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.

Color By Any Other Name

There are two subjects that produce that deer in headlights look with a designer: typography and color. Let's talk about color. Clients are often quite clear about color, "I hate that green. It looks like baby shit," or, "It must match the pink of the sand in The Bahamas." But designers default to the swatch palette in Adobe® Illustrator or InDesign. Ask a designer about combining purple and magenta, and you may encounter this response, "What? Whaaaat? Uhhh, Ok." Along the way some well-meaning teacher told him or her that those two colors may never be used together.

 

The Designer's Dictionary of Color

I recently completed a new book for Abrams to address these issues. The Designer's Dictionary of Color (or Colour in Britain) will be available in April. I wanted to write and design a book that could answer the question, does this and this work together? Or how do I convince a client avocado green is a good choice (don't call it avocado green)? And, what cultural issues exist with white in Asia? 

This also gave me the chance to find young designers who haven't been widely published. I added other visual work to help clarify the issues also so that a designer could give the book to a client. The example of Claude Monet's Waterloo Bridge, London, at Dusk might have more impact when looking at mint. Over the next few weeks I'll be providing some excerpts. If I can save one project that uses coral, I will have done my job.


From The Designer's Dictionary of Color; Sean Adams, 2017
Coral
Coral is neither pink nor peach. It is a color that exists between these. It is associated with femininity, gentleness, romance, and the tropics. These connections work to communicate the tone of an idea swiftly. A coral poster will immediately be read as positive and friendly. Coral has more sensuality than pure pink, which can feel juvenile. As the color of the interior of certain shells, and used as a prominent paint color throughout the Caribbean, coral has associations with a carefree and gentle holiday.

Cultural Meanings
Coral roses are a symbol of desire. In Buddhism, it symbolizes the energy of the life force. In China, it is a symbol of longevity. Coral is a sensitive color. If it shifts toward yellow, it will become peach, or a sickly flesh tone. A shift toward the red creates pink. Coral is also known as salmon, a term that was used in automobile color options.

Other Names
Salmon
Watermelon
Grapefruit
Shell Pink
Bright Rose

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.

Unsinkable Brown

Recently, a client asked for brown as a color option on a project. A couple of years ago, I would have resisted. But, brown has slowly been creeping into my mind. First, I found myself admiring the brown tile at the Honolulu Airport. Then, I decided I should move away from my earthquake safe Melmac dinnerware. So, I bought several settings of Heath Ceramics dinnerware.

The Heath colors are subtle, subtle and subtle. Seeing one brown combined with cream or tan plate convinced me that brown could be alright. Some of my favorite design solutions are brown. Does this mean I'm mellowing, or developing, God forbid, good taste? I still resist any attempt to put brown in bathrooms. Brown wall, tiles, fixtures, or accessories should never be used there. I won't go into details, but how do you know if someone previously had an "episode" in the bathroom if everything isn't bright white?

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.

When Colors Collide

Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, 1964

Last week at the How Conference, a guy came up to me after my presentation and said, "You are so amazing with color. I wish I could do that. What should I do?" He wanted to know what books to read or if I had any snappy tricks for creating a palette. I answered, "Do whatever you like, just do it with confidence." The point is, no two colors dislike each other. People say, "Oh, that was an awful color combination," or, "You can't use those colors together. They'll be hideous." They are wrong.

I find "awful" color palettes all the time. But if you take them apart and use them like there is no tomorrow, people will think you're brave and leading the way. At least, that's what I think, because that's what they say to me. But they could be walking away and saying, "What the hell was that?"

In all fairness, I am hopeless when it comes to choosing colors for the living room or any space I inhabit. What if I pick the wrong color for the sofa? What if the chairs clash? I need to listen to my own advice and let the taste police judgement go. I'll be super confident when guests come and marvel at the rust, turquoise, and magenta furniture.

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 Fast Road to Hell

Live Trace User

Live Trace User

 

I believe that Satan has woven himself into our lives and is preying on those who are tempted by laziness. What I am talking about here is the evil that is part of the digital world: Photoshop filters, pre-made or computer generated color palettes, and worst of all, truly a fast path to hell, live trace.

These shortcuts save time but the result is work that could be done by a house cat. I preach to young designers, "God gave you an opposable thumb so you could use it. You are not a cow with hooves. Draw the hand-drawn type!" and "If you have the use of your legs, be glad, and use them. Step away from the Aeron chair and walk somewhere to make an image, find inspiration, or just think."

I worry that an entire generation may end up designing strapped to a chair in front of the computer and pecking at the keyboard with a stick held in their mouths.

Now I don't dislike the computer, I like it just like everyone else. But off the shelf solutions minimize our gifts. Take color palettes for example. Yes, you can choose from the stock swatches in Illustrator, now your colors look like everyone else's. Or you can make your own. "Oh no!" you may be saying, "I'm scared of color." But it's actually quite easy.

The world will open up to you as a treasure chest of color. I don't want to seem melodramatic, but avoid Satan's temptations, make your own palette, or you may burn in hell.


This is how I make a palette:

1. Walk around the world and take photos of colors you like.

2. Create a photo album to house your images on your computer


3.  Create a common system for the palettes. One folder with consistent naming and documents of the same size and style.


Adobe Illustrator page: draw blank squares that will be swatches

4. Create a "Color palette template" with black squares in Adobe Illustrator.


5. Place an image you photographed.


6. Use the eye dropper tool and fill in the swatch squares on the page. Fill as many or as few swatch squares as you like.



7. Delete the image. 


8. Select all unused: delete these swatches


9. Add Used Colors


10. Save as a consistent name, e.g. Griffith Park Palette


11. Now when you need a palette on a project, add the custom one you made by selecting:

Open Swatch Library: Other 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.

Hey Hey Crochet

People often ask me to explain how I choose colors on a project. "You're so good with color," they say, "What is your process?" My process is to liberally take color palettes from anywhere. Some call it stealing, I consider it appropriation.

I have a collection of crocheted hangars my grandmother made. I don't use them because I'm too OCD and all the hangars in the house must be the exact same white plastic or wood version. But I do love the crochet hangars. The colors are wonderful. So I made a color palette out of them. It's not high design. It's not a careful exploration of values and tones ala Johannes Itten. It's a palette from 1970s yarn.

I'm impressed at how many of these my grandmother, Oma, made. She was an avid crocheter and made many afghans, hats, and sweaters. I don't understand the afghans. Since they are made with big crochet holes, they don't really keep anyone warm. And as much as I admire Oma's fortitude and talent, I was never a big fan of receiving a crocheted sweater. They aren't really hip in the 6th grade.

It could have been worse, 1970s crocheted clothing is far worse than any bad gift you will ever receive. The next time you complain because Aunt Bess gave you hideous patterned sweater, be thankful it isn't a rust and mauve crochet caftan.

Experimental Prototype Colors of Tomorrow

Epcot gift bag, early 1980s

When EPCOT opened in 1982, the concept was innovation and globalism. Wait isn't that what every conference today is about? The park was and is divided into two sections, Future World and World Showcase. Future World was where corporations like Exxon could prove how good strip mining was. World Showcase would bring cultures from around the globe to the American tourist. The visual theme of Future World was the same as the 1990s Star Trek: TNG, mid-level hotel or medical offices in non-threatening tones. The large spaces had lots of carpeting, an abundance of rounded corners, and odd geometric benches.

In my head, I've always pictured 1980s EPCOT as a unified and sleek place. The color palette was silver, blue, and white. The materials were aluminum and fiberglass. But, I was wrong. While researching the color palettes I found some truly hideous combinations. Now, I've always said no two colors dislike each other. Again, I was wrong. Some of the combinations are terrifying. It would never occur to me to combine pink, teal, plum, and orange. I'm still semi-sane. So what happened? Why the hard left away from the silver and blue? I don't know. I do know, however, that these combinations do not exist naturally, and no software product will ever provide a palette like these.

Bag palette
EPCOT 1982
Epcot map, 1983
Map Palette
Epcot mug
Mug Palette
pin
Button Palette
Gateway Gifts sign, Epcot, 1982
Gateway Gifts palette
Epcotmap2
Guidebook paltette