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

FURTHER READING & LINKS
— 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).

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More about Paul Rand & Steve Jobs

October 17, 2011, 10:11 AM

Too bad it’s no longer a metaphor to say that Paul Rand & Steve Jobs are a match made in heaven, but that’s the way it is. Back in 1986, Steve Jobs got special permission from IBM to commission Paul Rand to design the logo for his new computer company, NeXT. In his typical, no-nonsense fashion, Paul Rand made a small booklet with the logo’s presentation. Mr Steven Heller kindly posted a page from his ‘Design Dialogues’ book where Mr Rand talks about how the logo came to be, and also shares scans of the original booklet. He also says that ‘Rand waited in his hotel room for Jobs’ response’. However, Mr Rand himself tells a different version in Michael Kroeger’s ‘Paul Rand, Conversations with Students’ book:

For example, Steve Jobs of NeXT is a very tough client. If he doesn’t like something, you hand it to him and he says “that stinks”. There is no discussion. On the other hand, I was lucky enough, I suppose, when I did the logo for him. After he saw the presentation of it, he got up — we were all at his house, sitting on the floor, you know, Hollywood style, with the fireplace going, hot as hell outside. [laughter] He got up and looked at me and said, “Can I hug you.” Now that is overcoming a conflict between the client and the designer.
— Paul Rand

You can read that on page 55, as you can see below:

Paul Rand talking about his meeting with Steve Jobs (click to enlarge)

His NeXT presentation is also shown in his book, ‘Design Form and Chaos’, published in 1993, together with five other presentations he did for The Limited,  IBM, AdStar, IDEO and Morningstar. In his 1996 book, ‘From Lascaux to Brooklyn’, he shows four more presentations, designed for Okasan, EF English First, Hub TV and Cummins Engine Company. All are a treat to see, my favourites being EF English First, Hub TV and, of course, the classic IBM. As a side note, the Cummins presentation shows a classic case of ‘container branding’, which seems to be quite popular these days. Mr Rand did it in 1973, so nothing’s new, again.

Paul Rand books, all well worth reading and adding to your library

Now, I remember reading another story told by Mr Rand about a client (woman), who, after the presentation, Rand having told her the Steve Jobs story, she asked “Can I kiss you?” Unfortunately I can’t seem to find the source, but I’ll keep searching.

Later update:
I’ve managed to find a source for the second part of the story, told by John Maeda:

He then relayed a separate story about work for a different client where there was a similar eager acceptance of his presentation booklet, at which time the client (a female) asked Rand, “Can I kiss you?” And Rand replied “Sure.” He then commented, “You should be sure to tell your clients stories of what previous clients have done (in reference to the Jobs story). That way they try to one up the last client.”

 

FURTHER READING

— Mr Heller’s ‘Paul Rand + Steve Jobs’ article on Imprint, showing the NeXT booklet;
John Maeda’s recollection of Paul Rand’s MIT lecture, published in IDEA Magazine;
— My book review of ‘Paul Rand, Conversations with Students’;
— Stuart Watson (from VentureThree) writes about ‘container branding’ over the years on his blog, ‘Visual Shizzle’;
— David Airey (LogoDesignLove) and Antonio Carusone (AisleOne) also mention the NeXT logo.

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Mind Over Matter: Alan Fletcher’s The Art of Looking Sideways at the Kemistry Gallery

September 4, 2011, 10:27 PM

A simplistic way to describe Alan Fletcher would be to say he is the British Paul Rand.  And one would not be very far from the truth, as their work shows so many similarities, from the witty use of images, words or collages to the memorable handwriting style they both had. And it should be no surprise, as Paul Rand was indeed one of Alan Fletcher’s teachers during his studies at the Yale University, between 1956-1959. Still, as Paul Rand is arguably the most influential American graphic designer, so is Alan Fletcher for the British graphic design.

Alan's beautiful 'Mind over matter' is painted outside the gallery (you can also buy it as poster).

“The Art of Looking Sideways” is probably his most fascinating work, a book collecting thoughts and visuals that had sparked his imagination for almost three decades. The new exhibition at the Kemistry Gallery offers the chance of peeking behind the curtains, exhibiting some of Alan’s original notes, drawings and other materials he did for the book. The pages constantly surprise by their fun, witty or deep analogies made between apparently unrelated elements, making you reconsider the relationships between thinking and looking, telling and showing. The exhibition proves once more that Alan Fletcher’s work is as refreshing and inspiring today as ever.

Small, but you'll be amazed at how much you can see — and learn (click on image for larger size).

Alan's shadow watches over (click on image for larger size).

You’ll most likely lose track of time, reading the diverse notes, cut-out articles, trying to decipher Alan’s drawings, smiling at his puns or learning of his heroes.

Hundreds of stories, all enchanting (click on image for larger size).

His beautiful and distinctive handwriting is ever-present:

This page definitely caught my eye, reminding me yet again about Paul Rand and his eye-bee-M poster:

A wonderful pencil sculpture can be seen on the desk, while Alan’s shadow watches over hundreds of page thumbnails in the large photo that dominates the exhibition:

Plenty more to see, of course. The only gripe I have with the exhibition is that all those pages would’ve looked much better on a dark background, but I guess painting the walls or covering them completely are not easy options for a small gallery. The exhibition is open till October 1, so, if you’re in London, don’t miss it. You can find more details on the Kemistry Gallery’s website. I’d recommend several visits, for better results. And if you don’t have the book yet, get it, there’s no excuse not to.

RELATED LINKS:
— watch Alan Fletcher himself, talking about ‘The Art of Looking Sideways’;
— listen to Colin Forbes (one of the partners with whom Alan founded the famous Pentagram) and read about the Alan Fletcher: Fifty years of work (and play) exhibition, held at the Design Museum in 2006;
— keep an eye on www.alanfletcherdesign.co.uk, hopefully it will be just as good as www.paul-rand.com when it launches.

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Hustling the greats — cheap bravado or a genuine “naked emperor” shout?

January 28, 2011, 12:41 PM

While reading Adrian Shaughnessy’s interesting review of Kenneth FitzGerald’s Volume: Writing on Graphic Design, Music, Art and Culture book (on the Design Observer), a paragraph caught my attention especially:

It’s not only his students FitzGerald wants to refrain from gazing admiringly at the great and the good of the design world. His own combative approach to criticism means that he doesn’t shy away from roughing up representatives of design’s elite: Alan Fletcher (“The Art of Looking Sideways … a formless data-dump of quotations, aphorisms, diagrams, reproductions, commentaries, and folderol”); John Maeda (“sterile, programmed ornamentation”); Paul Rand (… students will become even more marginalized and disenchanted with their work and status if they attempt to define themselves by Rand’s fallacies); and Stefan Sagmeister (“Made you Look … a fatiguing compendium of almost every optical, production, and advertising-creative artifice devised since Gutenberg”).

I don’t think I need to tell you that this is the design’s equivalent of whistling bare-assed inside the church on a Sunday morning. Does Mr FitzGerald really mean that? Or is he just saying it to shock and draw attention? What should we believe in then, if role models or mentors are over-rated? It’s easy to say “do your own thing”, but so few of us can actually do that.

It has always been one of the best ways to get fast on top (either in gang fights or in public opinion): pick someone bigger than you — hell, pick the biggest of them all — and make him bite the dust. Should you succeed, you’re the man (until another does it to you, of course). Should you loose, do it in style and at least you’ve made the news — more or less.

It seems these days that almost everybody worships individualism. You can see it in almost everything — large businesses are slowly fragmenting, everybody tries to be a “freelancer”, everybody wants to be their own boss — an understandable thing, after all, who likes to take orders all day?. Marriages are shorter and shorter, single parentage slowly gains ground and becomes the “normal” way of growing up a kid. It’s all fine-tuning as the ultimate self-centred society. A planet of “every man for himself only”. Well, to be more precise, a “western” civilisation of loners. And these days — go figure — most of them (us) seem so bewitched by iStuff.

Well, if Mr FitzGerald wanted attention, he’s surely got it. And maybe that’s a good thing. Shouting out that “the emperor is naked” might prove a lie, but it did make you look thoroughly, didn’t it? I still think that apprenticeship as a way of learning was one of the good things we lost during the last fifty years. Having role-models can be very useful, but only as long as we never forget that role-models are meant to be surpassed.

As post scriptum, the cover of the book looks rather nice:

And while we’re at it, here’s another quote from Mr FitzGerald’s book:

It is a delusion that the activity of fine artists is divorced from commercial considerations. It isn’t even a matter of degree. All that separates art and design is the kind of marketplace one chooses to operate in.

Now that’s something with which I totally agree.

Further reading & links:
• Adrian Shaughnessy’s review of the book on the Design Observer;
• Kenneth FitzGerald’s blog post about his book.

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Paul Rand: Conversations with Students — Book review

January 2, 2011, 9:52 PM

«Everything is design. Everything!» … «It is important to use your hands, this is what distinguishes you from a cow or a computer operator.»

Starting with bold, very Rand-like quotes, Paul Rand: Conversations with Students, written by Michael Kroeger, is a small book divided in two parts: first, the conversations themselves, from February 1995 (first between Kroeger and Paul, together with his wife Marion, then between Rand and students from the School of Design, Arizona State University) and second, five homages from designers that had the privilege of studying with him closely. The author himself had the privilege of an individual one-week session in Brissago, Switzerland — as did Phillip Burton, Armin Hoffman, Herbert Matter and Wolfgang Weingart (also the book’s Foreword writer).

» Continue reading

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