Handy Tips

Last Monday, I began to feel a little off. By Tuesday, I had the flu, as in the real flu, not an Irish flu after New Year’s Eve. When I called the office on Wednesday, I’m sure everyone was convinced I was simply extending my holiday break. I wish that were true. I haven’t had the flu for twenty years. It’s awful, and a huge time suck. Not only does being sick interfere with work, it precludes even simple organizing at home. As a side note, if I’m out sick and we move a meeting, nobody will lose his or her mind and run screaming in front of a speeding bus. Fortunately, I was productive earlier during the holiday break. Here is a project that can save money, and another that moves you away from the "hoarder" category.

Handkerchief Creation

Issue 1: My grandmother said, “A proper gentleman never leaves the house without a handkerchief.” I prefer the madras handkerchiefs, and typically buy mine from J. Press in Cambridge.

Issue 2: I have a plastic bin labeled “fat shirts.” These are the shirts I love, but really are too large and fit like maternity clothes. Most of the shirts are madras. When I wear them, I look like a table.

Solution: I took all the gigantic madras shirts to the dry cleaner and asked them to cut them up and make handkerchiefs. I gave them a sample of a J. Press one as a guide. The following week, I had 24 new madras handkerchiefs. Each one cost $6.00 to make. The J. Press handkerchiefs are $13.00 each. Now I can use any old shirt I no longer wear to create handkerchiefs. I am, however, concerned that the next step is heading toward Little House on the Prairie and making my own clothes from old blankets, and shoes from bits of leftover canvas.

Messy Linen Closet

I know everyone has his or her own method to organizing a linen closet. I hate finding the standard sized pillowcases for the twin beds mixed in with the California King sheets. I hate finding a top sheet that has no mate. I moved my sheets into individual plastic bins. Each bin has a bottom and top sheet, two pillow covers, and four pillowcases. I made labels for each bin and threw away any orphan pieces. I also threw out all the colored, patterned, or striped towels. Now all the towels are white and match. Easy peasy.

An Encyclopedic Photographic Memory of Ephemera

I enjoy accusing others of illiteracy. “Don’t you people read?” I ask my students. “If you’d read the copy, you’d understand why the image works,” I say to clients, but in a nicer way. “For the love of God put down that iPhone and get a book,” I tell my niece and nephews. Then I find I am as guilty of the same sin.

I have a book about the 1964 World’s Fair. I’ve never read it. I do, however, know each and every illustration, color palette, and photograph in the book. Who knows what it is about? I’m too distracted by the tiny drawings on divider pages. To make matters worse, I deconstruct the meaning of the imagery. And I make odd connections that require an encyclopedic photographic memory of ephemera. Fortunately, I have this. For example, the overview of the Fair is surprisingly similar to the layout of Epcot, which is a sort of permanent world’s fair (or beer walk, depending on your interest.) Finally, the color palette for the fair preview images is exactly the same as the preview book for Walt Disney World, published a few years later. Coincidence? You be the judge.










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.

On Being Plain

Every once in awhile, I get a hankerin’ to be taken seriously. I’ll see a critical theory article that deconstructs one of my friends’ work and think, “Maybe I should be doing that kind of work.” Envy is a terrible and pointless emotion. But then, I remember our mission. When we started AdamsMorioka in 1993, we wanted to go the opposite direction. There was so much desperate work then that screamed, “I’m serious! I have no sense of humor. I am only intended to be understood by a select group of intellectual theorists.” I wanted to be the Beach Boys, not Bauhaus (the band), Rodgers and Hammerstein, not Karen FinleySteven Speilberg, not Luis Buñuel. This doesn’t mean I'm anti-intellectual, or don't admire artists who push limits. I love things that are way out of the park. And I refuse to deny anyone the right to create whatever they desire. So, what does this mean?

Ed Fella said it best when he called my work American Pragmatism. It’s about being plain spoken and honest, not fancy and oblique. Maybe it’s because I'm from the West and can’t think differently. I'm interested in speaking to the broadest audience possible, making life a little better for them, and treating every other designer with respect and dignity. I'm not interested in excluding or demonizing others because they do work unlike mine. Everyone deserves to be celebrated and revered.

Now the funny part of this is that we both came out of a deeply theoretical education at CalArts. I can subvert, deconstruct, and pastiche with the best of them, but I do it with stealth. As long as the form is seductive, appealing, and aesthetic, I can pour in as much meaningor contradiction as needed. But, I'm human. When someone at a conference says, “You’re so funny. Everything you do is so cute.” This feels minimizing and I’m tempted to do that oblique and complex poster in the nude that nobody understands. Then I remember why I like plain and honest, something that has optimism and joy. So I leave you with these sentiments:

“Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.” — Will Rogers

 “The world belongs to you as much as the next fellow. Don’t give it up.” — Rodgers and Hammerstein

 “T-shirts, cut-offs, and a pair of thongs. We've been having fun all summer long.” — Beach Boys

 “ET phone home.” —Steven Spielberg

Art Direction


There is a rather severe difference of opinion about using a cliché in the design world. I like them. They are clichés because we all understand them. As long as the idea is presented in an unexpected way, it’s all good with me. An arrow is cliché. “Oh, Sean,” I’ve heard, “Arrows are so 20th-century.” But, why be oblique and complicated when it is so easy to point someone in the right direction?

Arrows are wonderful because they are symbols that command. The viewer is not being asked, “Would you prefer to turn right, perhaps?” An arrow screams, “TURN RIGHT! TURN NOW!” How many other symbols can do that? Lester Beall introduced me to the wonderful world of arrows. Not, Lester, personally, but through Lou Danziger’s vast historical knowledge. At a time when design was racing faster toward more is more with less and less clarity, the arrow was a revelation. The zeitgeist of that time was , "make less with more." I wanted to make more with less (follow me? More meaning, less stuff.). I could put an arrow on a poster next to a headline and the viewer would read this first. Who knew?

Unfortunately, arrows are a temptation. Like all wonderful things, too much is not good. Judicious usage is needed. As Groucho Marx said: “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.”
















Charm Lesson 1: Flattery

It is easy to tell a friend or new acquaintance that he or she has a nice shirt. But, even the most sophisticated man or woman can say this and appear insincere. Flattery is a cornerstone of charm. It is said that flattery is the devil’s tool. And used for selfish personal gain, it is. The secret to successful flattery is sincerity. Almost everyone, with the exception of those truly hideous or unkempt people, has an attribute that can be complimented.

Complimenting a haircut is always a good bet, if the haircut is indeed attractive. It’s a given that all people with hair have had a haircut at some point. Noticing that a friend has had a haircut lets them know you care enough to notice they have had a haircut. This also reinforces the decision he or she made when determining the hair-cut. It’s a win-win solution for everyone.

I find it best to tell a person something true. If you like Cricket’s blouse, tell her. Most people are too scared to say anything; you’ll stand out. It’s hard to dislike someone who has given you a compliment. But you must say the compliment in a sincere way, and when first greeting someone or saying goodbye. For example, at the end of a lunch when everyone is parting, reach over, touch the person on the arm and say discretely, “That is really a snappy tie.” If you sit through lunch quietly staring at them, and then blurt out suddenly, “I like your tie,” it will sound creepy and you may seem like a serial killer.

Flattery can backfire if you are not careful. I once mentioned to a woman who usually wore a hat that her hairstyle was attractive. I offended her as she had quite thin hair, and thought I was making fun of her. In actuality, I wish I had been, and now can use this as a backhanded compliment.

Good Flattery Subjects:






Bad Flattery Subjects:






How to Teach a Donkey

My normal routine in the morning is to eat breakfast and watch the news. I switch between CNN, MSNBC, and Good Morning America. This morning, I was derailed and accidentally tuned into How to Stuff a Wild Bikini. How to Stuff a Wild Bikini is one of the teenage movies from American International Pictures, also responsible for Bikini Beach, Beach Blanket Bingo, etc. In the 1950s, AIP was the studio behind the teenage science fiction and horror movies such as I Was a Teenage Werewolf, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, and Teenage Cave Man. As a side note, the original title for Clueless was I Was a Teenage Teenager. In the 1960s, they focused on beach movies. The 1970s saw drugs, gangs, and blaxploitation films.

The Beach movies are awful, but hypnotic. How can they not be? They have Annette Funicello, Frankie Avalon, teenagers is very scanty bathing suits, bad musical numbers, motorcycle gangs, fake surfing, and slapstick comedy with Buster Keaton. The posters follow the same less than subtle approach. Albert Kallis designed many of the remarkable 1950s AIP posters. I often say the right way to communicate is like teaching a donkey; first hit it over the head with a two-by-four. Then give it the message. These posters do this in spades.

I understand good taste movie campaigns like Lincoln. The poster is minimal and states, “This is a serious masterpiece, and this is an Academy Award movie.” The other side of the coin is the blunt approach.

Good marketing and advertising typically works when the viewer is given a command: Just do it, Enjoy Coke, Think Different. The Kallis posters do this and more. Often they listed the commands on terms of seeing: See strangest of all rites in the temple of love! See earth attacked by flying saucers! AIP posters in the 1970s were never subtle, but I’ll watch a film that promises, “Shamelessly loaded with sex and violence,” and “She’s brown sugar and spice, but if you don’t treat her nice, she’ll put you on ice.”











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.






Stolen Memories

Have you ever accidentally stolen something and felt like Lindsay Lohan or Winona Ryder? I’m not talking about jewelry, scarves, or children. This is about accidental design theft. It happens to everyone, myself included. I’ll finish a project, be quite pleased with it, and then months or years later find the original inspiration. Usually it’s a piece of design that I love, but have filed somewhere in my brain. My unconscious mind must be saying, “Remember that Alvin Lustig poster? Steal that.” Consciously, I simply presume I had a wonderful idea.

When a friend sends me an example of how they were ripped off, I usually tell them “Imitation is the best compliment.” Sometimes it’s obvious, a poster for an event in Alabama looks exactly like one by Marian Bantjes. Or, a student designs a poster for Vertigo and gives me Saul Bass’s poster. On my way to work, I pass a billboard for the band XX’s new album Coexist. It is remarkably similar to a poster we designed for the AIGA Capital Campaign in 1999. Now, I know an “X” is an “X”, and claiming I was copied is like claiming I own the golden section. I’ve decided to use it as an affirmation, that 13 years later, the original poster is super groovy.



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.





Cat People

Here is an old trick if you are in vaudeville or desperately need to have something approved: add a cat or dog. I know it’s said to never share the stage with pets, but when the crowd is angry, nothing works better to make everyone happy. This is how it works. You are working on an annual report. Every cover is rejected. The client yells at you, This is garbage. Get out!" Now, try adding a kitten or puppy; voila, as if magic the approvals roll in. While judging a competition, I overheard a judge say, “Oh, it’s not so good. But it has a cute dog on the cover. I have to vote for it.” See how easy it can be.

I did have an instance in class when the cat or dog trick didn’t work. The assignment was to design a poster around a meaningful cause (this was a wayward attempt to do something for social good). The posters ranged from issues such as abortion, marriage equality, veterans issues, and censorship. The idea that never made sense to me, though, was cat rape. The designer of this subject told me, “It’s true and awful. There are gangs of young men in Los Angeles who roam the streets looking for cats to rape.” I was stunned. Who knew such a thing happened? I know anything kinky can be found online, but I cannot imagine that this activity is so widespread that it needs addressing with public service posters.

If I were an logical person, I would have said, “No. That won’t work, pick a different subject.” But I was transfixed by the mechanics of this activity and wanted to see the design solution. Did the gangs have outfits with fake whiskers? Were they aroused when reading The Cat in the Hat? How did they feel about the white Fancy Feast cat on TV? Would they be “cat” burglars?

Stupidly, I argued with her. “This isn’t possible anatomically. Really, think about that. And cats are cranky and scratch you if you pick them up. I can guarantee that not many people are interested in putting an angry, meowing, squirming, scratching, and biting feline close to a sensitive area of the body.” She didn’t back down, and insisted this is an ongoing epidemic of violence. Maybe she knows something I don’t and the media is ignoring it because it is so heinous.

Binding the Past

I don’t like being organized as much as I get cold sweats when something is a mess. Disturbed, obsessive, bizarre? Yes. One of the tools I use to keep track of household issues is a set of binders. I have one for permanent work, such as construction, painting, and major appliances. I have another for small appliance manuals, furniture care, and transitory issues. This is an incredibly simple thing to do and makes a huge difference when I need to find out how much the last termite inspection cost, or what exact color the yellow guest room is. It takes 10 seconds to use the 3-hole punch and insert new information.

The binder is made up of different sections: contact info and business cards, paint swatches and diagram, construction records, major appliance information, and ongoing work. I use the handy plastic sleeves for cards, swatches, and items that don’t fit easily. A binder is a gift from the gods.

I have another binder trick, which points to further psychological distress. Rather than keeping piles of old magazines, I trim out the articles I want to keep, put them in 3-hole plastic sleeves, and keep them in binders also. This saves a huge amount of room, and makes finding that article about Mount Vernon an easy task.


Give Me The Simple Life

Several years ago I was at a photo shoot at a large estate in Santa Barbara. When I asked to use the restroom, I was directed to a tiny bathroom in the garage, the staff bathroom. Of course, I was shocked, dismayed, and indignant. Then I realized that this was probably karmic and I should be glad I wasn’t told to go down the hill to the gas station.

The thing that really bothered me, though, was how expensive this multi-million dollar house was (in the upper-teens) yet it looked exactly like a Macaroni Grill. It was designed in a Tuscan style with not an item out of place. Everything was brand spanking new. Each brick and stone was perfectly clean fresh from a box. There were no books, family portraits, or odd nick-knacks.

If you’ve ever watched Beautiful Homes on HGTV you know what I am describing. Each luxurious “beautiful home” is more overdone than the next. Yes, a closet probably cost more than my house, but all that marble, gilding, and brocade wallpaper. Why? I understand that most people don’t want to live in Philip Johnson’s Glass House, or deal with a waterfall in the house at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. But does anyone require a bedroom that looks like it belongs to a Disney Princess, or a kitchen that was designed to fit in at Versailles?

I look at Paul R. Williams’ houses and know this is the right way to do it. They’re beautiful, tasteful, elegant, and functional. They’re never overwrought or heavy handed. Williams took classical and simple forms and created warm spaces. If I were going to spend 18 million dollars on a house I’d buy the original family estate in Virginia, Castle Hill. Or, I’d buy a Paul Williams house, not a Macaroni Grill or Olive Garden disguised as a house.

For more: Williams/ grand-daughter, Karen Hudson monograph, Paul R. Williams, Classic Hollywood Style (source of many of these images). 

Paul R. Williams, Beverly Hills Hotel Suite, 1949

Great Expectations and Bleak House

I’m one of those odd people who loved high school. I recall sitting in the cafeteria at Seaside High School my senior year thinking, “This is the best time of my life.” Sad, you probably say. Middle school was another story. But, then, does anyone think middle school was the highlight of his or her life?

Being thirteen was hard. I had just returned from grammar school in Australia and had an accent that seemed “snobby” to the other students at Archie Clayton Middle School. My mother was between husbands and we were living at my grandmother’s house. I kept my clothes in a box and slept on a cot in my great-aunt’s room. Good times. In addition, I now realize I had awful taste in shirts.

I had a couple of tricks that helped my daily attitude. As corny as this seems, I tried to recall all the good things that happened each day before I went to sleep. I also was constantly in a planning state for a trip to Walt Disney World. I know, the whole story is sounding Dickensian. I had an issue of World magazine and the fact sheet Questions. Looking at the Questions piece now, I’m not amazed by the low prices, but by the incredibly tight leading of justified Avant Garde Light. How could I read this? I also spent hours trying to decipher the images in World magazine (remember no internet, and 3 television channels). There is one couple that seems to be everywhere. Who were they? How could they be so carefree? Then there is that yellow creature. WTF? I don't know what that is.

One of my favorite blogs is Passport to Dreams Old and New. Cracker Jack writing and incredible images makes this a daily stop for me. One post points directly to this question. The Beard Dude and his Farrah Fawcett-esque girlfriend show up often. Today, I spend a large amount of energy trying to drive clients away from posed and artificial images toward a more authentic journalistic approach. Now, I see how wrong I have been. At 13, I bought the message that this couple had all problems solved and this vacation was the highlight of their existence. From now on, I’m going to request photography of posed couples, men with beards, women with Farrah Fawcett hair, and an unbridled enthusiasm in the most mundane activities.

I make fun of these artifacts now. But these pieces of paper made the difference for me between intense focus and planning of a vacation, or selling dope and robbing 7-11 stores.

Defense of Garish Acts

A few weeks ago I attempted to repaint my living room in sophisticated silver grey. This was a mistake. What looked beautiful in the Restoration Hardware catalogue looked like a prison cell in my living room. If I wanted to interrogate visitors, or slam them up against a wall with a shiv this would be perfect. I called my trusty painter Jeirro and he repainted it back to aqua and watermelon pink. Clearly I am doomed to what others refer to as bad taste or garish color.

In defense of garish color I point to some of our finest designers, Paul RandArt PaulTadanori Yokoo, and Paul Bruno. We think of these people as refined craftsmen. But did they shy away from magenta and orange, purple and lime green? No. They embraced it and ignored the calls from the sophisticated elite, “More beige, please.”

I’ve often used the baby mobile argument. If beige mobile and a brightly colored mobile are presented to a toddler, he or she will always gravitate toward the bright one. The bad things in life, rotten meat, deadly deep water, and coffins are dull and grey. The good things, non-poisonous berries, swimming pools, and pink Cadillacs are bright and cheerful. This is why clients react badly when presented a baby shit green poster, and cheer for the bright yellow and happy pink one.

Paul Rand, 1964

The Goodness of Nothing

The hardest thing to do as a designer is nothing. Not as in, “I’ll sit on the sofa and stare at the carpet.” What I am talking about here is the restraint to let something be what it is. One of the tenets of modernism is to be true to materials. Steel should look like steel. It shouldn’t be painted to simulate wood. The idea then is to let something be what it is.

The first thing I do as a designer is reach into my bag of tricks. I can put the image inside the typography, make a bright background, overprint a big yellow word, or create a grid of interesting colors. Fortunately, I move on to actually thinking and do something different (unless a big yellow word makes sense that day). Often, the subject matter is more than enough visual interest. Or it is complex conceptually and doesn’t need flying triangles to assist in the message.

When we worked on the reface of the Sundance Channel, we built a system that had one rule: use one typeface, Bob, in all caps, the same size, on a centerline horizon. Anything behind the type was fair game. This was a network about film and ideas, not graphic tricks. It worked great for about a year, and then someone got antsy and decided to add a colored box. Then the floodgates opened and the flying boxes and graphics ran back in.

When I look at Chermayeff and Geismar’s 1971 campaign for Pan Am, or Doyle Dane Bernbach’s 1964 campaign for Jamaica, I see how this restraint and faith in the subject works. Lou Danziger's poster for UCLA Extension is genius in it's obviousness and simplicity. It’s not easy to walk into a client’s office and say, “I don’t want to do anything. I just want to focus on the subject in the simplest way possible,” and then send an invoice. A great subject will always make a great solution, unless you get in the way.

Dizzy in Toronto


I was going through some old images in the archives, and came across a piece I had forgotten entirely. It is a booklet for a lecture I gave in Toronto over a decade ago. On this trip, I managed to land in Toronto feeling sick. It wasn’t Toronto that caused the sickness, but probably by touching something a sick child had touched. There is nothing worse than being ill away from home except being ill, away from home, and scheduled to speak.

I managed to do the lecture without passing out. I was convinced I would recreate the Janet Reno passing out on stage, or the President Bush (1) throwing up on-stage in Japan episodes. But I held onto the podium as I spoke and maintained my composure.

My great friend, Diti Katona, who is the most amazing designer, was incredibly kind to me, making sure I was okay and taking me to the airport. I didn’t want to pass out at the airport. I have no idea what happens if you have insurance in the United States, but are in Canada with socialized medicine. So I refused to sit down, and continued walking around the terminal for an hour and a half before my flight. Security looked at me oddly after I passed the same guard 5 times. Oddly, I felt fine by the time we landed and decided it was just stage fright. Which is weird because I could care less normally and will shove someone else aside to get on stage.

The View from Here

I gave a talk about the narrative design of Disneyland at the Cusp conference a couple of years ago. I covered the idea of a cinematic experience and viewer participation. The visual landscape of both Disneyland and Walt Disney World is carefully planned to create an experience like a film. For example, the tunnels on either side of the Main Street train station act like the darkening of a theater, then the guest passes onto Main Street and the “film” begins. But, the viewpoint is not straight down Main Street toward the castle. It’s to the right or left, then as the guest moves into the park, the view is revealed. The castle acts as a draw, or in Disney terms, a “weenie” and the guest is pulled toward the center of the park.

Each vista is planned to serve as a setting, information delivery vehicle, navigation device, and entertainment. At the same time, the overall sense of security and familiarity is created. Think of the experience this way: there are long shots of a Panavision nature, medium shots of singular buildings, close-ups of pedestrian level windows and doors, and detail shots of individual elements such as a birdcage on a porch or old apothecary bottles in a window.

While others are taking photos of their friends or family members in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle, I’m shooting the long shots and details. I’ve found shooting panoramas by standing in one spot and rotating 360 degrees, or moving down the street and taking a picture every twenty feet to work well. Of course it looks crazy, but so what?

As a side note, once again, bring your subject close and let the castle be a background. Unless you need to shoot their entire outfit with shoes, we don’t need to see their entire body. There is no need to be upset when people walk between you and the subject 50 feet away. If I see you do this I will purposely walk between you and the subject and stand there.

Walt Disney World Main Street east

The Colors of the Sea

Here’s a trick when choosing colors: the in-between colors are always more compelling. For example, seafoam isn’t blue or green. The viewer needs to do a little work and this creates a more dynamic response. The same holds true for all other colors. I like red with a little orange. I hate flat purple, but love something a little bluer like the dense color of a blueprint. The default color swatches in Adobe Illustrator are there as a starting point. Like the circle tool, they’re boring until you do something interesting with them.

Whenever I decide to paint a room, I pull out the paint swatch book and tape different swatches to the wall. Unfortunately, they are all slightly different shades of seafoam. To my eye, they are radically different, but at the paint store they look at me like I’m crazy. The kitchen is a light seafoam, the bathrooms are all a slightly greener version, the laundry room is slightly bluer, and the living room is a tiny bit more intense. In all honesty, I’ll admit they all look like the same color on the wall. So my attention to color detail is lost on any guest.

Seafoam is one of those colors that people respond to in extremes. They either love it, or hate it and want to hurt someone. Someone once asked me at a speaking engagement what my favorite Pantone color was. I answered, “I love seafoam, PMS 318.” Years later, I found a blog written by someone in the audience who insisted PMS 318 was not seafoam, but turquoise, and I didn’t know what I was talking about. My advice is to call it whatever makes the other party happy: seafoam, turquoise, blue-green, Mount Vernon Prussian blue, swimming pool blue, or aqua.

Happy Talk

I’ve spent a lot of time in airports and on American Airlines flights. Like everyone else on earth, I hate when people insist on a conversation. On one flight, the woman next to me talked about her affair, her husband’s affair, how hot the steward was, and why she hated her children. Another time, the flight attendant spilled an entire can of beer on my lap. She was horrified and deeply apologetic, but it was an accident so no big deal. Unfortunately, it meant flying from JFK to LAX and smelling like I was at a frat party. The guy next to me told me every story he had about spilling liquids (wow that was exciting), and then asked if I wanted some underwear from his overnight bag (oi!).

My favorite was a woman who was a famous gospel singer who was flying back from Chicago after being on Oprah. She talked about her upcoming wedding plans for three hours. After three vodka tonics, she became quite friendly and repeatedly said, “Why you are so cute. Let me give you just one kiss.” I reminded her that her fiancé was waiting to pick her up.

As obnoxious as chattering is on airplanes, it’s a good design device. Unless you implant one of those little audio chips, however, you need alternative ways to do this. I love quotation marks. I love talk bubbles. Both are incredible symbols that everyone understands, “Oh, that means someone is talking.” One of my all time favorite solutions is Matthew Liebowitz’s cover for H.L. Mencken Speaking. A single bad image of the author and an uncomfortable composition is brought to life with three pieces of simple punctuation. And, to make it even better, Mencken isn’t speaking. If he were photographed speaking, the cover would be too obvious and make us wonder what he is saying specifically and individually. The closed mouth leads us to hear all of his words.