The Design of Comfort

Several years ago, the organizers at TypeCon asked me to do a presentation on the typography of Disneyland. I assumed that the research would lead to a collection of novelty typefaces. What I found, however, was an incredibly dense design solution beyond typography with intentional choices to create a specific experience. The typography, color, scale, point of view, sounds, and smells worked as a whole communicating energy, invention, American ingenuity, mid-western values, and reassurance.

Main Street, USA, is the entry point at Disneyland, Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, and other Disney parks globally. It is a representation of small-town America at the turn of the twentieth century. Main Street is not a perfect recreation of a town in 1890. There are no garbage filled doorways, telephone poles, muddy streets, and rather unpleasant drunk people carrying guns. Main Street is a representation of the idea of a mythical small town.

Disneyland’s original designers came from a film background. They designed every element to work cohesively to convey a narrative. Main Street is not a cute and saccharine mini-mall of false fronts. It is a well-considered and detailed construction.

The park’s guests are not spectators in the environment. They are actors on a stage. The designers created the experience of entering the park to simulate the beginning of a motion picture theater experience. The guest passes through a dark tunnel below the railroad tracks in the same way that theater lights dim as a film starts. 

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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 Meticulous Bruce Rogers

It was 1986. I graduated from college and started my career as a designer at The New York Public Library. My typographic education over the previous four years was rooted in Bauhaus asymmetry and experimentation. The Library, however, maintained a strong preference for classical symmetrical layouts and a predilection for serif typefaces. Learning how to design within these constraints felt as if I had been restricted to speak only Ancient Phoenician. However, I soon came across a book plate (and designer) that taught me otherwise. 

Bruce Rogers (1870–1957) is one of the most celebrated book designers of the 20th century. He was not hip or edgy, but urbane, scholarly, and meticulous. He revered classical structure and beauty and disdained modernism. During the second half of the 20th century, at the height of the international design movement, the design establishment disregarded him and deemed his work antique and irrelevant as modern design and sans serif typefaces moved to the forefront.  Read More

Title Page, Songs and Sonnets of Pierre De Ronsard, 1903

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.

Destroyed by Madness

Line Length

I am now going to rant. After looking at many, many incoming portfolios for the ArtCenter graduate graphic design program, I cannot remain silent any longer. I will admit that the majority are excellent and some are truly stellar. There are unique visions, clear passion, and a wide range of points of view, which is wonderful. But once in awhile, there seem to be some very, very, very bad things happening in the world that I did not know about. I must now speak to save my sanity for the future.

I will begin with the most obvious. Spelling. Spell the name of the school you are applying to correctly. ArtCenter is not At Center. Los Angeles has a space between "Los" and "Angeles." Make sure you spell "Graphic Design" correctly on the opening slide.


Evil, evil, evil


Next, line length. What has happened? Where did the world go so wrong? How does one get through any design class with a line length that goes on and on and on? Please help the reader. It's humane and kind.

Hanging punctuation. Please.

Then, Century Gothic. WTF? It's not even Avant Garde, which should only be used in the most expert of hands. If you haven't mastered typography and worked for thirty years veer away from Avant-Garde. Stick with the classics such as Garamond, Univers, even Clarendon. I cannot unsee what I have seen. The endless line length typeset in Century Gothic, rife with spelling errors.


Hanging Quotation Mark


And finally, what's with the cats? There seems to be a current trend to illustrate cats. Not in a cool "I'm a schizophrenic" manner, or even a Margaret Keane groovy big eye cat. Just a cat. Sitting there. Perhaps it is a metaphor for something sexual and I'm missing the message. 

Please don't misunderstand, reviewing portfolios is a great honor and typically inspiring and exciting. But then the eight-point Century Gothic running across the entire page below and ignoring all hanging punctuation. How can one ignore this? As Allen Ginsberg wrote, so saliently forseeing these issues: 

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, Angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night.

Louis Wain, an unquestionable cat fanatic, loving husband & schizophrenia sufferer

Margaret Keane, The Stray

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 Long, Long, Long Signs

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 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 [Brownjohn,][1] [Chermayeff & Geismar][2] signage system for Chase Manhattan in 1961. The ability to use beautiful extended letterforms on signs is a luxury we no longer have. 

The forms are so incredibly sleek and sophisticated. The signs take advantage and exaggerate the horizontality of the very long name. 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. What a joy to have that much real estate for a sign. 

I've used vertical space and designed incredibly heavy directories, such as the Stein Eye directory. But never had the chance to put a tiny house sized sign in a lobby.

The period between 1960 and 1980, the sexual revolution, was a brief moment in the history when having sex did not lead to life threatening issues. So free love reigned. Did Robert, 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?”


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.

Going Dutch

I hear many designers say, "My client won't let me do cool work." I've certainly had clients that were overbearing, controlling, and particular, but typically they save me from doing something dumb. I'm the one that is at the meeting saying, "Wow, you're right. I see now that red and black could be kind of fascist on a children's lunch box."

This happened to me this week. I'm working on an annual report for a great group that helps students go to college. I designed a couple of versions and was rather please with myself. During the presentation, one of the clients said, "It seems kind of Danish, like a Danish public transit form. Could it be a little friendlier?" First I was impressed that she made the connection. Second, I'm pretty sure it was more Dutch than Danish. And third she was 100% correct. I had unwittingly designed a formal, chilly, and "Dutch" annual report for an upbeat and friendly brand.

My unwittingly chilly Dutch pages

Wim Crouwel and the studio, Total Design is Dutch, but the work is never chilly. It's clear, direct, simple, and bold; attributes I love. The confidence of form is beautiful. There is no desperate attempt to do something witty with a visual pun. It is a symphony of typography and shape. But it has a sense of play, even when it is serious. If you don't own it already, buy Unit Editions' book TD 63–73. It's comprehensive, beautiful, and dense.

I admit, I often see students slip into the "Dutch" thing and I work to "beat the Dutch out of them." Not because I don't like it, but because they are not living in Holland. They are in Los Angeles. It's 90 degrees, blindingly bright, and saturated with Mexican, Asian, and South American colors. If you're in Amsterdam, go for it, not at Zuma Beach.

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.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Byron the Continent, The Carl H. Pforzheimer Library

I spend too much time asking someone what typeface they used on a project. I thought I was losing my knack for identifying fonts due to dementia. I'll look closely at the page, and desperately try to find the element that will help me identify the typeface as Caslon, Baskerville, Bembo, or any of the classical serifs I know. After I give up I ask, "Ok, what is that typeface? There's something wrong with it." The answer is typically, "Oh, that's Gobbledygook (insert strange band name here)." They're odd faces found online free. That's not good. You wouldn't wear ugly clothes found online free, why would you use the sad free type?

Colophon

Monotype Bell, the way it should look

I have a book with the longest colophon ever made. If you've wondered if it's ok to list a typeface on the book credits, check this out. It's a thorough history of Bell (the serif one, not Matthew Carter's magnificent Bell Centennial). I even love the low-fi binding with stitching and a dust jacket glued to the cover.

Herbert Johnson designed this edition, Byron on the Continent for the Carl H. Pfrorzheimer Foundation and The New York Public Library. It's set in metal in the most beautiful cut of Monotype Bell on Mohawk Superfine. The detail to typography is incredible. It reminds me of the rules I learned when I started out as a designer at The New York Public Library:

true small caps (not just smaller capitals)

slightly spaced small caps to aid in reading

italics 1/2 point size larger to read optically the same as roman text

aligning figures with capital letters

old style figures with upper and lower case text

perfectly kerned initial caps

the most elegant brackets around the folios

acorns to separate content

and especially wonderful, the small cap Scilicet ( SC 561) to designate the numbers in another edition)

Don't try these without parental supervision.

Cover: Byron the Continent, The Carl H. Pforzheimer Library

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.

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.

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.

Sweet

Ladislav Sutnar

In 1996, I was asked to design the materials for the first AIGA Business Conference. I hate going to a conference and trying to deal with a batch of printed matter, the schedule, maps, and directories. Other people told me they would rather not stick pins in their shirt with a name badge. As I love plastics, I found a little plastic pouch at the Plastic Mart in Santa Monica. I believe it was to hold labels in hospitals. I used this, punched two holes in the top, and used IV tubing to hang the pouch from my neck. Now I could design all the materials, including the name tag, to fit inside the pouch. Easy peasy.

A couple of months after the conference I saw someone on the street with the same kind of pouch, but for a plumbing contest. Of course today, they are everywhere. Am I bitter that my pouch concept was adopted by every conference and theme park? Yes. But, I can be please that I'm saving shirts from pin holes every day.

On the other end of the spectrum from my flammable pouch concept to great thinking is Ladislav Sutnar. Sutnar's most lasting contribution to our lives is one of the most ubiquitous design elements in the world, the parenthesis around an area code: (310) 555-1234. He solved this problem working with Bell System in the 1950s. Sutnar was adamant that design be functional. Good information design was a critical element of our complex and technological world. He maintained that there was no place for anything but useful and high-minded design.

He followed this philosophy: “Good visual design is serious in purpose. Its aim is not to attain popular success by going back to the nostalgia of the past, or by sinking to the infantile level of a mythical public taste. It aspires to uplift the public to an expert design level. To inspire improvement and progress demands that the designer perform to the fullest limits of his ability. The designer must think first, work later.”—Ladislav Sutnar

This didn't translate to boring. As religious as Sutnar was about functionalism, his work often displays a sense of vitality and play. Yet it still imparts the information clearly. Rather than adopting a dull and rigid approach that was as exciting as a bus schedule, he allows the shapes and forms to interact with the typography.

He was probably bitter about his area code solution too.

The Post about this Blog

One of the tenets of post-modernism is self-referential expression. This post, then is the post-modern one. This is a post about this blog.

When burningsettlerscabin first launched, I designed a nice Victorian logo for the masthead. It worked well with the minimal layout and I had fun making it. After awhile, I grew tired of that version. And its started to feel vertiginously close to hipster design. So I made a new one. This became an on-going hobby. The point of this blog is as shallow as it gets. If I'm interested in something or find an inspirational artifact or solution, I write about it. It's that simple. If I want to, I write. If I don't feel like it, I don't. I know this is absolutely the most wrong thing one can do with all the rules of social media. But, I have so many other rules in life: typographic, social manners, organizing linen closets, age appropriate clothing, and the list goes on.

The masthead follows the same logic. If I feel like making a new one, I do. If it's heinously hideous but I like it, I use it. So, in response to the requests to post one or the other mastheads here they are.

While some have said burningsettlerscabin is their "lite" (yes, spelled that way) version of Design Observer, consider this: In this post, self-referentiality [and the epistemological skepticism it implies] is central to postmodernism and takes its typological and typographic cue from the self-referential, though not mutually exclusive, aesthetics of nostalgia, irony, and satire.

See, the settlers at the cabin are way smart.

Refined Manners

Here's one of the differences between being a surgeon and a designer: surgeons are required to be meticulous and have an OCD level to details. If they are, in most probability, people live and have healthy outcomes. Designers are required to be meticulous and have an OCD level to details also. If we are, nobody except another OCD designer notices. The upside is that bad word-spacing doesn't kill people.

I can spend hours kerning the crap out of a headline. Does anyone apart from me care, or notice? Probably not. We zoom in to a gazillion percent to make sure a point is absolutely precise, obsess over the difference between Adobe Bodoni and Monotype Bodoni. But of we didn't, we'd be slobs and hack designers, and it wouldn't be as much fun.

Herb Lester Associates produces a wonderful collection of guides to different cities. Let's face it, most city guides look like the Map to the Stars Homes. The Herb Lester guides are not only pertinent to travelers who prefer something more interesting than mobbed, but are detailed to death. Every tiny piece of type has been considered. The illustrations are wonderful and change from map to map. I know the designers were working on a the files at 400%, and it shows. Even the packing tape on the envelope is a work of art (which I plan to steal).

In this instance, I noticed. Every thoughtful and beautifully crafted detail adds to the overall extraordinariness of the guides. The lesson here, go ahead and fine tune the shit out of the details. If only one person in the world sees it, you've succeeded.

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.

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.

Characters

Last month, my friend Allan Haley asked us to design a web banner for fonts.com. When he sent us the typeface to promote, Ratio Modern, I immediately fell in love with the parentheses. This is what happens if you are a type geek. It’s so geeky that Star Wars fanatics at Comic Con would probably laugh at me.

Every day, I drive by a billboard in Hollywood of a Groucho Marx caricature. I have no idea what it is for, but it’s the best part of the drive. As I sat in traffic staring at the billboard, I realized that the Ratio Modern parentheses are like a wonderful moustache, and I couldn’t let this opportunity pass. This opened the Pandora’s Box of other type characters (no pun intended). I recall a sculptor telling me, “The figure is trapped in the marble. I only set it free.” And it turned out that this was true with typography. The barbershop quartet guy, surprised woman, uptight starlet with a beehive, Don Quixote dapper dude, and cranky queen all were alive hiding inside the letters.

 

 

 

 

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.

Art-Nouveau Feeder Fetishist

What I want to talk about here is fat. Not “phat” fat, but fat fat. Everyone is concerned about the country getting fatter. But what happened to typography and shapes in the late 1960s and 1970s? They got fat. I understand the issue of anti-consumerism. Coming from an anti-establishment counter-culture environment in the 1960s, companies needed to make messages and products “big.” Bigger was better, and if it could also be in earth colors and look natural, even better. If I actually purchased an item, rather than making it on my loom at home with macramé, I wanted to know I was getting my money’s worth. So we see fat logos, wide lapels and ties, big shirt collars, bell bottoms, and giant brown cars.

I am ashamed to admit this, but I like fat Victorian shapes. It’s as if the Garamond and curly shapes ate too many French fries and went from delicate to, well, very, very healthy. All the years of praising refined letterforms and deriding bold serifs have led to this shameful admission. Granted, in the hands of a master such as Herb Lubalin or Tom Carnase, the results are spectacular. But, when abused by someone less adroit, the result is clunky, horsey, and vomitous (yes this is now a word when discussing ugly typography). I hope this post will prove my veracity and commitment to the truth. We only tell the truth here, at any cost. This admission will, no doubt, ruin any chances of ever receiving an AIGA medal, being invited to join AGI, or being spoken to by any of my friends. So be kind when you find me at a conference sitting alone as other designers point and whisper, “Oh, yes, it’s true. He has a secret thing for the chunky type.”

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Numerology

I love numerals. I don’t know why, but I love the chance to use them. Maybe I like them because they are another language than letters that is pure and universal. Or, perhaps I just think anything looks better with a big numeral. This attraction leads me to photograph numbers around the world. As usual, while other people are photographing their families, I am taking photos of the gate numbers at the Honolulu Airport, or a street number in New Orleans Square. The title sequence for Lost in Space is a number lover's heaven. Last week, I worked on a spread of only numbers for the Academy’s annual report. That was a good day.