The Relentless Pleasure of Little

It won't come as a surprise that I'm not a fan of fussy. It's one thing to pay attention to details, and yet entirely something else when a thousand itsy bitsy elements march around a page. I came to this realization when I was in college. It was the height of the post-modern period. The more the merrier. Modernist restraint was a misguided trend that led to ugly plain dentist office buildings. Mangle that type and add some hand-drawn squiggles that had deep conceptual meaning to three people? Sure, go for it.

Richard Neutra, Silverlake, Los Angeles

Somewhere in there, I visited one of my professors at her house to look at a project. She lived in one of the Silverlake Neutra houses. I expected the dentist office banality but found the most exquisite, harmonious, and quiet space. How could this be? Modernism worked? The next day I began removing elements rather than adding them.

One of my favorite books is Chair by Peter Bradford. This is modernism. It is direct, true to materials, clear, minimal, and bold. The usage of Helvetica in only a few sizes and a couple of weights is relentless. Like Brutalist architecture, the design is not about dainty and delicate. It is raw and rugged, but remains flawlessly refined and elegant.

Bradford's design is design with a big "D" (not Dallas). The type is type, the rules are rules, the black and white images are black and white images. Nothing is pretending to be something it isn't. If life were only the same.

some images here from

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.

The Brutalism of Books

Years ago, there was a wonderful school supply store in Los Angeles. It didn’t have an inventory of fine new textbooks, cute brand new classroom decorations, or specialty learning tools. This was the warehouse of the misfit supplies. This is bad if you want to teach children up to date information, but wonderful if you prefer to live in the past. Noreen bought a huge roll up wall map of the world with all the nations in 1958. We found old textbooks, cursive lettering wall charts, and diagrams of evolution from the late 1960s. There were no prices on anything, which proved to be a bonus. When we were checking out, the cashier looked at our cart of old stuff and said, “Hmm, what about $20.00 for everything?” Pretty nifty.

I especially coveted a collection of Life Nature Library books. These are the books that explain all types of scientific information in simple terms. For me, this is good. But, it’s the design that is the high point. The books are clear and simple. They are almost industrial in their functionality. This is brutalism in publication design. They are elegant in their minimalism. Nobody was trying to show every design skill they had all on one page. Even the charts are miraculously un-designed. This isn’t about laziness. It’s about restraint.