Where's My Grid Dude?

When I was in Berlin, I loved that people waited at the crosswalk until the light turned green, waited in line politely, and exited the S-Bahn correctly. There were no people shoving to get in before everyone exited, nobody ran across a busy street ignoring oncoming traffic, or tried to get past you in the line at the grocery store. I like order.

Order is good for many things. But too much of it can be cold, as in intimate situations, "No, not that yet. We are still on the schedule for you doing this." Josef Müller-Brockmann managed order without the chilly part. His posters and publications are mathematically precise, but that creates harmony. Müller-Brockmann also was a master at scale. Not only are the elements placed precisely, but the scale of the pieces relate to each other just as orderly.

Of course, many people think of Josef Müller-Brockmann as the grid dude. And yes, he was indeed the grid dude. But if that were his only skill, we would be left with a range of work from A-B. Instead, each piece is it's own unique masterpiece.

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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.

Christmas Dammit!

At Christmas, most of my friends and family understand that I don't like having too much stuff. Flags and cacti are usually a safe bet. But every once in awhile someone will buy me one of those odd "designer-like" objects like an over-designed corkscrew. A few years ago, my friend Jan Fleming gave me one of my favorite gifts ever, the Deer Crest card catalogue.

I keep it out all year long because I love the cover so much. The inside has multiple pages with individual cards that can be ordered in bulk. I imagine this is what someone did in 1960; go to Montgomery Ward, sit with a salesperson, and go through the catalogue, "Oh yes, that card with the evil Satan Santa will be lovely this year. I'll order 200 please."

I would never be able to choose one. There are too many wonderful cards. The script on the interior of the cards is incredible. Each card has a special technique, such as lots of real gold stars pasted down to make a Christmas Tree, plastic jewels, or acetate overlays. I don't understand some of them. I mistook the ones with baby angels as dead babies. Santa Claus seems a little scary in some, especially the terrifying demon Jack in the Box.

It's incredible how denominational it is. There are no Hanukkah cards. There is nothing neutral such as a Happy New Year card or snowy scene that simply reads "Happy Holidays". The catalogue is clear, "It's Christmas, bitches!"

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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.

Simple Language

Gene Thornton, by Robert Giard, 1984

I have an image of a distant cousin, Gene Thornton, that I love. I learned only recently that one of my favorite photographers, Robert Giard, made it. Giard's portraits are simple, unadorned, never tricky or clever, and subtle. What I love is that they are images of people as they simply are. The portraits are honest and humble. They are not images representing the subject as an icon or participant in a clever pun. The negative space, scale, and subtlety of light and shadow is flawless. His landscape images have the same humble and poetic tone.

Giard began this approach in 1985, after seeing a performance of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, about the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. The play influenced Giard to began documenting significant gay and lesbian literary figures in this straightforward and authentic way. 

A selection of these portraits was published by MIT Press in 1997 as the anthology Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers. In 1998, The New York Public Library mounted an exhibition of his work with the same name.

I feel sorry for my friend, Blake Little, who has photographed me for twenty years. Each time we shoot a new headshot, I bring along my image of Gene Thornton, and ask for the same thing. This is, no doubt, like when a client sits down and hands you a Saul Bass, and says, "Can you match this?"

Above: Left to Right, Top to Bottom

Bernard Cooper 1989: Donna Kate Rushin 1987
Charles Henri Ford with Indra. The Dakota, NYC: Eric Bentley, 1986
Irena Klepfisz, 1987: Charles Henri Ford
Allen Ginsburg: Brad Gooch 1986
Chris Soller: David Leavitt 1987
Dennis Cooper: Edmund White 1985
Essex Hemphill 1991: Marianna Romo Carmona and June Chan
Giard Bechdel: Sapphire, 1988

Bare Hedge 1981

Teeter Totter House

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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.

Sending the Elevator Back Down

Filmforum, 1994

When I decided to step away from AdamsMorioka and focus on, forgive the do-gooder tone, working with younger designers, or sending the elevator back down, I worried that people would think I stopped designing myself. Then I realized this was vanity and pride and had no place in moving forward. But every once in awhile it rears its ugly head. At a meeting today, someone asked, "do you have time to work with your own clients in addition to the Art Center work?" I had to admit I recently turned down a signage project because I was already over booked and did not want to start a studio with large staff again. But, I just finished a bandana design for a client.

I felt small. But again, that has nothing to do with the work. It's just pride. And doing something or not because of pride is always a bad idea. The day ended with seeing work I could never imagine doing myself from a group of younger designers. That made it worth it.

I'v been adding work to the BSC site over time, which is like using a time machine. I found a series of projects I did back in 1994, before AdamsMorioka, AIGA, Lynda.com, and Burning Settlers Cabin. You aren't supposed to share old work. It makes you look old. But it reminded me that I was once that young designer, who was helped enormously by Saul Bass, Michael Vanderbyl, Michael Bierut, and Paula Scher.

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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.

Riding the Rails

Herman Miller Metaform System

Raw space, 1111 South Arroyo Parkway

I've begun to believe that if you're on the wrong train on the wrong track, things just don't seem to work. But when you're heading the right way, everything falls into place. It's been this way with the ArtCenter Graphic Design Graduate Program (MGx). It's a challenge and never easy, but the process to launch in Fall 2016 has been remarkably smooth. With the help of Chris Hacker, last week, we met with the folks at Herman Miller who have agreed to partner with us on the space. Just another hint that this is the right direction.

The program will be house in the 1111 Building in Pasadena, just across the tracks (see the train metaphor) from the ArtCenter Wind Tunnel. From the outside it looks like a perfectly normal office building, but the interior is fantastic raw space. The open space on the MGx and Gx floor goes on forever with amazing light and views. You could put a roller rink in there. 

Herman Miller is working with us to use the space as a case study with the new Metaform system. The system is entirely modular. The pieces can be rearranged and rebuilt in minutes. A student could create a space to work alone, and quickly pick up the pieces to make a group workspace. I know we'll see some amazing hacks. The system even has pieces to use with 3d printed custom elements. I'm jealous of the students who get to work with Metaform.

I intend to use the 3d printer to add garden gnomes.



Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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.

Typography 101

This is basic anatomy for designers. Learn it, love it. For more info: http://www.lynda.com/Sean-Adams/519270-1.html


Typography History Fast


Classification Differences


Typesetting Basics

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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.

Bad Logo

I'm working on a course for Lynda.com about self promotion for designers. As I've been called a media whore for twenty years, this seemed appropriate. One of the points I make in the chapter about identity is that your logo should be neutral and simple. I'm not a fan of the designer or design firm identities that have scottie dog icons and name like "Cutsie Pie Dezigns". There's something about the "z" and confusion over design being a noun or verb with the "s" that doesn't communicate "hire me to rebrand your Fortune 500 corporation."

For many years, I maintained a simple wordmark at AdamsMorioka. But then, something went horribly awry when I moved on and began Burning Settlers Cabin. I've broken my own rule of a simple wordmark and made not one, but many complex identities. Why have one logo when you can have thirty? So I've made multiple limited edition posters, business cards, letterhead, and postcards. I never give them to anyone because I forget.

Posters

Business Cards

I realize that the common element is the name. It serves as the anchor. The forms change, but follow the same concepts of reference and appropriation. I also realized I wasn't IBM and could give myself more latitude. I started with one mark, then added three more and planned to make that a small library in a flexible logo system. But like a bag of potato chips, I continue to reach back in and add more. 

The most recent series is based on film subtitles. According to my theory about a simple wordmark for a designer, this is way wrong. However, rules are made to be broken, and if you're going to do something wrong, go all the way. My next plan is to create a website for a terrible design firm and name it Cutsie Pie Dezigns.

The Film Series Business Cards

Nobody reads in Farenheit 451

Letterhead

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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.

Grain

I admit I'm a chump for crappy photos. It's a 4K world and everyone wants to see every pore on a subject's face. Sharper, sharper, SHARPER! seems to be the battle cry. But like most execution issues this can be the cover for a really sucky concept. "What do you mean there was no plot? Didn't the Golden Gate Bridge look totally real when it was hit by the tsunami?"

There is something about poor quality black and white image that speaks to authenticity. The image is so sad there must be a good idea in there. Fuck the Draft is one of my favorites, and here you have a choice to order one and have another sent to several choices including Mrs. Lady Bird Johnson, Mrs. Shirley Temple Black, and Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu. 

I also enjoy this page from a typography book that equates typefaces with personalities and architecture at the time of its development. The message here, regardless of the mug shot quality photos, is that Johann Goethe liked Italienne, Karl Marx couldn't get enough Clarendon, and Madame Curie insisted on Akzidenz-Grotesk. Could be true, what do I know? 

These images also talk to memory and carry emotional resonance that is often lost with high-definition ultra sharp iamges. The next time you are handed a gritty and sad black and white photo to use, don't be angry. Embrace the badness. Love the anti-sharp.


Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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.

X Stands for the Variable

Over a year ago, I began talking with Nik Hafermaas about a graduate program in graphic design at ArtCenter. The undergraduate program had been through a remarkable revitalization and metamorphosis, and the time was right to apply the same thinking and ArtCenter's stellar reputation and network to a masters degree.

I've spent over two decades looking at portfolios from recent MFA grads from other schools. While they were almost all impressive and conceptually thorough, I saw a disconnect with the professional world. Projects were personal and unique, but were often so removed from applicable design I wondered if the designer would be terribly bored leading a branding campaign.

In 2011, ArtCenter embarked on a new course "to learn to create, and influence change". The Graphic Design MFA program embraces new ideas, innovation, and technology, while maintaining a connection to the profession here and now. We can explore the "C" word that everyone runs from, craft: typography, form, content, and the artifact. And we had the physical and intellectual resources to be the leader in leadership and entrepreneurial thinking.

What was truly unexpected was the reception the philosophy of innovation in the real world for real people resonated. Very quickly, several of the profession's leaders signed on as Advisory Board and Visiting faculty. This connection to the field and practice is critical as they will help guide the program, injecting ideas and wisdom based on their professional, rather than purely academic, experience.

Today the site for the ArtCenter Graphic Design Graduate (MGx) program is live and we are building an amazing space with a national American furniture company. I'm excited to serve as the Director of the program, providing designers with the skills and tools to not just succeed, but be the next generation of leaders.

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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.

1:1.61

Massimo Vignelli, 1971

Like most people, I like order. I prefer my desk to be neat and my books arranged correctly. I have recurring nightmares about a house with an incredibly messy hidden room. Consequently, I'm a sucker for Swiss design. It's that rational golden rectangle that is used relentlessly. I am in awe of the designer who was able to make everything sync so precisely. It must take days to map out every tiny detail to fit into the mathematically rigid grid absolutely perfectly.

Often, when I'm asked, "Sean, just how do you use the golden rectangle? Do I shove everything into it? What if my page size isn't A4?" I suggest that the designer use the golden rectangle as a loose guide. Drop it down, turn it on it's side, see what works best for you. Then adjust the layout so it relatively aligns to the grid. I know someone in Switzerland just threw themselves in front of a train after hearing that, but what else can we do in America with out hideous 8-1/2 x 11 page size?

In my view it's better to try to walk the straight and narrow with the golden section, even if you don't hit it perfectly. It's better than working willy nilly all over the place as if a squirrel was making layout decisions. Now some post-modernist just threw themselves in front of a bus.


Otl Aicher, Rolf Müller, 1972


Siegfried Odermatt


Rolf Müller, 1972


Gottschalk + Ash


E. + U. Hiestand


Carlo Vivarelli

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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.

I Go to The Hills

Every day I hike to the top of a hill in Griffith Park. I know this is very The Sound of Music, climbing a mountain in the fresh air and getting good exercise. I don't sing. There are other people hiking and that is scary.

My hiking trail

I will admit, with some fear, that I actually like The Sound of Music. There are good lessons here: face life's problem and climb every mountain, ford every stream, and have confidence in yourself when no-one else will, and think about your favorite things like brown paper packages tied up with string when you are sad.

What works in the movie is not the story about singing children. Like the Baroness, I think they should be sent off to school. It's Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews that keep it from slipping into too saccharine. 

I saw a production on Broadway of the revival and it sucked big time. Without Christopher Plummer or Julie Andrews it was sooooo sweet. It made me want to do something really vile and repulsive after too get off some of the gooey and cloying acting. Plummer has a slightly sardonic and edgy tone that says, "I may discipline any one of you severely with no warning." Andrews also reads as kind and firm, but maybe a little nasty. That's what saves it and makes it work; that injection of the negative in the midst of all the goodness.

And there is that filthy language. I'm sure everyone already knows this, but it happens when Maria returns to the Abbey and meets with the Mother Superior. Before singing Climb Every Mountain, Mother Superior asks, "What is it you cunt face?" That nun had some anger issues and it seems rather passive aggressive to slip that in when pretending to be helpful. 

Herb Lubalin, 1965



Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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 Promiscuity of Images

Ettore Sottsass, 1946

And now, to swing to the other end of the Bauhaus philosophy, I recently found this piece designed by Ettore Sottsass in 1946. Typically, when Sottsass comes up in conversation (and yes, I'm that groovy and cosmopolitan, it happens all the time) I think about the Memphis design movement or the 1969 Olivetti Valentine typewriter. Sottsass designed this portfolio soon after being released from a Yugoslavian concentration camp and moving to Milan. 

Ettore Sottsass, 1946

It's clear from this that his approach rejected the minimal and functional Bauhaus. He not only disregards a grid or sense of order, his use of imagery is promiscuous at the least. Victorian clip art, modernist photography, and hand-made forms compete with pieces of typography and magazine clippings. While it doesn't rely on melting clocks, the piece is related to the Surrealist movement, happening at the same time. The elements exist as disparate symbols in the unconscious, pieces of everyday life that combine in a dream.

I've had a special admiration for Sottsass since I learned that he took 1,780 photographs on a short trip to South America, and for years photographed every hotel room in which he had slept with a woman. He also wanted to publish a book consisting of pictures of walls. I would buy a book of photos of walls.

SottsassCover.jpg

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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.

Beatings at the Bauhaus

This is what I hate: I'm giving a lecture about Herbert Bayer and the Bauhaus and someone is sleeping. Not just nodding off here and there, but face down on the desk. First, if you're so tired you can't be interested in the Bauhaus, you should get medical attention. Second, I'd understand (sort of) if I were doing a lecture on the variations of black-letter typefaces, but the Bauhaus is filled with subversive behavior, radical shifts in thinking, World War I death and destruction, and Nazis marching into people's apartments and arresting them.

When someone sleeps through all of this, I'd like to (forgive the cursing here) smack the mother-fucking shit out of them. But we don't do that in polite society.

I compare this with a visit I made to the Bauhaus a couple of years ago with 12 of the most Cracker-Jack students I've known. For a designer, this was like returning to the source of all life. And these students were following an educational pedagogy based on the Bauhaus' approach. This, in extraordinarily simplified terms, the studio approach, working and making, using craft and design for industry. 

Of course, rather than ending our visit with an espresso and pastries, we honored the Bauhaus students with beer. Oddly, everyone managed to stay awake through the entire journey. 


Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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.

A Tale of Two Cities

Epcot Center, calling the creepy robot on a land line, 1987

I've been cleaning out books lately. There are many duplicates and books I'll never read. I tried donating them to Goodwill, but they don't accept books. I considered making a pile of books on the driveway, setting them on fire, and yelling "burn, hateful Catcher in the Rye Satan book," But my neighbors already are wary of me so I didn't.

One of the books hidden behind another book was Walt Disney World and Epcot Center, 1987. I'll forgive the Cooper Black on the cover because the interior is so happy. The Epcot Center section is filled with images of people enjoying a creepy robot, watching belly-dancers, shopping for caftans, and watching marching Minute Men. I like the star filter, wide angle lens photos of the China Pavilion and American Adventure. I wish my iPhone had that filter.

In comparison, my photographs of Epcot (below) seem to be of another place. Mine are typically empty of people, details of signs, and vacant walkways. If the book had my images rather than the happy photos, people would expect either wonderful solitude or suicide. 

The depressing version

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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.

Making the Bed in New Orleans

“When did you realize you had gone from being a designer to being a personality?” one person asked me at the AIGA conference in New Orleans last week. Someone else said, “I can’t believe I’m talking with you. You’re a celebrity.” Good so far, but then added, “You should be a game show host.” April Greiman addressed me as the “Bob Barker of graphic design” repeatedly. Somewhere along the line I wanted to make a t-shirt that read, “I’m actually a designer. I am more than my hair.”

We all make our own beds. Hosting Command X is one of my greatest joys. Working with these seven young designers and seeing their amazing bravery is unbelievably satisfying. I’m not giving that up even if the world decides I am well known only for being perky onscreen. I know seeing me onstage doing this reinforces the “game show host” persona. If that’s the price to work with the Command X superstars, I’ll pay it. 

But, at my core, I’m a designer. I’d rather work on a complex issue and find a smart solution than host the $25,000 Pyramid. I need to figure out how Michael Bierut walked this tightrope. If it were up to me, he’d have Charlie Rose’s job, and I still consider him one of our greatest designers.

I think it’s the hair. I can’t do anything about that. It just happens by itself wanting to be game show or newscaster hair. Maybe I’ll cut it super short, and then people will say, “Oh, that Sean Adams, boy he's fugly, but yeah, isn’t he a graphic designer?”


Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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 Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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 Tree of Life

Don Birrell, Nut Tree restaurant receipt

When I was a child, and we drove from Reno or Lake Tahoe to San Francisco, my grandparents always stopped at the Nut Tree in Vacaville. My grandfather had a Mercedes sedan that he drove at the speed limit or slower, so a trip that might take three hours was a five hour journey. The stop at Nut Tree was the intermission on the long trek.

Don Birrell designed the graphics, packaging, interiors. He brought Eames furniture, Marilyn Neuhart wall hangings, and a modernist aesthetic to what could have been a Dennys. I recently found a receipt, just as beautifully designed as every other element. The iconography is terrifyingly close to how I make logos, which proves I was stealing ideas as a five year old

Russell Adams, Heather Adams, Nut Tree 1969

Sean Adams, Nut Tree, 1969

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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 Images of the Mad

Or when bad photos happen to good people

As of today, I have 1,076 images In my iPhoto Disneyland album. That may seem excessive to some, and not enough for others. They're a mix of photos I took, images I found, and scans of artifacts. I had a friend who worked at the park and had a great collection of obese people there, but mine are mostly typography. On the other hand I have fewer than 30 print photographs of Disneyland from the time I was a kid to the 1990s. Strangely, these mostly suck

You'd think that the cost of film and prints coupled with a degree from art school later, would lead to well considered and composed images. No. I seem to either have been on crack or in the midst of a seizure when I took these. They're of odd items such as the roof of the River Belle Terrace, or they're crooked and blurry. There is no sense of a focal point or rule of thirds.

Today I get furious when I see guests photograph their subject thirty feet away: "Hold on until everyone passes. I want all of you in the frame with the castle." BRING YOUR SUBJECT TO THE FOREGROUND! We don't need to see their shoes. After finding my careless and oddly cropped images, I can no longer throw that stone.

Of course, I couldn't help myself, and decided to fix some of these. But I think I like the bad ones better.

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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 Salacious Lives of Others

I'm in the middle of looking at the first cut of my new course on Lynda.com, Foundations of Graphic Design History, the Arts and Crafts Movement. We did this course because the Graphic Design History course was surprisingly successful. Many people asked for deeper dives into different subjects.

When I started the Arts and Crafts course, I expected beautiful typography, textiles, pattern, and architecture. Yes, that's all in there. But, I didn't expect the Vanity Fair version of the subject. In smarter hands, the course would have stayed on the serious track with simple names, dates, and insights. But, there was so much drama.

John Edward Millais, left

John Ruskin

John Edward Millais, Ophelia

Euphemia Chalmers Ruskin

Charles Dickens

For example, the writer, John Ruskin, was great friends with the painter, John Edward Millais, and supporter of the pre-Raphaelite movement. This ended after they took a trip together with Ruskin's wife, Euphemia, to Scotland. Euphemia and Millais began an affair. Ruskin then spent the rest of his life savagely attacking Millais publicly whenever possible.

Charles Dickens got in on the fun too, calling Millais’s painting “the lowest depths of what is mean, odious, repulsive and revolting”. 

Elbert Hubbard

May Morris

Roycroft Press

The Lusitania

Then there's Elbert Hubbard, who founded Roycroft Press in Aurora, New York. The founder of the Arts and Crafts movement was William Morris. Morris' daughter May visited the United States in the early 20th century, but refused to see Hubbard. She called him, "That obnoxious imitator of my father." Harsh. Soon after, Hubbard died when a German U-Boat sunk the Lusitania.

Frank Lloyd Wright

Fallingwater

The Headlines

And finally, the most dramatic was Frank Lloyd Wright's tragedy. After many years of marriage, Wright left his wife and children and ran off with a client's wife. Wright and Mamah Bothwick Cheney fled to Europe together. They returned to Wisconsin where Wright built Taliesen. In 1914 while Wright was away, a servant poured gasoline on the floor and lit a fire. When Mamah and six others ran from the house, he waited outside and killed them with an axe.

Sure, there is a huge amount of incredible work and the beginning of a profession. And, yes, we are in a parallel time dealing with new technologies and the loss of craft. But someone needs to write a television mini-series. On of the artists or designers must have said, at least once, "Which one of you bitches is my mother?"

"Which one of you bitches is my mother?" Lace, 1984

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Acting Chair of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for lynda.com/Linked In. 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.