Nothing Matters


Mies van der Rohe's statement, less is more, is a basic tenet of modernism. It was a rejection of the decadent 19th-century eclectic Victorian excess. After the terrors of World War I, designers rejected the decorated and regional aesthetic adopted by the upper classes. To avoid another war, they sought to find a universal form of design. It would be based on pure geometry and mathematics. These had no political associations. When all people adopted these simple and pure forms, peace would flourish. 

But people are people. We like things. Nobody wants to live in a cold concrete cell with a mattress and steel chair. But, after the roller coaster of last week's election, I'm up for the simpler approach. 

Restraint is the hardest skill to master as a designer. To stop feels lazy, or unfinished. But the results of saying, "I'm done." can lead to simple and clear harmony. To continue can slowly move a solution from sublime minimalism to ordinary. With the right words, one black and white line of text on a page has power. Add an image, second color, and border, and it's nice. Only nice.

Just say no. Stop, and let something be what it is and no more. Do nothing.


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.