Food for thought‘[...] do not think that good design can make a poor product good, whether the product be a machine, a building, a promotional brochure or a business man. But [...] good design can materially help make a good product reach its full potential. In short, [...] good design is good business.’
Thomas J. Watson Jr., IBM CEO

George Lois Or The Story Of The Mad Man Who Cried ‘Mine’

April 23, 2012, 7:26 PM

‘A lie told often enough becomes the truth.‘ — attributed to V. I. Lenin

Phaidon have recently published the latest book by advertising legend, George Lois, entitled Damn Good Advice (for people with talent!). It is yet another inspirational book, very similar to those written by Paul Arden. The 120 pieces of advice are sustained by examples, usually from the author’s extensive career. Among juicy stories from the 1960s Mad Men era (so popular these days), he mentions his hero, Paul Rand, and his mentors, two teachers that recognised his talent and his first Creative Director, a lady, Reba Sochis. By the time you finish the book, you feel ready to take on the world, to go out and do your best work.

George Lois about Paul Rand (click for larger size)

There’s just one problem.

Many of George Lois’s stories are not true.  If you try to find out more about his work, you’ll soon learn that he has been taking credit not only for projects in which the work has been done through team effort, but even for projects in which he hasn’t been involved at all. In his book, he never mentions Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) where he was employed, the Papert Koenig Lois agency where he was a partner, together with Fred Papert and Julian Koenig, nor Lois, Holland, Callaway.

The June 19, 2009 episode of This American Life, the radio show hosted by Ira Glass, features interviews with Julian Koenig, Fred Papert, George Lois’s ex-partners, and also with Carl Fischer (the photographer who shot most of the Esquire covers). They talk about projects they’ve done and to which extent George Lois was involved, if at all (links at the end of the post). After listening, it becomes very clear that George Lois is such a convincing story teller that he’s fallen victim to his own talent.

‘In my instance, the greatest predator of my work was my one-time partner George Lois, who is a most heralded and talented art director/designer, and his talent is only exceeded by his omnivorous ego. So where it once would’ve been accepted that the word would be “we” did it, regardless of who originated the work, the word “we” evaporated from George’s vocabulary and it became “my.”‘ — Julian Koenig

In 2005, George Lois published his book $elebrities, in which he basically replaces Julian Koenig in his own story about how he met Ernie Kovacs just hours before the latter’s death. Mr Koenig tried to fight back by running a witty ad in the New York Times. They never ran it, but AdWeek did, even if at the back of the magazine, to no response. Since I couldn’t find the original, I’ve taken the liberty to reimagine it, based on the ad for Coldene (coughing syrup), also Mr Koenig’s idea, but ‘stolen’ by George Lois. I’d be very happy if any of you would repost this.

George Lois is an advertising legend and he’s been writing books periodically, appeared in the Art & Copy film and other interviews, so he’s had a lot of exposure along the years. Still, due to the current craze around the Mad Men TV series, many publications and websites have recently run even more stories about him, naming him ‘the original Mad Man’ or ‘the original Don Draper’. Lois has often rejected this comparison, talking about the shallow depiction of the 1960s advertising world in the series, but it is ironic to find out how much he actually resembles Don Draper, whose whole adult life is based on a huge lie (I won’t spoil it for you, watch the show). It is such a shame that because of his exposure, George Lois gets to repeat his lies over and over again. Later corrections, if any, written in small print at the back of magazines or blog posts cannot repair the harm done.

I’m no idealist, but the end very rarely justifies the (appalling) means. Two of the best human traits are honesty and modesty. Unfortunately, many take the easier path to success, ignoring these two. But that won’t change the fact that they’re not worthy of being our models, our heroes.


‘Advertising is built on puffery, and, at heart, deception, and I don’t think anybody can go proudly into the next world with a career built on deception, even though no matter how well they do it.’ — Julian Koenig

— listen to Ira Glass’s show with the above-mentioned interviews (or read the transcript);
— the Julian Koenig Wikipedia page — learn how he named Earth Day;
— the George Lois Wikipedia page, including the
Controversy section;
— another blog post about the same subject, including some video interviews of both George Lois and Mr Koenig (direct YouTube link).



Another Designer Burning in Hell

November 11, 2010, 9:28 AM

A few days ago while mindlessly strolling through a supermarket aisle (sadly, not even we, designers, are immune to consumerism), an American-fast-food-screaming package drew my attention on the shelves. But, to my horror, it wasn’t for a fast-food product — it was for jelly sweets.

Joking or not, this piece of design certainly deserves a 13th step in Milton Glaser’s 12 Steps on the Road to Hell. What are the chances of a healthy life for an 8-year old that grew up innocently enjoying some diabolically-burger-shaped jellies?

However, the most worrying question is this:

Would I do it?

What if the client is a long trusted one, brings in a lot of good business, but can’t be convinced? What if this is the first project you get as a freelancer in a few weeks/months now (recession is not over yet, as we all know)? What if you simply can’t afford to reject this project?

Scary, isn’t it?



Medium designers may turn great, bad designers always turn worse

December 1, 2007, 4:29 AM

I try not to throw stones. Nobody’s perfect and that’s a fact.

But Mr. Alexandru Ghildus managed to make me shriek “grab your torches and pitchforks!” once more (after his attempts to become some sort of local lord ruling over all designers – read about the infamous design law). This is his “designed” xmas tree for a charity xmas-tree-selling campaign:


For those that live in Bucharest or at least have been here it might seem familiar. Does this ring any bell?:


It seems Mr. Ghildus will never give us a break from his pyramid-mania. It is truly a shame that such a man is the head of the design school in our capital and truly a great shame that he is the one that wins “fair and square” (and pink pigs went flying in circles around my block) most of the pitches for public monuments and such. Are all architects in Romania so bad that a “designer” must show them how it’s done? Or is it just that they don’t have the “talent” (read money/relationships) to win those pitches?

Nobody is truly evil. But Mr. Ghildush is definitely running for the title of “the Sauron of romanian design” or “one designer to rule them all”.
And by the way, I wish at least romanian journalists learnt the difference between “designer” and “fashion designer”.

Disclaimer (a kind of):
Some may think young designers should just bow down in front of the older ones, but quality, wisdom, skill or greatness don’t come by simply growing older. It takes a whole lot more to become a “master” and earn respect. I strongly believe in learning by doubting and questioning. And if the emperor is naked, we must shout it out loud.

(xmas tree image from Wall Street Journal)



New visual id for romanian public administration

September 14, 2007, 12:57 AM

Please vote here against this shameful identity and please give the reasons, maybe they’ll understand that design is also a profession, not a hobby.

Grab your torches and pitchforks, romanian public administration has a new identity. Actually, I really hope it is still a proposal (they’re not very specific on the site), or even better, an April’s fool. First, “enjoy” the logo (isn’t it about time we left the so-called revolution behind?):


I won’t start complaining about fonts, symbols, colours, readability and so on. Even if professionals will spot the problems right away, sometimes it’s also a question of taste (even if there are unbreakable rules in design, after all). But seeing this will surely give you a clear idea of how knowledgeable the designer is (if he/she is a designer at all):


Since when is 50% black the same with C62 M53 Y53 K24? But wait, there’s more: why, oh why, do you have to put gradients over the symbol (on this biz card, some other stationery and the wep page layout)?



Here’s what different counties’ logos supposedly should look like (spot the “i”‘s, if you can):


Visit the site (romanian) if you want to see(endure) more.

I am optimistic by nature, even though many friends keep saying that we should just leave this damned – as it many times seems to be – country. This is actually quite a trend among romanian advertisers, wanting to leave the country for good, in search of the graphic-design-el-dorado or something alike. Wonder why they seldom do :P

But, seeing this kind of work so often, especially for big companies and institutions (if only they could just copy from other great designs, like the spanish government did), and, on the other side, hearing about great countries that worship design, like UK, Nederlands, Denmark, Norway and so on… Man, do I feel my feet burning.

(got the word via Kit)