“Some designers have a personal signature, and if you hire them it’s because you want to make it look their way, but for you. I’m not like that. I use the metaphor of a doctor. I want sick patients that I can diagnose and give a prescription to.”

— Michael Bierut (via)

Mendelsund Marketing

Some Twitter thoughts from Peter Mendelsund that indirectly tie in to his discussion of marketing directives on ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” from his excellent book, “Cover” (which is where the below image is from).

Whenever I hear that someone in my field has been asked (told) to design a book jacket that looks like some other, preexisting jacket…told to ape a previously successful title, or a “genre look” (and this is increasingly how we are directed) I think to myself…there’s a word which describes when a thing is designed to look like those things which surround it, and that word is “camouflage”…being a tool (or in nature, an inherent characteristic) for when one wants something not to be found; remain hidden; like-amongst-like.

What prompted this rant was something a colleague just told me about. This designer (who is arguably one of the best book cover designers in the biz) was just told to make a cover for a new crime novel “grittier, you know, more like ‘crime’…” i.e. imitate some gawdawful cliches and hit all the signifiers…

And this designer said something smart to me, which is, “They’ve just robbed themselves of the chance to have a jacket others will want to imitate.”

By the way, I recall the same things (needing a “crime look”) being said to me regarding my cover for ‘Dragon Tattoo’ (not that this is exemplary design or anything, but it’s nice to have that ole counter example on hand…)


“The art department became the whipping boys, because if a book didn’t sell, if the editor had made a mistake, if the marketing people hadn’t pulled their finger out, if they had pulled it out in the wrong direction, they could always say, ‘Sorry, it was the cover, it was never the book, it was never anything else.’ So you got lots of flack in spite of the fact that they had all in a democratic way sat around a table and said, 'Yes, we’ll go with that.’”

David Pelham

“One distinguishing characteristic of the American work is its imaginative use of photography. This, the most widely used graphic technique in American motion picture advertising, maybe have developed in order to satisfy the generally skeptical attitude of the consumer, which harks back to the circus days when the only proof was in the seeing. The photography seems to carry the necessary reassurance that what is promised will be there.”

— Saul Bass on the prevalence of photography in film posters. Graphis #48, 1953

From the absolutely essential A Smile in the Mind, Ray Gregory on his approach to design:

I teach what I believe in, which is ideas. This attitude is not fashionable, but I’ve always felt it was the only way to approach graphic design.

[…] it was a year or so before I cracked it myself. Since then I’ve always believed that, if I could learn how to get ideas, anyone can.

I’ve found that every student can learn this way of thinking. Even in my first year at Norwich, when there were twenty-five students in the group, all of them had ideas in their folder. When I talk about ‘ideas’ I mean design by thinking, by relevance, by content rather than style. It works because it engages people. I’ve always thought of it as 'the click’ - the click that happens when I get an idea, and the click people get when they see the idea and there’s a 'yes’ and a smile. This is wit in the right sense, not just amusing, but clever.

You break the problem down to its most fundamental parts. Often there are two factors. Then you marry them up. An identity for a Museum of the Occult needs to say both 'museum’ and 'occult’. Often you find something that will say museum and make it occult. Failing that, you see something that’s occult and then bring museum into it. In this case, you could start with the museum attendant sitting in his chair. What makes it occult? He levitates.

When you teach ideas, you have to fight all the design trends.

I think the process is addictive. Once you have your first click, you want another one. It’s like a fix.

On the State of Movie Posters: 1953-1974


Courtesy of critics and practitioners during the supposed golden age of film advertising:

“It is important to note that there is relatively little creative and mature film advertising produced in the United States. That which is produced, comes about sporadically, and does not grow out of a consistent attitude or policy of any business organization. There are many reasons for this, but they all focalize in the lack of confidence of the advertiser in the maturing and taste of the audience (a frequently encountered phenomenon in other business areas as well).” - Saul Bass, Graphis #48, 1953

“One cannot help wondering why our film posters are so bad, and the answer that first comes to mind is a piece of advertising psychology: an advertising medium must never promise more than the goods can hold. Yet there are good films too, and the posters made for them are still bad. The film distributor is of course fond of quoting the low-brow man-in-the-street and claiming that only low-brow advertising will ever get him to come to the cinema. He pushes his own bad taste on to an anonymous scapegoat and so feels exonerated from all responsibility.” - Franz Hermann Wills, Graphics #84, 1959

“Although the film has long taken its place among the recognized mass communication media, it has still not entirely shaken off the odium of the early days, when it was the plebeian substitute for the theatre and less than refined form of entertainment. This is not altogether surprising, for the advertising directed at the potential film-goer has remained for the most part lurid and loud, with texts festooned with devaluated superlatives and a graphic face hardly less primitive than that of winter sales placards. A glance at film advertisements and posters, or at the printed matter available at the box office, only strengthens one’s conviction that film publicity deliberately chooses a cheap and common graphic idiom in order to attract the masses. This sort of advertising has come to be taken for granted, if only because it seems not unreasonable that the cinema owner should use the most appropriate methods-as he seems them-for wooing the broad public on whom his survival depends.” - Dr. Maria Netter, Graphis #113, 1964

“I have since worked on hundreds of films and have experienced an unchanging frustration over their graphic progress. Compared to the improvement in packaging, record albums, book jackets, displays and other areas reaching for mass market response, film advertising seems unwilling to relate to the change in public taste.” - Joseph Caroff, Graphic Design: Works & Words, 1974

Iconography from West Side Story (top, Saul Bass; bottom, Joseph Caroff)

"I don’t know what people talk about when they talk about a golden age because of a million designers in 1950 or 1960 or 1970, 13 did anything that was worth ten cents. They can call that a golden age but the gold has been tarnished I think."

— Bob Gill (via)

“I think I could improve every single job I’ve ever done. I never claimed to be perfect, or do the definitive job. I do a poster, and the client says, ‘I’m sorry, Bob. I don’t like it.’ I can’t say to the client, ‘You should like it.’ So I say, ‘OK. Tell me why you don’t like it.’ And sometimes they can’t even tell me that. They struggle with trying to tell me. So I say, ‘OK. I’ll go away and do another one.’”

— Bob Gill (via)

“I'm always so reluctant to criticize other designers' work. You never quite know what the client has demanded the designer do.”

— Doyald Young