Popular Science Vintage Cover

It’s out of your hands

Something you poured your guts into, all of your skill into will one day be dismantled. Maybe it’s an art director that’ll do it, or a client, maybe the technology you built it for will become outmoded, or maybe you’ll do it yourself so you can move on for whatever reason. Often the process is painful, and disheartening. Recently I read (and I wish I could remember the source if it sounds familiar please help me out) that building for the web is like building a sandcastle and waiting for the tide to come in. Wash and repeat, that’s just how it goes. And it is true. But design has always been this way, commercial work is for the masses, often for the moment, and it won’t be uncommon that it’ll be at the mercy of someone who doesn’t know their ass from their head.

So it goes.

Relationships change, business models change, technology changes and so will you. As long as you are still taking useful knowledge away from the experience you are doing it right. If you didn’t well then… you should be re-evaluating the choice to work on it to begin with. And you should probably stop doing favors for people. That’s what you did didn’t you? Yeah I thought so. It smarts and I’m sorry if you feel bad about it when it happens. I send an interweb hug to you I feel you my friend. Take heart you will make many, many great things and I look forward to seeing them. I hope the feeling is mutual.

Popular Science Vintage Cover

It's okay let it burn.

glossy 8x10 number 1

You will be a victim of style

It’s just a matter to what degree. It’s common knowledge I like to give my unsolicited opinion on any given number of topics and usually aforementioned topic is a design choice that offends me. And usually it offends me because it’s a cliche, a poorly executed technique, ill-advised type selection or instantly recognizable photoshop filter. Well okay that’s the short list of things that offend me if I’m to be truthful. Crocs, turned up polo collars, shabby chic, Ed Hardy, and sugar substitutes also offend me. Now where was I? Right style and victimizing yourself by it’s hand.

Recently a close friend sent me to http://yourlogomakesmebarf.com/ I snickered for hours. I looked at no less than than 8 pages of the blog. I was equal parts horrified and bemused. Look a lot of people even people in my life often think my job is easy-peasey, “Oh you are a designer and web person. Well that sounds FUN!” In fairness yes sometimes it is, in fact it’s a lot more fun than filing TPS reports, can’t argue that. But it’s also torture sometimes, because the job really is half psychology. And the longer a business has been in action the more bad design relationships they’ve probably been in. So I hear things all the time like, just so you know “I really hate yellow”, “at this seminar one time I heard blue makes people feel relaxed”, “I really want to use a gradient or an effect on this *insert whatever design element*”, “the last designer I worked with never communicated with me”… I could go on. So I metaphorically and sometimes in real life hold their hand, look into their eyes and say, “you can relax now you are working with me I’m going to remove this stress from your life. Leave me in charge and I promise you’ll be happy but you gotta trust me.” Okay I don’t really hold clients hands, maybe once or twice, but those folks where real basket cases. Generally in fact the hand holders were damaged goods and I had to fire them. But that’s for another day. Again I digress.

If you want to evaluate if what you have done is cliche, passe and or outright cringe inducing remember the old adage. Know who your client is and why they matter. A bomerang swoosh is probably not the right answer, also probably not the answer, sparkles, flames, drop shadows, bevels and linear gradients. The trendiest web effect, I’m looking at you glossy reflections, probably suspect. Anything published in Photoshop magazine or other “tutorial site” as “cool type effects” be very wary. All in all be wary of style, it’s often a trap. Focus on solutions, focus on usability and make sure it functions as flawlessly as possible. As a communicator by trade my motto is indeed function should precede form. Things that work they way they should are almost always by default beautiful. You aren’t going to win every battle with your art director or clients. But if you come to the table with sound logic, you’ll have a much better chance than if you say “it just looks better this way, I can’t explain it”. Next time try “The user analytics tell me the average user only has a screen 800 pixels wide and a lot of them are still using I.E. *cringe* so we really must accommodate these users if we want return visits from these folks.” And yeah use the word “folks” that’s a pro-tip makes you sound accessible and everyone thinks us designers are snobby, elitist, D-bags with overly complicated starbuck orders. Which is silly most of us drink way better coffee than that.

In any case I leave you with another find from my vintage photo treasure trove. I spent a lot of hours with the 35 mm scanner this week to illustrate my point with the fine, fine lost art of the seventies pose the groovy style is a given. I figure most of these folks were aspiring actors in L.A. But I have no names or photographer contact. Just lonely anonymous 35mm strips. They all look like pretty sweet people, but I think we can agree victims of style most of them might be. Do not do this to your work design or otherwise compatriots, you do not want Farrah hair on your design. Well unless it’s a sweet parody on a seventies exploitation flick. Then get that airbrush out, Seriously get it out.

bouffant meet seventies kitsche

glossy 8x10 number 1

bouffant meet kitsche

glossy 8x10 number 2

This is natural and not a staged photo, no really

glossy 8x10 #3

Suspicious plant to the right meet fashun

8x10 glossy #4

glossy 8x10 #5

whoa background pattern!

Think Less, Do More

Today I had a brief chat with a friend of mine, and the summation was “you only have so much creative energy you can expel in a given number of hours.” I think for most creatives this is a frustrating reality. I have a couple of ideas however about how to maximize your returns. Okay really only have one today I’m sure I’ll think of more down the line.

1. it’s not new, this book has been out quite a while, buy it and read it and most importantly think about Stefan Sagmeister’s book “Things I have learned in my life so far “http://www.thingsihavelearnedinmylife.com/ if anything just find a copy for the beyond cool die-cut cover.

Seriously this isn’t a pitch, I make exactly zero dollars from this recommendation. Maybe like negative a quarter of my hourly rate if I include the time I took to write this post. If I had applied everything I gleaned in my first read… Well I dunno but nothing but good could have come of such an application

One of my favorite passages is “Worrying Solves Nothing”. I implore you readers, why is this so damn hard to remember? I’ve lost a lot of sleep this week from ignoring this one truism. Sometimes in my head (not out loud so as to avoid being mistaken for crazytown bound) I repeat “think less do more, think less do more, think less do more”. It works a lot of the time, and I kinda imagine this is what Yoda would tell me if he were a design instructor. (disclaimer: did he actually say that in the movie? If so I give credit where credit is due).

Please creative friends just do more I love seeing what you are doing and any creative victory you have is a victory for all of us. The more we stagnate, get tangled in fear, or dwell on that which we cannot control the less we’ll contribute to the collective. And in these times every bit is meaningful. I know you are way over hearing about “these times”. I get it, maybe you have a mortgage, children, rent to pay, groceries to buy, relationships that are working or not working. You know what the the best remedy is for all those trials and obligations? Being awesome. Yep that’s it, be awesome, do what you do best, do it a lot. Do it so much it’s as much second nature as walking is, or avoiding your landlord is. You know what I’m getting at. Oh and just so we are on the same page this is as much a pep talk for me as it might be for you.

So in summation, while we pray in the time we aren’t creating that they reactivate the WPA, thanks for the ear my friends and I’ll keep on keeping on over here.

What’s that? Okay yeah sure we can all raise fists now, I’m game.

Fist raised graffiti

Tales of Tomorrow

” Well …so this is Mars? You know something I’m dissappointed.” (not really)

Oddly enough I am not a fan of “believable” science fiction. That applies to Star Trek, Deep Space Nine, Firefly or the like. It just doesn’t bond my ions, or excite my electrons if you will. But what does fuel my proverbial jet engine is really ridiculous, misinformed, …what shall I call it? How about “science-ease”. Science-ease filled often with talks of atomic this or that, death rays, or re-animation. I find some of the finest specimens are in campy episodes of the original “The Outer Limits”, “Star Trek” and even less frequently in the generally well written “Twillight Zone”. Ah but many are not aware of one of my most favorite specimens showcasing the finest of science-ease, “Tales of Tomorrow”. Originally the pilot aired in 1951 on ABC. It featured many of my favorites like Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney and even Leslie Neilsen. They are only a few of the luminaries in one of the 85 gems you can still watch for zero dollars on Hulu. Which make it a favorite for my second monitor when I work late at night. What could better set the mood for a late night in the office than brilliant titles like “Plague From Space” or “The Fury of the Cocoon” or the classically camp “Read To Me, Herr Doktor“.

Tales of Tomorrow

Tales of Tomorrow

The Evil Tesla Coils of Doom!

Tales of Tomorrow

Electric coil of doom AND uber-creepy type. ooooo

Like the “Twillight Zone” the open is brilliant, I’d venture to say more elegant in many ways. Simple, (surely a product of budget, excellent foley and all around mysterious and spine-tingling. You don’t hear that word enough these days “spine-tingling”, but I digress. The sequence opens to a machine with a huge pull switch, purpose unknown. A huge gloved hand reaches in for a lever on the machines face…

…then pulls the lever, the sound of electricity fills the speakers while the camera pulls back to reveal a fairly simple if brilliant matte painting of what seems to be a massive Tesla Coil! Imposing voice over rings out over the electric noise and the music crescendo, Tales of Tomorrow, in a oozing text, goopy enough to make the blob feel inadequate, zooms into the frame. For the next half hour buckle up for some of the most poorly informed tech/science jargon you may ever have the privilege to guffaw at.

“Appointment on Mars”

Astronaut 1: ” Well …so this is Mars? You know something I’m dissappointed.”

Astronaut 2: “Whaaaat?!”

Astronaut 1: “Well I mean I expected something different”

Astronaut 2: “Disappointed? All we did was come to Mars and your dissappointed”

Astronaut 3: “Yeah!”

Astronaut 1: “No I”m happy about it don’t get me wrong, It’s just that …it’s kinda strange that’s all, nothing here.”

Astronaut 2: “There are rocks.”

Astronaut 1: “Yeah but no people, no intelligent life! Why not that’s what I’d like to know.

Astronaut 2: “That’s silly, this is Mars you can’t expect to find a life like our own.”

Astronaut 3: “Yeah he’s expecting to find the green skinned monsters you know.”

Astronaut 2: “Oh sure”

Astronaut 3: “like bugs, with fire coming out of their mouths (miming monster here) Arrrrrggg!”

Is this how scientists talk? I mean it’s how fanboys talk about episodes of Star Trek that’s true…

As the dialogue progresses we get some creative talk about chlorophyll plants that are on mars and that surely means intelligent life must be near. And the other guys are all “Dude stop giving us a science lecture”. Because apparently scientists get bored by such things and just want to tool around mars on a dune buggy. Then astronaut 1 gets all melancholy and laments it’s a wasteland void of life. Sad christmas astronaut 1. Hey buck up little camper I hear there is a ton of Uranium in them there hills. Don’t worry it’s not a spoiler, the uranium is a minor diversion and seemingly just a reason to get Astronaut 1 to STFU and quit whining for a bit. Oh and this is how you dress for mars, pretty practical minus that persnickety issue of oxygen. They look a bit like space mechanics to me. Oh and you may not be able to tell from the fuzzy screen cap but that’s totally Leslie Neilsen in the foreground.

Tales of Tomorrow

What to wear for your “Appointment on Mars”.

Camp factor aside, one of the greatest things about “Tales of Tomorrow” is watching the evolution of a medium unfold in front of you. No one really knew what they were doing with television then. Up till then most folks were barely out of radio and theatre. So there is this splendid alchemy between the two. The sets are usually static, the delivery is often stilted, but the foley is usually great and the sound cues better. Oh sure you might get some accidental shadows of microphones on sets, and maybe someone misses their cue or a line, or both, oops what gives is that the second cameraman! Honestly though, questionable science dialogue, campy sets, and all around rough edges, the stories are still strong. You don’t even notice the snafus, really you don’t. Partly I suspect because it’s this beautiful time capsule. You love the fact that the cardboard robot in Herr Doktor is clearly just some tall dude lumbering about in that flimsy getup, and you are kinda mesmerized by the fact that everyone watching was probably pretty cool with this. They were groomed by a steady theatre diet or perhaps imagining the places and characters in a radio broadcast. Every detail didn’t require seamless special effects and costumes, the audience was a-okay filling in the blanks.

I bet most of them got the allusions to modern social malaise and war fears too. Over and over again social roles between men and women are played out to great effect. In one a woman is given is a serum that makes her an all-powerful, intelligent super villain with no conscience. Yes clearly a smart woman is a dangerous thing kids. Oye… In another a woman berets and nags her out of work husband, and laments that all her friends are doing things and traveling but no not her, she’s married to a failure! Message? Don’t nag your husband? If the old phrase were to be retooled for the time I suspect it’d be something in line with, “You’ve got a long way to go baby”. It’s like stepping back in time via the metaphor express. Ah but sometimes it’s the omnipresent fear of nuclear annihilation that’s always a great storyline right?! A martian enemy plague is eradicated with an A-bomb minutes before it can spread it’s toxic death. Uhmmm yeah not much subterfuge there…

It’s simple to me why I love “science-ease” or why I can watch “Tales of Tomorrow” episodes over and over. I can’t speak for everyone but it inspires me every single time I watch one to look around me. What existing content can I maybe fuse together into something altogether new. Or perhaps on a more esoteric level how can I contribute to an evolving media culture? Most importantly it reminds me not to sweat it if the chemistry isn’t perfect, because it’s almost always worth the experiment.

*Author’s Note: Scouts honor I’ll come back to “Tales of Tomorrow”. I mean I can’t put it to rest until I do a montage of 4 dollar alien costumes right?

The Pink Motel

Ahhh Vacation…

The Pink Motel

The Pink Motel

Filed under most misleading title of all time. I am aware that there is this thing called vacation of which I heard rumblings about all through the summer months. Alas I am a freelancer, these terms like leisure time, vacay, and R&R …surely they must be but unicorns dancing on skittle rainbows over a tropical island. Or some such fictionalized affair of a scene usually relegated to black velvet paintings.

But perhaps a land of such magic did once exist. As I drove out of my business meeting last week deep in the valley on San Fernando road this gem of a sign sparkled on the horizon surely a mirage caused by the good 10 degree jump in temperature in the SFV. But no there she was, resplendent, even with a matching diner next door! Cadillac Jacks Diner, yes sir don’t mind if I do! This is the kind of thing that justified silly words like agog in the english language. I was indeed agog. But the Pink Motel was oddly quiet and it was in the most peculiar of places. Surrounded by muffler shops a recycling center, train tracks due east across the street and a whole bevy of industrial warehouses it was as if a sad Liberace looked down from heaven and dropped a sequin, from his fabulous cape of the day, on a pile of dog poo.

I wandered about a bit, diner empty, a lone cleaning lady popped out of a room. No tenants out walking about. But there were several lovely vintage cars scatter shot in a few places across the parking lot. Although I didn’t mark down the model a beautiful white hard top was parked under number 7, my lucky number.

I wondered out in a daze and as I texted photos to few close friends one happened to ask for the address of the Pink Motel. I google mapped it but the map came up with nothing. No pink motel, no Cadillac Jacks diner either… I looked over my shoulder a few times for Rod Serling.

And now to buzzkill. Turns out Pink Motel is kept so minty pristine for film shoots these days. It surely did once house the holiday dreams of newlyweds, kids with water wings ready for the pool, dad’s with buzzcuts and Mom’s with a pile of Life magazines to catch up on. But now it’s just a ghost on celluloid.


Mid Century Packaging WIN

Somebody spilled Mid Century awesome sauce onto my table!

Oh. My. God. Joy explosion over here! Not only did I start Russian lessons today. YAY! I also received this bundle ‘o joy via USPS today. 😀 Yep that’s an original Diana Camera, some “Gay-Lites” for xmas and an amazing bright red 8mm film editing station. Giggity! As far as I know everything is in working order. Expect super awesome future posts! Did I say Huzzah yet? Yeah you know it Huzzah!

Bouffants and beehives and falls oh my!

La Coiffure Nouvelle!

Bouffants and beehives and falls oh my!

beehive hive mind

Go Gay HairsprayThese amazing birds are courtesy of my somewhat odd ephemera collection. I found this slide in a black velvet sleeve, in a pell -mell box of photos and miscellany I bought at a thrift store. Lot’s of aspiring actress headshots, a few letters seemingly unrelated to the photographs, I even have some pamphlet on dinosaurs published in 1912. These ladies are much fresher than 1912, surely late sixties dames of high style. Mad props to my roommate for locating the film scanner I used to bring these lasses to light again. I don’t know what occasion would require them to all dress in white and feel the need to spend hours in the salon to perfect those rafter caressing styles but I bet it had a lot do with things like this.

I wonder what the art direction was for this? I will now speculate.

“Okay team it’s time to shake up the European market. We want to seduce those frogs. What we are going for is sultry, make that models hair a hero in the shot. Noir lighting you say? whatever that means son, your the pro that’s why I hired you. What was I saying? Oh right that coif should inspire the passions of men more than Joan of Arc did and make women feel like they could be Joan of Arc. Can you shoot it on red or black maybe, just make sure it’s sexy okay. You there graphic designer, what’s your name? Ted? okay got it. Now Todd we have an idea, imagine all of this french type coming out of her hair like wisps of hair. Oh and we wanted to let you know, we dig the kicky logo you designed last year. Get to it son, Wow us.

Don’t forget Go Gay girls are discovered first!”

Go gay girls are discovered first!

…by hot sailors with no legs

A shame really those are some sassy G’s Love the arrow point terminals! Get going then, you heard the man!

Southeren Comfort Naturally

Yes of course …Naturally.

Southeren Comfort NaturallyAh… is that a Eero Saarinen womb chair that dapper gentleman is kicking back in? Ooooo I’d so love to have that chair. This is a perfect mid-century ad dare I say. A beautifully relaxed and fluid script paired with a fine extended sans serif. Of course we can’t forget the beauty shot of the product. How much do I love that this whole ad looks so bright and inviting despite the whole thing being red and black! How does it not look like a goth liquor ad?! Marvelous… It goes without saying revel in that composite image of aforementioned dapper chap in his lounger and not to be overlooked neato side table. Look at it all relaxed over a fine dreamy riverboat illustration. Some poor schmuck had to mask out that swell photo to marry it to the “riverboat dream behind it” by …dare I say it I don’t know the how, did they make rubylith masks in 1958? In any case I could all but guarantee if you had to do it this way, youl’d surely have already thrown up your x-acto knife and pica ruler up in frustration.

While I was back home last month for my sisters wedding I happened upon the most amazing set of 8 “double old fashioneds”, as they were once referred to. Yep that’s 8 dreamy bar glasses. They were a promotional item for Southern Comfort. Back in the day before the interweb, folks would mail in some money to an actual mailing address. Several weeks later *bam* for a whole 4 dollars they had a set of highball glasses ready for the boozing. History lesson aside they are one of my new favorite things. Several weeks later my Mom sent along some neato “short” drink glasses with the nifty little feet.Turns out much to my surprise this whole promotion was issued a full 10 years after the ace of an advertisement above. Can you imagine just one year before the infamous summer of love. All hail 1968! Now that’s staying on message with a brand image! Riverboats for everyone, in fact until the current insipid “SoCo” campaign they were featured prominently surely to pay homage to the products southern roots. If you could locate a marketing director from the company to confirm my suspicion that would indeed be mighty fine.

Southern Comfort Riverboat glassesNow what are the chances I could get my mitts on some of those “Smooth Sailing” Cocktail naps and those stellar highball glasses. I’m putting it out there naturally.

…A new kind of Democracy.

First things first howdy and hello or Здравствуйте! Should you actually be able to read Russian unlike yours truly. Hey thanks google.

Now that we have polite greetings out of the way, we must ask ourselves what’s going on here? Fair enough and although I don’t have definitive answers at this point I don’t mind so much telling you how I got here. Query one is usually “Why blog?” I have been advised from many a source, for a very long time that any creative worth their salt maintains a blog or does a fair bit of writing about their process. Without qualifying that expectation with actual reasoning and or facts, I must say I fully agree. So on to second question “What’s up with the Cold War theme already?” Well for sometime this is where my creative mojo has found it’s fuel. I’m fascinated by the creative work, political climate and social dynamics. God help my bank account nearly any material good made in the period is also my kryptonite, actually anything produced from the late 1930’s until pretty much the mid 1960’s. I suspect it is one of my few predictable traits, the whole mid century modern lust that compels many a designer to do what they do in varying degrees depending on the name of aforementioned designer.

So why then run the risk of basing my whole personal brand on what is most assuredly design history? Why not embrace the time in which I live? Well to that I say, I don’t think we’ve come so far in the most impressive sounding year of 2010. Oh Kubrick I know you would have been so disappointed, but hey, no HAL 9000 to muck up our space missions, yeah that’s right silver linings, we still have ’em. I mean if you want to get down to it we aren’t even all that keen on real science teaching in this country lately. We’ve even coined this brilliantly misleading term called intelligent design, We think that topic would surely have inspired a cinematic masterpiece on your part, alas. Oh sure we are still playing tug of war for smog mongering fossil fuels and staging pissing contests about who’s religion is right and who’s is wrong. Hell sometimes we still start wars about such things.

But I digress. Let’s start this literary tour de force shall we.

I mean how can you deny this, brilliant. Basically it’s “Your passenger planes is made by the same company that makes war machines” That’s a pretty good vote of confidence for the safety model methinks. And from a design standpoint, just look at it! I mean that’s a pretty static centered composition if not for the color, and the dynamism of the abstract linework which was surely to represent aerodynamics. Okay typography definitely up for discussion, I have to say that typeface Convair was set in is certainly ahead of it’s time!

I think what fascinates me and many others  is the omnipresence of fear in the cold war. Inside of all of the happy go lucky pop culture of the time is this undercurrent of terror, of certain annihilation. It’s what made the writings of Vonnegut so timeless. Life is mostly like that you know, there is this persona you put out in the world but inside and behind our closed doors there are all of those worries that keep you up at night, cause the arguments or keep you from taking chances. For the first time we had truly managed to make  the world around us in our own image. We were able to realize for it the possibility of total destruction.

Milk Bombs better than atom bombs

Milk …new weapon of Democracy!


I Don’t know about you but if a diagram like the one on the right was all over my e-mail, social networks, and posted around my neighorhood I’d start feeling a whole new level of anxiety too.

It’s amazing what creatives did with this though, maybe less so on this fallout “reassurance” diagram which is actually pretty terrifying. More with the Convair and Douglas aircraft ads. Promoting a feeling of safety of humanitarian effort even via the designs. All by visually representing the very same machines that might destroy entire lives, villages, cities, maybe the whole damn kit and kaboodle. Ah the power of propaganda design. That’s some mighty fine spin my friends.

This a test, only a test

And we now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

While we are standing here let’s talk about how much we want this booklet to the left. Can you believe that? Just look at that awesome 2 color job, love that hint of mis-registration on the glove. A whole new meaning to the phrase “red right hand”, take that to the bank Johnny Cash.