8 APRIL, 2013

Beware of Dog: Embarko, Twenty-Four Years Later

The San Francisco restaurant Embarko opened in 1989 when I was twenty-eight. Slated to be called Trudy’s after the owners’ dog, I was so uninspired by the name that I proposed multiple alternatives, Embarko among them. The new name referenced both the restaurant’s bayside location on the Embarcadero as well as the owners’ canine empathies.

The Embarko trademark takes the form of a rebus which requires the reader to decode conventional symbols of language—letters of the alphabet—in the company of a pictorial element representing sound. Inherently playful, the rebus is common to children’s puzzles but is less frequently found in trademarks. (One notable exception: Milton Glaser’s 1977 I♥NY.) An important development in the history of writing, the rebus is believed to have been invented by the Sumerians around 3000 BCE and subsequently adopted by the Egyptians.

My intention was to render the dog (which represents the onomatopoetic sound “bark”) as a glyph to visually approximate typography. I began by setting the letters E, M, and O in Raleigh Gothic Condensed, a geometric sans serif designed by M.F. Benton for the American Type Foundry (ATF) in 1932. By matching the stroke weights of the dog to those of the letterforms, the dog visually groups with and “reads” like the text. Happily, the dog’s “bark” also corresponds with the natural stress of the restaurant’s pronunciation: Em-bark-o.

The yellow Post-It note shows my original sketches for the trademark. I ultimately hand-inked the dog and rule with a Rapidograph technical pen; the type was set on a typositor by the San Francisco office of Andresen Typographics. Final art was a black and white “stat.”

My work for Embarko was selected for inclusion in the American Institute of Graphic Arts’ “Under 30” national competition in 1990. Some of the other young designers whose work was represented in “Under 30” includes Carol Devine Carson, Chip Kidd, and Alexander Isley. [MF]

See the Embarko rebus under Design is Play Studio Symbols Trademarks Food & Drink.

4 MARCH, 2013

Design School Wisdom

Our friend and colleague Brooke Johnson from Chronicle Books in San Francisco is working on a new title with Jennifer Tolo Pierce called Design School Wisdom, a compilation of quotes from teachers and students. Brooke asked us to submit some quotes for possible inclusion in the book which we share below.

(left) Jeff Wasserman outside his studio in Santa Monica, 2009. (right) Mark Fox photographed by Michael Schwab for one of Michael’s posters, 1986.

Being self-taught as a designer, I didn’t attend design school. I did, however, work at a few jobs during and after college that exposed me to some workplace wisdom.

One of my jobs in college—around 1982—was to work for Wasserman Silk Screen Co. in Santa Monica, California. Jeff Wasserman set up the original screen printing shop at Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles, and has printed for a number of well-known artists, including Andy Warhol, Ed Ruscha, Robert Rauschenberg, Claus Oldenberg, Frank Stella, and Billy Al Bengston, among others. His work is extremely precise, and he is a master at what he does. Nonetheless, one of the maxims Jeff often uttered to me was, “Don’t make a religious experience out of it.”

A few years later, in 1985, I worked for the designer and illustrator Michael Schwab in San Francisco who is especially well-regarded for his poster work. Michael has always been successful—or so it seemed to me!—and his oft-repeated advice usually followed negotiations with clients. He would say, “There’s always more time and more money.”

This is my twentieth year teaching courses in graphic design at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. I give my students no end of advice, I’m sure, but the one question I continually ask them that seems worth sharing is this: “Where does your eye go?” If you know where the eye goes when you look at work, and why, then you understand true hierarchy—regardless of the design intention. If you remain unaware of hierarchy, of what the eye sees and in what order, your work will remain indistinct and forgettable. [MF]

(left) Michael Manwaring photographed by Christopher Manwaring. (right) Angie at the RE:DESIGN / Creative Directors Conference in Palm Springs, 2011. The title of our presentation was “Get Back: Working Analog in a Digital World.”

If you have to ask the question, you already know the answer. —Michael Manwaring

Michael Manwaring was my Graphic Design 2 instructor at the California College of Arts and Crafts in San Francisco. Michael’s pedagogic model seemed to be based on questioning—he deliberately responded to our questions with more questions. While this resulted in a dialogue of evaluation, it didn’t necessary yield a definitive answer—at least not immediately.

Needless to say it was maddening at the time. Ultimately, though, I learned from Michael how to actively—and critically—distill my ideas and formulate my opinions.

Work hard—the rest will come in time. —Steve Reoutt

I entered the CCAC graphic design program in 1993 and had the good fortune of having Steve Reoutt as one of my first instructors. For Steve, the discipline of working steadily and making progress every day was more important than the “success” of our final work. Steve made us sketch in large pads of newsprint every day, whether we felt like it or not. At the end of every assignment he would take the time to meet with us individually to go through our newsprint pad.

Final crits were led by students: we would put our work up and the students would choose which pieces to critique. More often than not my work would be the last to be chosen for discussion—or sometimes, not at all—leaving Steve to monologue about my project. He always managed to tease out some positive aspect (like the thoughtfulness of my approach) despite the awkward final form.

During one of his reviews of my sketch pad he looked at me and said, “You’re a good problem solver and you work hard. I know form-making doesn’t come easily for you, but no one has it all. Work hard, and the rest will come in time.”

His faith—and the rigor of his approach—had a profound impact on me as a student. It encouraged me to be patient and it allowed me to grow as a designer at my own pace. I have been teaching Typography 1 in the graphic design program at CCA for seven years now and, like Steve, I collect and review my students’ process sketches at the end of every assignment. [AW]

21 FEBRUARY, 2011

20 Years Ago: Bomb the Pentagon

For a 1991 AIGA San Francisco event, Steve Tolleson asked fifty Bay Area graphic designers to create posters addressing an environmental issue of their choice. My topic? The tendency of the US military to avoid environmental scrutiny—and, at times, responsibility—by invoking the so-called state secrets privilege. According to Project Censored, “the Department of Defense is the largest polluter in the world, producing more hazardous waste than the five largest US chemical companies combined. Depleted uranium, petroleum, oil, pesticides, defoliant agents such as Agent Orange, and lead, along with vast amounts of radiation from weaponry produced, tested, and used, are just some of the pollutants with which the US military is contaminating the environment.” The design parameters were tight: one color on a recycled stock at a size of 18 x 24. A number of the posters went on to win awards in national competitions, including my poster and those designed by Doug Akagi and Michael Schwab.

I hand-inked the arrows, target, and Bomb lettering, and built the constructivist-inspired typography with an early version of Adobe Illustrator. Final art was a black and white “stat” from which the printer shot a Kodalith film positive; he then screen printed the design using black enamel ink on corrugated cardboard. For any designer who remembers the prevalence of bright white, cast-coated papers such as Kromecote in the 1980s, printing “high end” work on an unbleached and uncoated substrate was unorthodox.

Twenty years later, given our post-Timothy McVeigh, post-9/11 mind-set, Bomb the Pentagon has become both visually and politically jarring: a year or so ago I watched a young museum curator’s body literally recoil from the poster. 1991 was a moment in American history that now seems strangely distant, when calls to bomb anything were rightly understood as hyperbole. Unlike much graphic design which is subject to visual trends, the “look” of this poster doesn’t appear dated, at least to my eyes; rather, it is the message—and its stridency—that dates the piece. [MF]

25 OCTOBER, 2010

Dennis Crowe at Play

Dennis Crowe’s “Top of the Hour” :20 Spot for MTV (3:00)
The original 1994 spot and the process of making it.

“When I consider the concept of play as it relates to the many projects I have designed throughout my career, one project in particular leaps out: the ‘Top of the Hour’ spot I designed and directed for MTV. Although this project is many years old and long gone from the airwaves, with play as the theme I couldn’t resist dusting this one off from the archives.

“I immediately knew I wanted to use a clock as the central theme and play with the idea of using the numbers on the clock as letterforms to spell out the MTV tag line ‘Plug In.’ I soon realized that by using the M from the MTV logo as the 3 on the clock I could bookend the spot with this visual trick.

“The fact that the spot was going to be broadcast repeatedly every hour on the hour gave me the excuse to overload it with visual activity so that jaded channel surfers would not get bored with multiple viewings. It became an opportunity to play with the collective attention span of a generation.

“Inspired by the dark, dreamlike, imaginative art of Mark Ryden and with trademark ‘blendo’ animation style in mind, I developed the storyboards. With the support of the fantastic production, animation, and technical crew at Colossal, we combined replacement animation, stop motion animation, live action, and archival footage into a frenetically paced explosion of imagery. Colossal Pictures’ Jenny Head, the world-class producer, made sure that I got everything I wanted including a circus performer, a rocket ship, and live animals. It took us 60 days to craft the :20 spot. I never played so hard at work in my life.”

Director: Dennis Crowe; Production Company: Colossal Pictures; Producer: Jenny Head; Technical Director: Peter Williams; Animator: Trey Thomas; Director of Photography: Don Smith; Set Design Elements: John Pappas; Set Production: Jamie Hyneman.

Dennis Crowe is a Bay Area designer and educator. We invited him to share a moment of play with us.














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