Integrity is something I’ve been thinking about lately. Also dignity. And my thought is that these are things that have gone the way of the mimeograph.
Writing the words up there, they even sound quaint, if not stupid and ridiculous in the way that kvetching about the modern world makes you feel like a grumpy, out-of-touch old man (and old people are no good at everything).
There are several threads involved in this (which is how my brain works for better or worse) including:
- that the bar for celebrity has now been lowered to a point that we can be famous for… well I was going to say willingness to embarrass ourselves on camera, but I’m not even sure what this person has done;
- sub rosa shilling for companies via personal essays (now regulated by the FCC and who even remembers that once, product placement in a novel was grounds for much sturm und drang?);
- that we never apologize for anything (“sorry if someone was offended,” and “lapses in judgement” are not apologies);
- and, to get back on topic, Shepard Fairey. But I should keep this simpler and just go with the Fairey thing.
My point with the other things was that integrity seems to boil down to saying “no” to money; to there being some one thing at least that is, at bottom, not for sale. Or some one instance where you will forgo money that you could’ve taken, just because it’s the honorable (another dusty word) or at least fair thing to do. Which all seems like anachronism these days. It’s money and money is good!
Why would anyone ever say no to money? Which is why I’m wondering if dignity and integrity have any place at all in a country that has seemingly eliminated the last vestiges of “society” and now operates purely in an “economy.” But anyway.
So Fairey lied in his court documents and destroyed evidence and his lawyers have now abandoned the case. Which is something I did not expect to happen. He was (imo) hiding behind a mendacious concept of fair use to defend his image theft and the resulting badly-rendered (also popular) poster, although that was to’ve been a matter for the courts.
That he’s a cheesy copycat* is one thing. That he’d go so far to manipulate the case this badly is another thing entirely, and something I never saw coming.
The point about integrity might be something like this: if he had just paid the photographer – forgoing, really, a miniscule percentage of whatever money he’s gotten from the poster (he says none, but he’s said a lot of things that aren’t accurate) none of this would’ve happened and he could continue blithely LiveTracing photos for Nike** and whatnot (why is he called a “street artist” again?). So that’s your economic argument for doing the right thing. Hooray! We still live in an economy.
Here’s a link to the AP’s story (and bear in mind that it’s the AP reporting on a lawsuit against the AP, so, you know).
* Do click that link. Glaser rocks.
** Ugh, that’s so horrible. And it’s in my neighborhood.
Mike Webster, the longtime Pittsburgh Steeler and one of the greatest players in N.F.L. history, ended his life a recluse, sleeping on the floor of the Pittsburgh Amtrak station. Another former Pittsburgh Steeler, Terry Long, drifted into chaos and killed himself four years ago by drinking antifreeze. Andre Waters, a former defensive back for the Philadelphia Eagles, sank into depression and pleaded with his girlfriend—“I need help, somebody help me”—before shooting himself in the head.
Looks like Gladwell‘s getting his ideas* from this blog now. Or maybe I’m just part of the tipping point.
- Gladwell views head injury as implicit in the game of football, and I’m tempted to agree, but I also wonder how much helmets have to do with it. There is research showing that cyclists take more risks when they’re wearing helmets, feeling somewhat more immortal with the protection (anecdotally, I know I sure as shit do – at least until I frighten myself enough to take it easy). Which is not to say that cyclists shouldn’t wear helmets, just that it’s complicated.
Watching Gladwell’s slide show, I wonder how much the head-on attack style comes from having such a convenient battering ram in the form of that hard plastic globe on top. Would there be as much injury if they were wearing the old leather helmets (okay, I just wanted to button up that cool image of the football player – I don’t really think they should go back to leather)?
- That said, do rugby players (unhelmeted) suffer as many head injuries? I do not know. But helmets don’t help them, according to this study.
*Except with, you know, reporting and analysis and other stuff beyond my trademark lazy, blank ranting. By which I mean of course he isn’t getting his ideas here. But still. Hooray for football!
I’d thought this was going to be a one-off rant, but the awesomeness of football is unstoppable.
You might think that’d be enough to doom an activity to the fringe subcultures lurking in the darker corners of craigslist, but add to that the actual experience of watching it (as reported by the fine journalists at Cracked) and it’s kind of amazing that we’d all watch (and love!) something so boring. Yes, it’s violent. We love violence. But other than that, what’s the appeal? That I do not know the answer makes me feel like an alien.
Difficult though it may be to believe, I really don’t want this web journal to be only a catalog of failure. But this is just ridiculous.
It may seem like I’m picking on a sign guy who’s just trying to do his job, but what irks me is that doing this correctly only takes about 3% more effort than doing it in the above ridiculously horrible way. I mean (warning, huge digression forthcoming), you have to wonder how it got to be so bad (and I’m not even going to start wondering why they chose Times – a typeface designed specifically for newsprint – for signage, and moreover for the one place where, if they absolutely had to use a serif, they could’ve gone with the otherwise terribly overused Trajan, which is seen almost exclusively in print). If you think it’s a government job and has no accountability (the Socialist angle), then of course there’s no reason to care about the quality. Similarly, if you think that that 3% of extra effort is 3% that is not specifically earning more money (the Capitalist angle), then there’s of course no reason to care either. So why should anyone care? I’m not sure I know why – just that, for whatever reason, I do (end of huge digression).
But the funny part, to type dorks, is that it’s not even consistently bad (see the green E’s). And, even stranger, is that he got the N’s right, and I’ve made that mistake my damn self. Any way you look at it, it’s a conundrum.
Okay, no more critiques for awhile, I hope. After the 4th, it’s back to good ol’ Fortune. Have a great holiday.
Note: I don’t mean for this to look like a point-by-point rebuttal, because that always seems kind of needlessly aggressive to me. But I’m including Mr. Knowles’s text and my reactions together as a convenience so readers don’t have to jump back and forth between posts.
First off, I thought the response was kind of fascinating. Commenter Martin beat me to it, so I can’t claim originality, but I would like to expand on this peek behind the curtain of the design agency process. And I do appreciate Mr. Knowles’s candor, even though I find almost everything he has to say distressing in one way or another (click here if you missed the original post or Jeff Knowles’s complete reply). Okay, here’s the reply to the reply -
As with a lot of design when it gets in the public domain people can only see the tip of the iceberg, and thats all that can be reviewed and commented on, you don’t see the 80/90% of blood sweat and tears and frustration.
This probably isn’t discussed much in design education, but you bring up an interesting point. The nature of design is that the result is of course very public, and only the result is public – nobody knows about Goudy’s life in the way they know about Picasso’s – but that’s the way it works. You talk about the frustrations as though the audience should care – frankly, we shouldn’t. Regardless of how difficult the client is, the viewer isn’t supposed to think of the frustrations; in fact, if we do, the design has failed (i.e. the charge is to communicate, in this case, a movie in the voice of the client; if instead what has been communicated is frustration, the job hasn’t been done).
Michael next informed us, and asked us to research, New Deal and WPA and sent WPA posters he liked, in particular the San Francisco world fair poster (which I think was even after the WPA, its at that point we designed the custom font, seen as he wanted to see stuff that evening, we had 5 hours. Michael liked the font, so we proceeded, next he wanted to see a more compressed version, deadline – one hour to redesign and e-mail new title cards so Michael could view it on screen in the Avid that afternoon.
This is another fascinating peek behind the door of a big time design studio. And another element that isn’t discussed too often: how much control should the client have? What is the balance between doing what the client says he wants, and providing the client with the best possible solution? Think of it this way: suppose Mr. Mann had said, “I just gotta have this in Comic Sans.” Presumably (hopefully) the designer could’ve persuaded him otherwise. The idea that Mr. Mann should know anything about design and lettering just because he is successful in a totally unrelated field is as unrealistic as me assuming I could direct a something as good as “Heat” just because I’m a graphic designer.
This is a tough thing to tell the guy who signs the checks, and we’ve all had our successes and failures. But still. Being a designer is not a matter of doing what the client says they want – they often don’t know what they want, or don’t know why they’re saying what they’re saying they want. Ideally, at this point in the process, design is education and research and lobbying and cajoling (especially when you’re trying to convince a client not to faceplant his bad idea all over every bus and billboard in LA).
The rest of Mr. Knowles’s paragraph is mostly excuses about fast deadlines. My response is, again, that’s the nature of the work. I have personally never had a leisurely deadline. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose – that’s true for all of us – but you can’t blame the deadline.
In terms of the posters, and even the new cover for the original book, we didn’t design them, we saw them at the same time as the rest of the public, they just used what ever bits we had sent for the titles, thus we didn’t apply drop shadows or textures, or use Impact or what ever it is, where they didn’t have the New Deal typeface.
This sort of sums up my take on the whole of this project. It wasn’t mismanaged so much as it wasn’t managed at all. The client wasn’t managed – starting with managing his expectations, managing the deadlines, and managing the concept; and after the design was approved, its implementation wasn’t managed at all either. I know that there are a million variables in any deal, but if you couldn’t have gotten the poster gig, it would’ve made sense to put together a criteria for the posters, etc. To blame the key art people is nearly as bad as blaming the deadlines. If your company is supposed to be leading the design, then you have to lead.
Again, I appreciate Mr. Knowles’s reply, and I think it’s an instructive look inside a design agency and at the sausage making aspects of the whole process. But in the end, none of what was said mitigates the failure of this lettering. I just hope Mann’s production company didn’t pay too much for this thing. They got a bad design, with a bad rationale, and bad advice.
I received a lengthy response to the original post from Jeff Knowles of Research Studios and it seems only fair to give him the same space I used for the original rant. I even included an image so it looks just like a blog post. Take it away, Jeff –
Thanks for the critique David. As they say, everyone is entitled to their opinion, the font has gone down very well, but nice to see its made a big enough reaction to make someone research and write a piece on it.
As with a lot of design when it gets in the public domain people can only see the tip of the iceberg, and thats all that can be reviewed and commented on, you don’t see the 80/90% of blood sweat and tears and frustration.
First off, the Typeface is called “New Deal” from the economic program started in the depression in 1933. To give a bit of background, Michael Mann, the director, was very involved in the process, he reviewed and commented on everything single thing. Reason for using Neville, Michael Mann is a fan of his work, thats why we also did some of his previous films, Heat and The Insider. We had a few days to come up with ideas, Michael’s first reference was the London Underground font – Johnston, yes we were puzzled too, and I hope this sheds light on the processes we were instantly involved with. We worked on Johnston, and also offered a multitude of other typefaces which were relevant, and yes we even showed Kabel. Michael next informed us, and asked us to research, New Deal and WPA and sent WPA posters he liked, in particular the San Francisco world fair poster (which I think was even after the WPA, its at that point we designed the custom font, seen as he wanted to see stuff that evening, we had 5 hours. Michael liked the font, so we proceeded, next he wanted to see a more compressed version, deadline – one hour to redesign and e-mail new title cards so Michael could view it on screen in the Avid that afternoon. Next day, next change, a lighter version of the new compressed font, deadline – 20mins for redesign and new title cards. From first round of designs to final custom font their were probably 300 options, the director just wanted to see things, not be questioned, reasoned with or convinced of something, he just wanted to see things and make a decision, he had a million things on the film to deal with, the film is his baby not ours, we have to respect the client.
In terms of the posters, and even the new cover for the original book, we didn’t design them, we saw them at the same time as the rest of the public, they just used what ever bits we had sent for the titles, thus we didn’t apply drop shadows or textures, or use Impact or what ever it is, where they didn’t have the New Deal typeface. We would of loved to design all the applications and make a real tight consistent job, but it never works like that. i.e. the UK posters are different to the US ones, and the titles are different again.
If we had been designing a in house personal project for a WPA/New Deal typeface it would of been completely different, but it wasn’t a personal project, it was a client project with tight deadlines, calls at home from my sleep at 3am to get me out of bed to make changes right there and then etc etc, i.e. there are far more variables behinds the scenes to all projects, and the success of outcomes aren’t always whether it looks nice or cool.
How bad is this lettering?
So bad that even my (long suffering but usually not terribly visually-attuned) gf mentioned it even before I could launch into my own usual spittle-flecked rant. She asked how something like this happens in the world of the commercial arts, especially at that kind of supposedly A-list level. My guess was that it was probably some crap-ass key art flunky trying to make a “font” and failing in a horrible and computery bad way, but getting it through because nobody involved in the production has any visual sense. As usual, my assumption was totally wrong. I make a lot of wrong assumptions, which is bad, but I’d feel worse if the reality weren’t even crappier than my presuppositions.
In this instance, a “real” design studio did the crappiness. Which is worse because they should’ve known better. A flunky’s overreaching ignorance is one thing. A design studio’s badly miscalculated “ideas” (or stupidity or arrogance or laziness, it’s difficult to tell what, exactly, is going on here) are entirely another. Let’s see where it all went wrong.
According to this board, someone who seems to be from Brody’s studio (but who knows – it’s the Internet after all) claimed that it was inspired by WPA posters. How bad is this lettering? So bad that the fact that Dillinger was dead and gone before the inception of the WPA isn’t the worst thing about it. But let me say that again: Dillinger: 1903-1934. WPA: 1935-1943. So, okay, whatever websurfing that passes for research at Brody’s studio wasn’t as diligent as we could’ve hoped – one year, give or take, isn’t really a big deal, and I’m not usually one to let a few pesky facts get in the way of a good design. However, it’s just not a good design, and even if we give ‘em a looser timeline, the WPA thing still doesn’t make any sense, for a number of reasons.
1. The WPA style was not the result of some populist tipping point toward modernist poster design. It was headed by a Bauhaus alum who made it, by virtue of his place at the top of the bureaucracy that ran it, the house style of America’s experiment in socialism. From the Library of Congress:
The New York poster division was headed by Richard Floethe, a German-born internationally known industrial designer who was educated in the fundamentals of the aesthetic movement known as the Bauhaus… In an essay written in the 1930s…Floethe wrote, “…the government unwittingly launched a movement to improve the commercial poster and raise it to a true art form.”
Though personally, I would question just how “unwitting” it actually was. And Dillinger was a popular/populist story (like Bonnie & Clyde, etc.), so using a centralized government-issue aesthetic makes no sense.
2. But even if it did, the execution completely sells out the idea (such as it is). WPA posters were hand lettered and mechanically separated, which, by and large, meant that they were printed in solid colors. Odd or quirky though that hand lettered typography was, it looks good silkscreened flat on real WPA posters, where up there it’s jarring, what with the ridiculous fades and crazy picture behind it.
3. Another note on execution: it’s obviously done on a computer. WPA lettering was rough, warm, and imperfect – actually done by hand. The cruddy weights and awkward forms in the PE poster look, in the clean vector lines of a computer, only like mistakes, not the charming analog error that they should (by the way Kabel would’ve been just fine – that’s the one on the far right, and is consistent with the era).
4. One more note on execution: the WPA posters were lettered. The letters themselves may have been quirky, but they were designed to work together as a specific word on the poster. Brody and Co. made a typeface and just typed it in. This is in no way similar to the process of drawing the letters on a WPA poster would’ve been.
5. And anyway, it has no relevance to the Dillinger story. People would’ve heard about it from newspapers, magazines, newsreels, and radio. Not posters (especially not posters that’d yet to’ve been implemented).
Here is a total of 15 minutes worth of research that would’ve afforded the designers a quirky, unique mix of lettering, but actually made some little bit of graphic and conceptual sense. Fifteen minutes, I guess, that the actual designers didn’t invest. Clockwise from upper right: a magazine, 1930; a hand painted sign, 1933; Dillinger’s wanted poster; a newspaper, 1935; .
What have we learned? I don’t know – I’ve never been a big fan of Brody’s stuff (some of it was novel a couple decades ago, but nothing has ever blown me away). Does it even matter? I think so – it cost the studio whole shitloads of money (millions in media, at least) to put this in front of my eyes every time I turn around, and it was a phoned-in solution (at best). You have to wonder why they went with Brody, when there are plenty of American designers with a much better sense of our own history and, certainly, of typography (Brody, regardless of how much you like or dislike his work, has always sucked at typefaces – he may have justifications for the clunkiness of them, but that don’t mean they ain’t clunky).
Maybe we’ve learned to do our goddamned research, especially when we’re getting paid a significant amount of money. Crapping out something like that and calling it WPA for no good reason is not research, it’s not design, and it’s not even cool to look at. It’s just dumb and wrong.
Oh wait, I know what we’ve learned! It’s not always a shitty client that makes for shitty design. Sometimes designers just end up making bad, boring, crap graphic work. Maybe we’ve learned that just because we call ourselves designers, that doesn’t mean we’re necessarily very good at, like, doing design.
* I actually don’t care as much as you might think by the tenor of that more-or-less bullshit bloggy attention-grabbing headline. If I really got as angry as that every time I saw stupid and lame design inexplicably backed by millions in media buys, I’d be dead of eleven heart attacks and seventeen aneurysms by now.
This whole thing is embarrassing to me for several reasons. Oddly enough, not so much for the racism, if only because the idea that there isn’t what I think of as “country club racism” – where white people, feeling insulated from the larger culture are just as retrograde idiotic as ever – is just naïve. Enough bad press and even those morons can figure out that they should keep their spook jokes to between beers on their restricted back nine.
It’s somehow more embarrassing to me that we elect people who are both so blinkered as to harbor ideas as ludicrous as racism; that these people aren’t pumping gas in some rural backwater, but somehow convinced a plurality of their fellow citizens to vote for them. And that they haven’t the wit to examine those ludicrous ideas, but rather feel completely justified and comfortable making, really, the world’s lamest joke. Did they giggle at this? Did they think it was cute and funny? That’s the other thing, I suppose – how degraded is our sense of humor, how low are our standards? And what is more, if you are an idiot who really did think the “Historical Keepsake” was funny, at least have the nuts to stand up and admit it. Behind closed doors, you people obviously think that taking offense at something like that is PC weakness, given the tenor of the “apologies.” But, come on! If you think Obama is unqualified or laughable because of the color of his skin, come out of the closet. Let us all know. Cut the PC blather of apologizing “if someone took offense,” stand up and say, yes, of course, you are just about about as big an idiot as it is possible to be in believing (really? I almost can’t believe that people actually believe it) that skin color makes some kind of difference. We already know you’re a moron. At least you could admit it.
When I first saw the ad for Long John Silvers’s Buttered Lobster Bites™ my thought was that this had to’ve been a bright blue and yellow carton filled with the batter fried end result of some horrible technology that I didn’t even want to think about: some new method of lobster generation that involved petri dishes but not salt water; some new high pressure hose system to flush out previously discarded molecules of lobster flesh. I pictured PhD scientists working on laboratory “lobster” meat or the mechanics of shell flushing that would adhere to minimal food safety standards and meet internal pro forma for new product profit margin.
Which would be bad enough – though it’s my own twisted thought process, and, as it happens, inaccurate. Closer to the truth is that LJS lobbied the FDA to get langostinos classified as lobsters. Ah – there’s your profit margin. Below is the langostino (prawn) that the FDA says is now a lobster.
And here’s a little gem from the press release (and just think of the meetings and man-hours that went into writing that thing. I’m all for capitalism, but is this really the best use of our brains and energy? All this time and energy and money getting the FDA to change a definition; to do market research on how fake they can get the lobster and still have people buy it; even to write this horrible piece of shit press release). It gives me Wallace-ian fantods.
“Our customers tell us they crave the taste of lobster, but they don’t have $20 to spend – and an hour to waste – in order to get it,” said Don Gates, Director of Marketing for Long John Silver’s. “Now, with the introduction of our new Buttered Lobster Bites, customers can enjoy the taste of real langostino lobster at a fast food restaurant, served quickly and at a great price.”
I’m sure that’s true. I’m sure a lot of customers say a lot of things. What gets me, though, is, do you really want lobster if you simultaneously don’t want to “waste” an hour and spend $20 bucks? Isn’t that part of the whole lobster dining experience? That it’s a treat? When did everything become appropriate for all the time? It seems like something right out of a social satire from the last century – wanting everything, wanting it now, and settling for a simulacrum of the actual experience, as long as the lobbyists can wangle the word “lobster” onto the package without a lawsuit. This is everything I hate about “marketing.” We used to, I don’t know, make things. Or make them better. Our bright minds worked on solving problems. Now we seem to devote so much of our resources to fudging at the margins. I find it disorienting, I guess. I mean, maybe we’ve just got so much time and energy and money that it doesn’t matter? We’re out of diseases to cure, inequities to address? Oh. Wait.
Anyway. Here’s a photo I took of a Canadian McDonald’s (note the backpacker-ish maple leaf, to distinguish it from those louche American McDonald’ses). But at least the lobster here is (probably) local, and (probably) lobster (or the scavenged remains of what were once real lobsters). I don’t think I’ll ever want lobster from Micky D’s, but still.
Also, I’m a little late to the game – some decent blog posts on the how stupid LSJ thinks we must be to believe that real lobster can be had buttered and fried into little balls for 3 bucks a throw are here and here.
Football is everything that’s wrong with America.
Okay, sure, our economy is currently choking out its death rattle, we’ve got homegrown terrorists, and don’t forget the dime store culture of our mass media. But other than that, football is everything else that’s wrong with America.
This isn’t about whether it’s a fun sport to watch, or better or worse than other sports*. It’s that, looked at objectively, football has got to be the worst allocation of educational resources imaginable. Football is virtually the only activity that you simply cannot enjoy after college. Think about it – painting, music, baseball or softball, tennis, bicycling, rowing, reading, swimming – these are all things that you can continue to pursue into your dotage. But football ends usually sometime before youth itself.
Then there are the injuries and deaths. I find this astounding – we live in a society that bans peanuts on what is, objectively, some pretty thin evidence of potential harm.** But at the same time you’ve got children dying from football (weirdly, in looking for a link to football deaths, you find that they slice them up into “heat-related,” “dietary supplement-related,” and “spinal cord” as if it makes any damn difference – they all have to do with the culture, expectations, and design of the game of football) but we just don’t seem to care as much, basically because it’s football. You’ll take our game when you pry it from the cold dead fingers of my neighbor’s child. Literally.
Of course, the only argument in favor of football is that it makes money for schools. There are two things that are infuriating about this argument to me. One is that, let’s face it, it really only makes money for the football program, which is only nominally a school function. The second and more important is that the purpose of school programs is to educate children, not turn a profit. The subtext of the money argument is that art programs and band and like social studies are drags on the system since all they do is educate and don’t make any money.
- It isn’t and it’s worse, by the way, but that’s, like I said, not the point.
- * Here’s a quote about peanut allergies from Salon:
The claim that 150 to 200 people die each year from anaphylaxis (one kind of peanut allergy reaction) is grossly exaggerated. In 2004, the Centers for Disease Control cited just 14 deaths due to anaphylaxis. The only known registry of deaths from anaphylaxis noted 33 deaths between 1994 and 1999. Remember, all of these estimates refer to the total number of people who had an anaphylactic reaction for any reason, not just from peanuts or other foods.
Facts ought to be stubborn. In the past, Munoz-Furlong has stated that one child dying from an allergic reaction is too many. But Harvard doctor Christakis, again, puts things into perspective. “There are no doubt thousands of parents who rid their cupboards of peanut butter but not of guns,” he writes, comparing the alleged 150 children and adults who died from peanut allergies to the 1,300 who die from gun accidents each year. He goes on to note that 2,000 kids drown each year. Indeed, the most common cause of death in kids is accidents. “More children assuredly die walking or being driven to school each year than die from nut allergies,” Christakis writes.