Nothing

Somebody once said, "You don't choose to be a designer. It chooses you." Unfortunately, this is true. Otherwise, I would have followed the path my grandparents' wanted and gone to Harvard, then the JFK School of Government and now be a Senator or Governor.

I've found lately, that I am interested in "non-designed design." That's the stuff that is purposefully or unintentionally void of any design intent. It lacks any sense of typographic expertise of skill and is alarmingly without any pretense of being "designed." Tibor managed this by adding the genius of language, visual and written. But every once in awhile, I see something so badly designed, I love it.

Tibor Kalman, Restaurant Florent

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 Worst Journey in the World

Patrick Keohane by Herbert Ponting

I agree this title seems hyperbolic, but it the actual title of a book about Robert Scott's ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition to Antarctica. It puts many issues in perspective. A couple of weeks ago a young designer was quite upset and seemed unable to work. When I asked him what had happened, he explained that all of his black t-shirts had been washed with the detergent with bleach and now they were dark gray. This, somehow, seems less trying than someone his age a century ago trudging across the Antarctic ice.

The title also makes me feel stupid when I complained that sitting in coach on Southwest for a flight to Las Vegas was the worst journey in the world. It was a tight space and my neck hurt later, but again, compared to death by freezing, not so awful.

In the spirit of winter, for everyone feeling like they are about to embark on that terrible holiday journey, enjoy Herbert Ponting's images of the frozen south pole. Be glad you don't need to take canned meats.

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 Most Important Thing To Know

Herbert and Irene Bayer, 1928

I love when someone stops me on the street or at a conference and tells me he or she watches my History of Graphic Design course on Lynda.com. I especially enjoy hearing that it is used in classrooms. How can anyone be a great designer in a vacuum? If I were trying to be the best writer I'd read Dickens, Twain, and Kerouac. How could not knowing about the Arts and Crafts movement, American Post-War Modernism, or Paul Rand be helpful. After the history course launched, we saw the need for deep dives into some of the subjects. Today the Foundations of Graphic Design History: The Bauhaus was released. 

You may be asking, why should I care about a college in Germany in the 1920s? What does that have to do with me? And I would tell you, the Bauhaus was the flashpoint of the beginning of what we consider modern design today. Its revolutionary concepts radically changed how we design, what we consider to be valuable aesthetically, and what the public expects from all the design fields.

The world then sounds eerily like our own, albeit it was Germany in the teens: The world has been fighting a war on many fronts for years, the economy faced its worst recession in decades, all creative fields and the way we do business changed with radical new technologies, and a charged political ideaology was beginning.

The Bauhaus was founded as a reaction to these issues. How they responded and the challenges the students and faculty faced changed all of 20th century design. There is very little in our life that isn’t influenced by its philosophy of form following function, simplicity, truth in materials, and quality. The idea that design can make life better for others is an idea from the Bauhaus.

On the selfish side, I was excited to be able to dig into this period again. Of course, in addition to the importance of theory, artifacts, technology, and economics, there were many personal stories. And how can you go wrong with avant-garde designers sunbathing nude, making new things, and shocking the local population. How can something be dull if Nazis are marching in and arresting these designers? Unfortunately, my choice of title, "Sex, Art, and Nazis," was changed to a more precise title. 

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 Gremlin in the Machine

I recently came upon the 1972 American Motors catalog. My first thought was, "how many typographic widows can one publication have?" Then I saw the page with the Javelin interior and thought, "how do I get an eight-track player and that cool handle for the gear shift?" Granted this catalog paints a picture of an alien world or alternate dimension where auto buyers don't all demand bland interiors and equally dull silhouettes. But what an amazing world. 

Your car was like your living room. You could fit 20 people on the front seat. There was plush upholstery with bizarre patterns, exterior colors that said, "I'm wacky, but wild," and shapes that stopped people on the street. 

I had a friend whose family owned an Ambassador wagon in avocado green (not the Bradys). They never put the seats up, but left them down creating a flat dance floor environment. It wasn't uncommon to pile 10 kids in the back and let us slam back and forth with no seat-belts. Fun times.

And what about that Gremlin? WTF? It must be the ugliest car ever designed. What was the thinking? Why name it after a mythical creature responsible for the sabotage and subsequent crash of World War II airplanes? That's an odd naming choice that appears to have occurred after a three martini lunch. But it's the caption, "Gremlin 'X' in Wild Plum metallic" that is an incredible string of words that contradict each other.

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.

Tight

Strathmore Archives


One of the most elusive skills for a designer is kerning. I am asked often, "How do I know if it's right yet?" regarding the kerning of a word or letterspacing in a paragraph. You know when it looks right. Which is like saying, "make it better," or "I know it's pornography if I think it is." It's frustrating for someone looking for a binary direction, good or bad. 

When I began my career, very open letterspacing was the fashion. It was the 1980s, and the combination of 1950s nostalgia, the introduction of a Basel aesthetic, and the rise of new wave demanded space. It was about optimism, whereas the ultra tight letterspacing of the 1960s and 70s seemed to be about commerce.

That tight letterspacing was more about technology. Photo-typesetting, introduced in the 1960s, allowed the designer to specify type that was touching. This wasn't possible when it was made with individual slugs of metal. Like all new technologies, such as a cool new Photoshop filter, everyone jumped all over it. The tighter letterspacing also allowed for larger typography. Using less real estate horizontally, a word could now be enlarged for more impact. This was especially popular in advertising when the name of the product could be even larger.

I like tight letterspacing. It makes me feel secure. Nothing is lucy goosey and about to fly away. And it kind of screams at the viewer, "13! Dammit."

Michael Manwaring, April Greiman, 1984


Massimo Vignelli

Massimo Vignelli

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.

¿Dónde es la fiesta

I'm going to retire a couple of projects I talk about when doing a speaking engagement. So it's time to move them here.

Mexico Restaurante y Barre was a project that had no budget. So rather than fighting this and trying to maintain the highest quality with minimal resources, I suggested we use the philosophy, “Quality is job 2.” Why make it good if it could be done cheaper? 

This sounds good in theory but is difficult as it goes against every impulse I have as a designer. So, rather than designing something that was contrary to my sensibilities, I hired a designer with no talent. 

He had taken one class on design at a community college and then set up shop. He was enthusiastic and would spend hours finessing something. But, again, no talent. Awful with color. Didn't understand typography. And used analog equipment since he never learned any digital tools. And he was kind of a slob.

This designer, let's call him Percival, however, was fictional. He became our alternate personality when working on the project. Like Sybil suffering from multiple personality disorder after her severe abuse during childhood, designing Hobo Italic Swash pushed me into the Percival personality.


Percival wanted the design to feel like a great evening in Puerto Vallarta or Tijuana, minus the part where you wake up the next morning in a street gutter, bleeding, with no recollection of what you’ve done (like a normal weekend). 

He hand-painted the icons and frames with a bad brush using his left hand. He ordered fluorescent paper for the menus and tracked down seafoam vinyl covers (after using Google for "cheap menus"). He ran the bad icons around the borders of the stationery system and didn't bother to proof the text that switched between English and Spanish mid-stream.

Percival's color sense was tragic. No experience with color theory, so the colors vibrated and he designed hideous wallpaper for the stairwell. 

And then, as if things weren't bad enough, he took a batch of my photos from Mexico and applied them to the postcards, with no sense of the content. This led to many odd images, such as a postcard of a random apartment building. La gota que colmó el vaso de agua.

There were some high points. Since there was no budget for a big neon sign, he tracked down a sign painter who painted the logo on the building. But he managed to slip in the order to paint the building magenta. This led to many embarrassing moments at dinner parties when I was asked, "Have you seen that tacky monstrosity on Santa Monica Boulevard?"

I didn't fire Percival after the project was completed. He often returns to help me write drunken email messages at 3am.


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.

Time for Time

I recently answered a question for a magazine article about focus. Oddly, Michael Vanderbyl told me about two international clients who insisted that he must, “f#%k us!” It was very important he, “f#%k us very hard!” Only later, after several awkward silent moments did he realize they meant “focus.”

Time, of course, is at the heart of the issue. Is there enough time before the deadline to focus on a solution? Can you carve out time during the day to not be interrupted? Does the email requesting another pdf. need to be answered immediately? For me, it’s easy. I can’t think about more than one thing at a time and am rather dull witted. So I have no choice. I must concentrate with no distractions to solve any problem.

I also realize that work expands to fill the time you give it. And nobody has run screaming into the path of a bus because they didn’t receive an email response about a paper issue. Time to think and concentrate uninterrupted is not a luxury; it’s a requirement, regardless of the profession.

Which brings us to this incredible promotion about Time designed by Massimo Vignelli and Peter Laundy fort Champion Paper in 1983. I’ve carted this promotion around with me since I received it in college. It’s a little dinged up, but one of the possessions I don’t allow away from my desk. And it took several hours today to photograph it, stitch the pages together in Photoshop, and post it to this blog. But, it’s important, so it deserved the time.

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.

Nothing Matters


Mies van der Rohe's statement, less is more, is a basic tenet of modernism. It was a rejection of the decadent 19th-century eclectic Victorian excess. After the terrors of World War I, designers rejected the decorated and regional aesthetic adopted by the upper classes. To avoid another war, they sought to find a universal form of design. It would be based on pure geometry and mathematics. These had no political associations. When all people adopted these simple and pure forms, peace would flourish. 

But people are people. We like things. Nobody wants to live in a cold concrete cell with a mattress and steel chair. But, after the roller coaster of last week's election, I'm up for the simpler approach. 

Restraint is the hardest skill to master as a designer. To stop feels lazy, or unfinished. But the results of saying, "I'm done." can lead to simple and clear harmony. To continue can slowly move a solution from sublime minimalism to ordinary. With the right words, one black and white line of text on a page has power. Add an image, second color, and border, and it's nice. Only nice.

Just say no. Stop, and let something be what it is and no more. Do nothing.


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 Hideous Hermaphroditic Character

“A blind, bald, crippled, toothless man who is a hideous hermaphroditic character with neither the force and fitness of a man nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” 

A relative on my mother’s side said this about another relation on my father’s side. Thomas Jefferson said this speaking about John Adams in the presidential campaign in 1800. During the election cycle of 2015–16, we’ve seen and heard things we never believed a presidential candidate would say. But, are any as shrewd as the toothless hermaphrodite quote?

As for scathing and blunt political statements, one only need turn to fact: magazine. During 1962, Herb Lubalin and Ralph Ginzburg collaborated on Eros magazine. It was groundbreaking design but lasted only four issues. In 1962, U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy indicted Ginzburg under federal obscenity laws.

In 1964, they collaborated again on fact:. This time, Ginzburg moved away from sex and focused on biting commentary about culture and politics. To retaliate against Kennedy, the cover of Issue Four is a simple typographic message, “Bobby Kennedy is the most evil _ _ _ _ in American politics today,”

I’ve long admired Lubalin’s use of Times Roman and Tom Carnase’s logo. Recently, I actually read an issue rather than simply examining the tight kerning and beautiful “f”. The September-October 1964 issue is a remarkable hate-fest about 1964 Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater. This isn’t a thoughtful examination of Goldwater’s policies or proposals. This is closer to the “toothless hermaphrodite” variety of language.

The cover is, like most of the fact: covers, to the point and unapologetic. The issue has one article, “Goldwater: The Man and the Menace,” and a section dedicated to “What Psychiatrists Say About Goldwater.” The tenor of the article is aggressive and acrimonious with sentences such as, “Those psychoanalysts who find a connection between sadism and an anal character will not be surprised that young Goldwater was fascinated by bathrooms.” 

The design of the magazine relentlessly hammers Ginzburg’s text with plain and unadorned columns of text. The black and white color palette on uncoated stock, using Times Roman, is an undeniable reference to newspaper design. The communication goal is clear: this information is a fact and true.

The fascinating point here is the vast amount of acerbic text and imagery contained in only sixty-four pages. It is unremitting. Even the back cover is filled with derogatory quotes from psychiatrists.

Like Eros, this did not end well for Ginzburg or Goldwater. Goldwater lost the election (in one of the largest landslides in US history). He sued Ginzburg and won. Ginzburg didn’t help his case when he stated he intended to continue the same conduct in the future. He had undertaken a similar poll of psychiatrists with respect to President Johnson, in preparation for the 1968 campaign. He had reason to also doubt Mr. Johnson's sanity. 

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.

Foresight

Last week, I filmed my latest course for Lynda.com/Linked In, Graphic Design History: The Bauhaus. I discuss all aspects at the Bauhaus from the modernist philosophy to Walter Gropius and Johannes Itten’s personal differences. But, while working on it, I kept returning to the images of life at the Bauhaus. The students and masters (“professors” in Bauhaus talk) working, eating in the canteen, sleeping on tables, and just hanging out. They all look so carefree and hopeful. They have the same vibrant and enthusiastic energy I see in design students today working, eating in the cafeteria, sleeping on tables, and hanging out.

But, we know what was to come. By 1933, the Bauhaus was closed. Many of its students and masters fled Germany to escape persecution as Jews, artists, intellectuals, homosexuals, and radical thinkers. Some were trapped and died either in the camps or as enlisted German soldiers. Others, like Marianne Brandt ended up on the wrong side after World War II, in East Germany under a Soviet-controlled government. Fortunately, some immigrated to the United States like Marguerite Wildenhain, Herbert Bayer, Josef Albers, and Mies van der Rose, bringing Bauhaus modernism to run through the American filter.

It is the nature of photography to capture a moment in time and create a personal relationship between the viewer and subject. Looking at a photograph has that small sense of voyeurism as if we are seeing the details too closely. 

The images of life at the Bauhaus are especially haunting. It is not possible to separate what we know when we see Bauhaus students enjoying a sunny afternoon on the balcony. We have the terrible truth of knowing their future. Perhaps it is difficult to look at these images without the sense of tragedy because they remind us too much of today. We question, “will someone in the future see similar photographs of today and think the same?”

These people believed in a future of good design for happy people living in peace. The photographs speak of the unexpected, sudden change, and fleeting small moments in life. 

 

 

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 Path to Hell

Here is a list of things one can do that will ensure that he or she will go to hell (beside the obvious such as murder):

  1. Use any Photoshop filter
  2. Use Live Trace
  3. Use Garamond Bold (or any old-style serif bold)
  4. De-saturate an image because it seems too strong
  5. Use a typeface that looks like handwriting

The faux-handwriting typeface is especially egregious. First, they are fugly. Second, the designer is lazy. Third, God gave people opposable thumbs so they could use their hands to write. If people were meant to only draw with a vector pen tool, or write with the fake handwriting type, we could have hooves like a cow and poke at the keyboard with a pen in our mouth.

Bad, bad, bad, and bad

Bad, bad, bad, and bad

When I show young designers work created by hand, such as Ed Fella's or Pablo Picasso's posters, they often say, "it looks hand-drawn. shouldn't it be vector?" or "my child could have done that." But the point is, your child didn't make that loose and spontaneous drawing of a bull or Ella Fitzgerald singing.

So, when tempted to use the brush tool in Illustrator rather than taking the time to pull out a piece of paper and use your actual hands, then scanning it, remember that you may go to hell.
 

Ed Fella, 1998


Below, Pablo Picasso, 1959–1970

Portrait of Pablo Picasso at La Californie, Cannes, by Irving Penn, 1957

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 Stress of Decisions

People feel stress when they are pressed to make a decision. "Do I go that way, or the other way?" One of the tricks at Disneyland and Walt Disney World is the use of the hub. That's the area in front of the castle. Everything radiates out from here, so at any point the guest knows they can simply return to the hub. This takes away the stress of decision making with no information. I can go left toward the Mark Twain Riverboat or right to the Rocket Jets. Neither is scary.

The Hub

In addition, the parks are chock full of maps. Not giant directories that become jammed with people trying to find J. Crew, but personal maps that fit in your hand.

Its' time to revisit the world  Disneyland and Walt Disney World maps. I love that there are so many different types. Some rely on an illustration to give a simplified overview, while others detail every building. The ones that fail are, no pun intended, goofy. They treat the audience as if they were all three-year olds needing to add funny characters and cute rounded cartoon structures.

The most successful are works of art. They show clear and recognizable buildings, but never pander to the lowest common denominator. Don't pander.

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.

And

I filmed an interview yesterday for a documentary. One of the questions posed to me was, "Why is design important in this instance?"  I answered with all the correct statements about value, perception, customer experience, you know the drill. But then I told the nerdy truth. As designers, we love things like a serif that others don't see or care about.

For example, I am a sucker for ampersands. I love the challenge of creating a mark with one, or finding the perfect one for a headline. I once replaced every Garamond ampersand in a book, set entirely in Garamond, with a Sabon ampersand, slightly reduced. Because it was better. Did the final reader notice? I hope not. It should have appeared natural and unobtrusive. 

I love the variety of choices from Duchy that is close to the original et (and) in Latin, to the slight variation on that with Cochin Italic, to the pure symbol of Bauhaus. There are some clear winners in the world of ampersand: the Pistilli Roman, Sabon italic, Sentinel, and recently, Museo versions. But, sometimes it's good to be bad. That's when you invite Behemoth, ITC Tiffany Heavy, and City along. But I have a special place for Doyald Young's Young Baroque. That ampersand is fine.

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.

In the Desert

My furniture at home hasn't changed in 25 years. Some items have been repaired and others replaced with the exact same thing. When we started to buy furniture for the Palm Springs house, I realized I hadn't bought anything new since 1991. WTF? Furniture is expensive today. I feel like that old person who says, "When I was a kid the movies were a nickel." But it's slowly coming together.

There is another house that has been on the market in PS that has been covered by everyone on earth already. But it's worth another look if anyone is facing the same issues and asking, "Hmm, what sofa should I buy?" It's truly remarkable. I can see why it's hard to sell. Whoever buys it couldn't touch a thing. It would need to be preserved as is. Changing anything would be like redecorating Monticello at Sears. Think of the super groovy parties you could have making Harvey Wallbangers and playing backgammon. Or making soft core porn?

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 Relentless Pleasure of Little

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

Richard Neutra, Silverlake, Los Angeles

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

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

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

some images here from culturalheritagebooks.com

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.

Unsinkable Brown

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

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

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the 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.

Why Design

How many times have I, as a designer, tried to explain what I do and why it has value? When meeting with my accountant or having dinner with civilian friends, "Are you still doing that art thing?" The other side is people asking me if they should use the $100 logo service or their neighbor's kid who knows Photoshop. And finally, designers telling me they can't impress upon a potential client why that logo is worth more than $100. So I wrote a new course on Lynda/LinkedIn, The Value of Professional Graphic Design, aimed at the people who hire graphic designers, and the second section, to designers.

Also, I'm not as fat as I look in the course. I had a "nipplage" or nipple showing shirt that didn't pass muster, so I was asked to wear another shirt under it.

If you need to hire a designer, watch it. If you need to articulate your value as a designer, watch it now. I worked hard to keep it direct, clear, and free of meaningless marketese language. Here's the blurb via Lynda.com:

There are no shortcuts for professional graphic design. Whether it's a logo, business card, or website, bad design drives away business. But clients often wonder if finding and hiring a professional is worth the effort. Meanwhile, designers struggle to articulate their value to clients who are tempted to DIY.

Sean Adams champions design internationally on behalf of his work with AIGA. Here he breaks down the walls between designers and clients so they can have a more collaborative and successful experience. There are whys and hows, dos and don'ts, and simple strategies for finding good partnerships, cooperating on designs, and negotiating fees, from both sides of the table. Plus, learn ways to gauge the return on investment and provide proof the design is working.

Topics include:

  • Why hire a graphic designer?

  • How do you find a graphic designer?

  • How much do graphic design projects cost?

  • How much should graphic designers charge?

  • What are a graphic designer's responsibilities?

  • How can a graphic designer prove a design is successful?

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.

Good News

Getting into college today is a hell of a lot tougher now than it was in my day. There are all those forms and tests. Everyone is trying to get into the same places. A couple of months ago, Matt Manos at VeryNice, connect me to a really swell group of people at College Access Plan (CAP). They help high school students that don't have the support they need to find their way through the quagmire of tests and options. It's nice to work with people that do good things for others.

When people say design is just decoration and not relevant, I think about the work for CAP. Maybe the annual report will help persuade a donor to give more. Or make it easier for someone to be the first person in his or her family to go to college and do great things. When I decided to move onto a different track and do work to help others, this is exactly the kind of project I hoped to do. Thanks Matt.

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.

Sloppy, Lazy, Loafers

I once had a party and ran Bye Bye Birdie  on the television with the sound off. It looked so good, so much nicer than any framed image on the wall. If I could only achieve that intense and saturated color in Bye Bye Birdie I would die happy. 

What a wonderful world of happy people in bright colors. I watched it again this weekend. Just earlier some friends were complaining about teenagers today. "They don't understand the value of money, or hard work," one friend said. Another insisted, "They're lazy. They only want to look on their phones and text." Then, in Bye Bye Birdie, made in 1963, Paul Lynde sings a song about teenagers then. And what were the lyrics?

Kids, who can understand anything they say?
Kids, they are disobedient, disrespectful oafs
Noisy, crazy, sloppy, lazy, loafers
Kids, they are just impossible to control
Kids, with their awful clothes and their rock an' roll
Why can't they dance like we did?

Perhaps the teenagers today will be singing the same thing twenty years from now when their kids are using hoverboards and ignoring everything they are told about the sacrifices of using your actual fingers to text.

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.

On Good Work

As for fame, I don’t understand why anyone would put him or herself through that much work and stress for something so transitory. Over the years, I’ve been called a media whore, PR hound, and the Paris Hilton of design. I prefer to think of myself as the Marcus Welby of design, and just keep trying to make good work.

This is what I think about fame and design: famous designers are like famous dentists. There are famous dentists. I don’t know them. After all, we are graphic designers, not George Clooney. Contrary to common thought, being famous does not translate into people handing you checks or offering sex (well, for some it does).

A couple of years ago at the Academy Awards, I moved as quickly as possible along the red carpet to reach the Kodak Theater. It’s scary. There are lots of people yelling in the stands and lots of press taking photos. Normal people run from this. Actors wave to the crowd and encourage them, soaking up as much attention as possible. This wasn’t simply, “I love my fans.” It was a extreme version of “LOVE ME PLEASE! LOVE ME!!” I know designers can be needy, but not like that.

The only thing that matters in the end is the work. Matthew Leibowitz is not one of the names design students regularly reference. There are no monographs or critical essays on his work. But, today, almost 40 years after he died, I still show his work as examples of great design. He pulled together a range of forms from minimal geometry to Victorian etching. There is a sense of Dada and Surrealism in his work. It always manages to walk that fine line of European modernism and American eclecticism.

I don’t know what Leibowitz thought about design celebrity. If he was applauded when he entered a room or ignored isn’t relevant. What is left is a remarkable body of inspiring work.

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.