long Directory

This is a combo type nerd/sign nerd post; so if you hate type or signs, go no further. One of the challenges of working within ADA signage codes is the size. When code requires 1-inch tall letters, you tend to find condensed typefaces. Otherwise you can end up with a “Stairwell” sign that is several feet long. I was enormously jealous when I stumbled upon the Chermayeff & Geismar signage system for Chase Manhattan in 1961. The ability to use beautiful extended letterforms on signs is a luxury we no longer share. The forms are so incredibly sleek and sophisticated. The signs take advantage and exaggerate the horizontality. The incredibly long Directory is perfect in a world of black suits, white shirts, and thin ties. My favorite item, however, is the round Directory. It is like a satellite that has landed in an office lobby.

The period between 1960 and 1980, the sexual revolution, was a brief moment in the history of man when having sex did not lead to life threatening issues. So free love reigned. Do Tom and Ivan know how lucky they were to live in a time when “free-type” was the norm. This was a short period when it was safe to use light extended type when you felt the urge. I can imagine the horror on a client’s face if I presented a 15-foot directory with sleek long type. They would run screaming from the room, yelling, “Why? Why? Why so long?”