Getting Lit

Dunham & Deatherage

When I was in middle school, I had friend who's family owned an inexpensive motel in downtown Reno. Yes, it was that glamorous. After playing basketball we'd go to his house and his mother would give us quarters that came from the slot machine in the motel office. We'd take the money and buy pizza then hang out in my friend's big brother's room. I'm sure everyone had a friend with a big brother who smoked pot, had an American flag hanging on the wall, needed a haircut or two, and loafed around all day. I should have been impressed by his coolness factor, but never really was. He was always too stoned, looked dirty, and his balls would fall out of his too short shorts when he passed out. But his room was covered with black light posters lit by an overhead black light. Seriously groovy.

The black light posters of the 1960s and 70s were printed with fluorescent inks and displayed under black light that intensified their psychadelic-ness. If you've been on a dark ride like Buzz Lightyear at Disneyland, you know the effect. The subject matter was aimed at horny teenage pot smoking boys: naked women, marijuana references, rock and roll, and comics. Some of the early Fillmore posters were beautifully designed, the later ones fall into the category of black velvet paintings of leopards. I can't decide if they are truly hideous or so hideous that they transcend into wonderful. I do know that if you find yourself in a friend's room filled with these you may be with the wrong crowd.

Silver Surfer

Alexander Rotany, 1972

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Steve Sachs, 1967

Zodiac Lovers 1975

War Queen, 1970


David Norda, 1968

Enjoy, 1973

It's The End of The World As We Know It


A couple of weeks ago I spent a day attempting to go to the Altes Museum to see the Roman stuff. Somehow I lost my way and spend two hours walking in a circle in the Tiergarten. So I gave up my plan to see Roman statuary and stopped at Haus der Kulturen der Welt.

I would sound smarter if I said it was to see the exhibition on the intersection between European and African history, but I needed a bathroom. The exhibition was good, but the building is spectacular.  It was the USA’s contribution to the INTERBAU 1957 building exhibition in Berlin and designed by Hugh Stubbins. This is modernism in its heyday. Today it is beautifully empty. It's like a set from an odd 1960s European film about life after a global pandemic. Abandoned ticket booths, vacant cafés, and a bookstore with one listless cashier.

Now I know what life will be like after the end of the world. I don't think that was the original intention for the building, but it sure does work. FYI, the Fleischmann Planetarium at University of Nevada built in 1963 is a clear ripoff.

P1010836 P1010835 P1010833 P1010829 P1010827 P1010824 P1010819 P1010795 P1010794 P1010791 P1010789 P1010788 P1010786 P1010785

Fleischmann Planetarium, University of Nevada, 1963

Fleischmann Planetarium, University of Nevada, 1963

Freaky and Funny

Originally, I planned to do a post today as a long and angry rant against something. I didn't know what that would be. I considered people who walk in front of you very slowly and weave so you can't pass them. Or, spending an hour and a half today in traffic to sign one piece of paper that could have been faxed. Or, clients who share a project in process with a "designer" friend who has no ethics and no problem pointing out issues like "that capital E looks like a backward 3." Really? Wow, I ever noticed that. See, now I'm ranting.

Instead, I'm going to do the opposite. Rather than focusing on the negative, I'm going to play the glad game and find things I like (are you sick yet?) First, Nicole Jacek's placeholder for her website under construction. It's the most exciting work I've seen in years. It's out of control and may push the viewer to a seizure. There is no attempt to make it feel like high, classic print design. It's RGB and screaming. I read some criticisms about it from people who didn't like its frenetic energy. So, go to the DMV website. Nicole's site is freaked and proud.

I also found the Jarritos website designed by Daniel Arenas at Sunday Morning. Again, its for Jarritos, so that makes it great already. But it is unapologetically fun. There are Day of the Dead characters, Mexican wrestlers, and  flat voice-overs. I could do without the "letterpress" type, but I like pretty hideous typefaces like Tiffany Ultra Bold Italic, so I can't be trusted. That's a tiny piece; it's pretty wonderful. Like Nicole's placeholder page, it's honest and doesn't try to convince me that Jarritos is healthy with real fruit grown locally and picked as gently as possible to cause no pain to the tree., design: Sunday Morning, design: Sunday Morning, design: Sunday Morning, design: Sunday Morning, design: Sunday Morning

Poo Poo Platter

Let's Hula guide, 1956  

Several years ago I judged the ID Magazine Awards and Rick Valicenti entered his controversial piece, "Just My Type". This is an alphabet made from the interaction between Rick and an online porn actress. He suggests she make a letterform with her body, but she tries to maintain a scripted sexual role. Eventually both parties understand what needs to happen and an alphabet is made from her body positions. The piece caused a huge divide with the judges. The issue had more to do with the objectification and use of a woman rather than anything sexually explicit. I fought to include the piece because it forced a dialogue. And it was incredibly well made and thoughtful. Ten years later, it is the only project from that entire day of judging I remember.

As much as I would like to do a project that causes that level of controversy, I don't seem to have it in me. After Stefan Sagmeister sent us his first naked promotion card we considered doing a naked poster also. It worked for April Greiman and Stefan. But we could only think of taking it one step further and making something truly explicit and disgusting. But then we would need to face each other at work the next day. So that idea was out. Instead we stayed the course with a fresh sense of optimism. This seemed to piss people off already.

I've kept a hula dance guide for twenty years, thinking that someday I could make a hula girl typeface, like a watered down version of Rick's project. Unfortunately, there are not enough poses to do this. Nevertheless, the hula guide is a cherished possession. It makes hula dancing look so stiff and un-fun. There is a note that it should be used with "Hula Record's cassette #CHS-500." I sure wish I had that cassette. I hope it's as stiff as the guide, with someone barking orders over Aloha Oe, " Sway! Now! Like the ocean! STOP! Wave to the left!"

Let's Hula, Hula Records, Inc. 1956

Let's Hula, Hula Records, Inc. 1956

Come Fly with Me

Continental Airlines, Boeing 747, 1970s AA-747-vi

I've been away from the burning settlers for awhile doing my five other jobs. Some of you already know that I've signed on for a second term as President of AIGA. This time it's as a co-president with the very brave Drew Davies. I'm getting ready to film a new course I've written, Fundamentals of Layout, for I'm teaching at Art Center. I'm doing Command X at the AIGA Head, Heart, Hand Conference. And, of course, still a partner at AdamsMorioka. In September, I'm heading to Berlin for three months and leading testlab Berlin. I always think I'm industrious, but I'm probably just frenetic.

When I decided to go to Berlin I immediately began to get quite nervous. Sure I'm nervous about moving to another country, learning German, and leading 12 incredible students. But, I was mostly concerned about the air travel. I'm not scared of flying. I'm scared of flying in coach.

I'm often told I live in a bubble, usually by people who don't know each other. It's not a compliment. It's usually followed by, "You make me sick." So it might be true.

My reasoning is this: I can't work in a little seat. I'm too tall. If I lose billable hours, I cost the firm money. If I fly in first class, I can work, so the ticket price usually matches my hours. See, it all makes sense.

Unfortunately, I'd really prefer to fly in first class on a 747 in 1975. I know everyone goes on and on about how air travel has become worse than the bus and people used to dress to travel. But when I see the photos of life on a 747 in the 1970s, it's looking pretty groovy. People seem more interested in lying around and having swinging singles parties or getting high on marijuana. I'm not into that kind of thing, but I would love to fly in an orange and rust cabin.

It's all too navy blue and grey now. Perhaps the reasoning is that passengers are more comfortable with a square and professional flight crew than one that looks like they are shooting a porn movie.





Wayne Thom 7208_0623_13_747_Interior


AC 747 11

1970s aircraft interior

Knife in Water

Here are two things I don't know: how to speak Polish, and how to code a full screen video image run behind the content on a website. I probably won't learn Polish. But I am determined to solve the video issue. I'm sure anyone under thirty, or any tech smart people are already saying, "That's like way easy." The website for Nowy Teatr in Poland does this and is a joy to explore. The site, designed by Huncwot, a remarkable agency in Warsaw could be the trickiest site in the world. The content leans toward the avant-garde, but the site's design remains consistently concrete and provides gravity. The minimal typography and restraint is piercing. The full screen moving imagery could be obtrusive, but it's hypnotic. If you ask me, the people at Nowy Teatr and Huncwot should be pretty darn proud. The site was the talk of the school last week at Art Center, and left me, a complete philistine, thousands of miles away, speaking only SoCal english, awed.

Nowy Teatr, Huncwot, Warsaw


Two Heads are Better Than One

Years ago, we designed a manual for Hanna-Barbera. We wanted to show an example of a shirt using Hanna-Barbera characters such as Fred Flintstone. But there was a standing rule that an “A” character such as Fred Flintstone always was accompanied by a “B” and “C” character. I put Fred’s head on the shirt and surrounded him with Hong Kong Phooey’s head and Ma Kettle’s head. To me it looked great. Noreen pointed out it looked like a multiple personality disorder, or The Three Faces of Fred Flintstone.

I love illustration that uses multiple heads. Even better is illustration that has things growing out of people’s heads. I understand the need to convey multiple characters and a scene. Both of these devices do this. I like the idea of someone else’s head growing out of your own like a mutant twin. This was a popular device in the 1970s and 80s. Now think about this, it’s not easy to make it look as effortless and make sense. Both Bob Peak and Richard Amsel were masters of this. I urge all movie poster designers to return to this device. I want to see a poster of the Twilight characters all growing out of the side of one person’s head.


Richard Amsel, Woodstock, illustration



Magic Journeys


I'm a sucker for a nice map. A couple of years ago, I posted about Walt Disney World and Disneyland maps. As a nice by-product, we were then hired to design a new souvenir map for Disneyland. I can't show this to anyone due to the contract, but believe me, it's good. A kind follower of burningsettlerscabin recently sent me this remarkable map of Walt Disney World by Arthur de Wolf. Holy cheese and crackers, I am blown away. This is one of those times I find myself saying, "I wish I'd done that." It's reminiscent of Massimo's 1972 New York Subway map. Fortunately it isn't like the most confusing map I've ever used for the Tokyo Subway system. Try to figure that one out. Now I know why I see photos of passengers being shoved into trains in Tokyo. They obviously are all lost and endlessly changing trains to find the way home.


The Joy of Giving

People send me things. Sometimes they're great, like a thank you box of wine from AIGA Orange County. We're now using the box as the stockade for dolls. Or, they send funny images such as these. Alternatively, they are odd and disturbing, as in: please don't Photoshop my head into your family photos. I have no common theme for these images today, beside the fact they are all kind and thoughtful gifts. I've been sitting on them for awhile. I'm sorry about the motorcycle bumper sticker. It's so bizarre, I had to share it.

Religion and Penises


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?











Liberty and Freedom in Grids

I like odd grids. How’s that for a catchy opening at a cocktail party? Probably not too good. Nevertheless, complicated and unexpected grids are wonderful. One of my favorite examples is the structure for the book, The World of Franklin and Jefferson, created for the exhibition of the same name. United States Information Agency and the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration proposed the exhibition with funding from IBM. The exhibit toured New York, Paris, Warsaw, London, Mexico City, Chicago, and Los Angeles and was one of the last major works completed by the Eames Office. The accompanying book’s structure is, let’s be honest, bizarre. There are almost no margins. The italic captions have their own column in the center of the page. The images seem to invade the text like wild animals. Clearly, there is a structure under here I do not understand. But I love it. It’s a world of wackadoodle grids. Now, that’s a good title for a new design book.




When Illustration Takes a Holiday

The first image we recognize as human beings is a face. Babies can recognize parents and mimic expressions within days of birth. We operate as social animals by identifying other people we know. The human face is the first place we look. It gets our attention. This is why every magazine cover is an almost life size image of a face looking at the viewer. It works to get our attention, but not particularly exciting or unexpected.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Frank Zachary was the art director at Holiday magazine. He hired relatively unknown illustrators for the covers. Most of these star illustrators later. The illustrative covers never fail. They are light, often funny, beautiful, and smart. Holiday’s photographic covers, however, have been relegated to history’s sloppy seconds. Perhaps it is due to the surplus of photographic covers now. The illustrations seem completely fresh and new. But, why do I keep going back to the photos on the covers?

First, they are not the standard big head staring at the viewer. Second, the scale, point of view, and overall composition are often unexpected and odd. Third, the subject matter is never the obvious. An issue on Park Avenue has an abstract image of car lights. No attempt is made to show Park Avenue clearly. The issue covering the Caribbean’s photo is shot from a bird’s eye view, minimizing the bathing suit clad woman in the hammock. I especially love the September 1952 issue on Colorado. At first glance, it’s a standard portrait of a young woman and her horse. But, look closely. The young woman is not focus on the center of the page. The horse is. This is a beauty shot of a lovely horse.

many of these covers are from

The Big Story

Lately, you may have noticed a longer time between postings here. Yes, of course, I’ve been busy. A new term at Art Center just began; I’m working on a new book, several time intensive projects, and heading to the Dice conference tomorrow to speak. Nevertheless, I’ve been busy for years. The saying, “If you want something done, ask a busy person,” applies to me. The issue is graphic design. I spend all day with it. I teach, write, and yammer on about it. Lately, when I think about posting something I look at possible design pieces and think, “I am so over this.” Don’t worry. It’s a passing phase, and I’m bound to find some design I’m inspired by soon.

To escape typography, I watched Doctor Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, and Ryan’s Daughter again recently. They are all remarkable. If you haven’t seen these, they aren’t what you think. Yes, Doctor Zhivago and Ryan’s Daughter are love stories. But they are played out on such a vast scale against epic times. And, they are extraordinarily and exquisitely designed.  David Lean’s vision is clear and refined. Julie Christie (who looks remarkably like Paula Scher) is the most beautiful woman who ever lived. The Panavision cinemascope and color is unbelievable. These are big, big, big movies. This is what a movie is supposed to look like.

I admit, there are some aspects that didn’t age well. Everyone’s makeup in Doctor Zhivago is a little heavy and runs toward a groovy 1965 dark eyes, light lips look. As T. E. Lawrence, Peter O’Toole captures a complex and troubled character, but he should have said “no,” to the third application of mascara.

Finally, there is a scene in Ryan’s Daughter that is my favorite in any film. It’s only a moment, when Sarah Miles lies on the forest ground and looks up. The camera points up to the tree's canopy. There is no music, only the sound of the rustling leaves and creaking of the branches as they barely move in the wind.

Nude Nude Girls

This week in my Communication Design 1 class, we talked about audience and allusion. I use the example of Edouard Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l'herbe and the application of this painting to other projects. Whenever I try to explain this I’m sure they are staring at me and thinking, “I have no idea what he is saying. I think he’s lost his mind.” But, that’s fine because I’m not sure about my mind lately.

Le déjeuner sur l'herbe was a scandal when it was exhibited in 1863. It was rejected by the Salon, and then shown at Salon de Refusés. Today it seems rather innocuous. Yes, there is a nude woman, but so what? Haven’t nude women existed in art for millennia? Yes, but in 1863, it was only appropriate when the woman appeared in a religious or mythological context. It was one thing to have a nude sculpture of the goddess Diana, but entirely different to have an ordinary woman nude. And having a picnic. With men. Shocking.

Jump ahead 120 years and the band Bow Wow Wow appropriates the image for their album cover. This is how allusion and audience works: if you know the background of Manet’s painting, you recognize it on Bow Wow Wow’s cover. You know the message here is that Bow Wow Wow is scandalous and shocking. You feel special and smart. If you don’t know the Manet reference it still works if you are a 16-year-old new wave kid living on a farm, “Nude girl. Cool.”

The album cover was in actuality scandalous because the lead singer, Annabella Lwin, was only 15 when the photo was released. This led to an uproar about child abuse and investigation by Scotland Yard. As a side note, when I was 19, I met Annabella during my time on American Bandstand. She had a wonky Mohawk, but one of the few guests who interacted with the kids.

Recently someone sent me Stano Masár’s version of Le déjeuner sur l'herbe. It’s wonderful and points to the issue of allusion and audience perfectly. With such a small amount of information, I recognize this. Yeah, I’m groovy, I know modern art history.

The Old Lime Green and Violet Mare

Last week Noreen brought bacon-flavored beer to the office. I can’t say it was wonderful. It tasted like beer that had some bacon strips in the bottle. She also had maple-flavored beer. I could have made that with a Sam Adams and bottle of Mrs. Butterworth syrup. Which leads me to one of my favorite idioms, Psychedelic Victorian. You take some upstanding Victorian typography and elements, and run them through an acid trip color system. It doesn’t hurt to exaggerate typographic flourishes and mustaches. The record covers suggest music such as Maple Leaf Rag sung by The Doors. But, most of it is just nice barbershop quartet and ragtime music. If you ask me, however, someone new and groovy should start singing some of those good old songs like Oh’ Susanna.

Dudette Shreds in London

I’m always surprised when someone says, “You guys are the quintessential southern California firm.” I don’t think of us this way. I like to think we’re a serious, intelligent, and dedicated crew, not pot smoking surf dudes and dudettes. We don’t help this reputation with our watermelon, spearmint, and butter yellow walls. And then there is the skateboard incident. Several years ago, Noreen was a judge for the British Design and Art Director’s competition. This is one of the most prestigious shows in the world and the judging is rigorous. The judges are pulled from around the world. I did it a couple of years after her, and slept for a week when I returned home.

Someone submitted a skateboard to the competition and Noreen’s jury was trying to decide if it should be included. “We need to ride it,” she said. This makes perfect sense to me. It might look good, but what if it doesn’t work. Unfortunately, this behavior is unheard of in polite British society. So Noreen’s ride around the room on the board drew gasps and shock. Perhaps the southern California idea isn’t wrong.

This week, I made two skateboard decks for AIGA Hampton Roads’ Shred show. I’m happy to do it and help out a great chapter. Of course, since I’m super square, my solutions are the dorkiest in the group. But, that’s good too. It makes everyone else look incredibly hip.

American Psycho

When I decided to go to CalArts, my mother said, “Well, once you’re eighteen, you’re on your own.” I’m not sure if my parents lack of interest or support was due to my choice of school, art school over Harvard, or because they were too busy arguing to notice. They seemed confused about my college until I graduated, telling friends I was at CalTech. The upside of this was absolutely no interference with any of my own decisions. The downside was the financial responsibility to pay for college on my own.

I hate that some of my students now have similar financial struggles. This is the time they should be free to focus on becoming the best possible designer and finding their own distinct voice. I do what I can personally with the scholarship fund but this can’t solve someone’s entire college expenses. When asked me to design a set of business cards, I was interested. They are the best quality, printed on beautiful Mohawk Superfine paper. When they told me I could dedicate the Art Center Scholarship Fund as my charity, I was thrilled.

Now, this is one of those classic “do whatever you want” assignments. These sound great, but lead to sitting at my desk staring at a blank pad of paper. So, I thought about cards I want. First, I’d love a set of nautical themed cards, and a set of vibrant patterns and color, then, disturbingly, a set of really depressing places. The nautical and pattern cards are perfectly logical. Who doesn't want nautical business cards, or bright and cheerful color and pattern.

I admit the depressing cards are odd. But I love the idea of shaking someone's hand, smiling and handing out a business card with an image of a place of despair. These are the spaces where people gave up. They stopped trying. They are about lethargy and exhaustion, places where all else failed. What could be more fun?

To paraphrase Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest, "I don't ask for much." Now I'm asking that everyone spread the word, order some cards, look better when trading business cards, but most importantly, help a young designer as they struggle financially.

Madame, Taisez-vous!

The last time we went to Paris, Noreen had just watched Funny Face. This proved to be a mistake, as she insisted on singing Bonjour Paris everywhere we went. This is funny the first couple of times, but after awhile is trying, especially when the French stare and shout, “Madame, Taisez-vous!” I admit, however, that I love Funny Face and was tempted to sing as well. If you haven’t seen Funny Face, and think Saved By the Bell is an old classic, you need help. You are sad.

Here’s the basic plot. Audrey Hepburn is a beatnik and dowdy salesgirl at a Greenwich Village bookstore. The crew from a high fashion magazine, including the editor, Kaye Thompson, and photographer, Fred Astaire, descend upon the store for a high fashion photo shoot. Poor Audrey Hepburn, hideous and dowdy, is forced to be an extra next to the incredibly severe model. When the photos are developed, everyone agrees Audrey Hepburn should be made-over and sent to Paris as the star model. They all fly to Paris, sing the song, and shoot some fashion photos. Audrey Hepburn gets mixed up with some beatniks, and everyone is freaked she’ll miss the big fashion show.

There are a few highlights that I love. Fred Astaire’s character, Dick Avery, is based on Richard Avedon. The art director is based on Alexey Brodovitch. The magazine decides that pink is the color of the moment. Of course, it’s impossible to see Audrey Hepburn as ugly, so that part doesn’t work.


Kangaroos Loose in the Top Paddock

I went to grammar school in Melbourne, Australia. For some unknown reason, airline bags were the “in” thing to have. Looking back, this makes no sense. Why do 9-year-old children need to look like they spend their time jet setting around the world? Perhaps it was the one thing that stood out in a sea of grey uniforms. I had a BOAC bag that I proudly took to school each day. I also had a BOAC poster in my bedroom, perhaps again, to show my interest in international travel.

I came back to the U.S. when I started the 6th grade. This is the worst time to show up with an Australian accent. At that age, everyone wants to fit in. I was asked repeatedly in the halls to “say something.” I also sucked at American football. I had learned Aussie Rules Football. The rules are different, for example throwing the ball is not allowed and a player cannot get caught holding the ball. The first time I caught the ball on an American field, I immediately kicked it away. Not good I learned. I was Cracker Jack at cricket, but that skill was rather useless at Clayton Middle School in Reno, Nevada.

I continue to mix up English versus American spelling. But, by the time I reached high school, I lost my accent and knew that I could throw a football. And I didn't bring my BOAC flight bag to school.