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  • Armin Hofmann at Yale: a Retrospective

    Editor’s Note: Today is Armin Hofmann’s 100th birthday. To mark the occasion, Christopher Pullman is looking back on the legendary Swiss designer’s time at Yale. Armin Hofmann’s remarkable 100th birthday seems like a good time to acknowledge that Yale was lucky to have established an early and long-lasting friendship with this masterful teacher. His regular workshops in the Yale MFA Design program through the ’70s and ’80s significantly broadened and deepened the school’s ideas about form-making and visual communication. His personal influence was aided by a succession of graduates from his Allgemeine Gewerbeschule Basel School of Art and Crafts program, augmenting an already powerful list of instructors at Yale and offering an alternative way of teaching and learning. The Yale program began in 1950 with the encouragement of Josef Albers, who had recently become Dean of the School of Art (which he quickly renamed the School of Design to differentiate it from the moribund Beaux Art school he inherited). The new program was chaired by Alvin Eisenman, who gathered an impressive list of practicing professionals, starting with Alvin Lustig and Norman Ives, and followed by Herbert Matter, Bradbury Thompson, John Hill, Paul Rand, plus a long list of impressive visitors, including Armin Hofmann. Hofmann’s first visit to Yale was in 1957, but he didn’t return until 1967. Because of this gap, as a graduate student in the program from 1963–1966, I never actually experienced Hofmann directly as a teacher. I learned about him and his educational method when his book, Graphic Design Manual, showed up in the studio in 1965. This book, along with an earlier publication, The Graphic Artist and His Design Problems by Joseph Müller-Brockmann, fascinated us and gave us a tantalizing view of Swiss design in two flavors: Müller-Brockmann was highly structured, geometric, cool and focused on professional practice applications, and Hofmann was lyrical, warmer, intuitive, focused on personal visual exploration and formal hand skills. By the early ’60s, Swiss Modernist design and typography was well-known and admired by many American designers, including students and faculty at Yale. Herbert Matter, after all, was one of the early pioneers of Modernism. Paul Rand was particularly smitten with the Swiss ideas and developed a long friendship with Müller-Brockmann, inviting him to critiques of the design program at IBM. Alongside Müller-Brockmann’s book, our exposure to Swiss design came from Rand’s curiosity, which we felt through his teaching. As a result, our conception of Swiss Modernism in the mid-’60s was primarily of the more austere, grid-oriented flavor; Hoffmann’s book and its student examples offered a tantalizing new direction. When I graduated in 1966, I was asked to teach in the program (a role I continue to this day) and a traveling fellowship took me across Europe, where I met as many design luminaries as I could cram in. Including Hofmann. Two years later, I made arrangements with him to visit the Basel School of Art and Crafts for six weeks in the summer to experience and evaluate its educational approach. It was very different from what I had known at Yale. Long, quiet classes of students drawing and painting day after day on the same piece of board. It was all about process and observation, not about the finished thing. During the visit I met André Gürtler, who taught letterform design, a skill not represented at Yale at the time, and invited him to teach a semester in 1970. That same year, at Hofmann's suggestion, Dan Friedman became the first of several graduates of the Basel school to teach at Yale. He brought not only the influence of Hofmann but also of Wolfgang Weingart, who began teaching at Basel in 1968 (the same year Friedman arrived). His playful and off-kilter ideas about typography would evolve into the “New Wave” typography of the ’80s. Weingart teaching in his first year at Basel, 1968 Friedman (at left in the black hat) with his Yale students, 1974 In 1974, Inge Druckrey joined the faculty and for 10 years brought her gentle, observation-based teaching to Yale’s students. Then in 1982 another exceptional Basel graduate, Philip Burton, taught and administered in the program for nine years while also coordinating and teaching in Hofmann’s summer program in Brissago, Switzerland. Burton, far left with glasses, and Hofmann engaged in a Yale workshop, 1988. Photo: Matthew Gaynor Druckrey in her Yale studio After being a periodic visitor to the Yale program, Hofmann began in 1970 an unbroken 20-year string of one- to two-week–long workshops where his contemplative, self-directed version of making forms and giving them meaning became a regular part of the Yale experience: slow down, look closely, learn to draw. Druckrey notes that Hofmann’s exercises in seeing and mixing colors harked back to Albers’ famous course that all Yale art and design students took to observe how colors interact with each other. So it was not just the content of these courses but also the manner of teaching that contrasted with the traditional Yale model. From the beginning, Albers had advocated that the teachers in the new design program should be drawn from the best professional practitioners in the field. Unlike Rand and Matter and Thompson and the others who would come in one day a week for “crits,” the Basel model was to be present during the making process, to observe and advise and comment as it was happening, not just after the fact. The presence of Hofmann and his proteges provided our students with a complementary model of teaching and learning that definitely shaped the Yale program (and in turn the profession) in the two decades from 1970–1990. Hofmann at Yale, late 1960s By then, Hofmann was well-known and respected throughout the design and design education world, as was Weingart, April Greiman and a host of other Basel graduates. Already by the late ’80s, the trend line was away from the rigid and spare typography of the hardcore Swiss variety and toward a more expressive and personal direction (think Cranbrook, David Carson, Ed Fella, et al.) that could be traced back to Weingart and, ultimately, to Hofmann.

  • The Daily Heller: Armin Hofmann’s 100 Years

    Armin Hofmann, exemplar of the Basel, Swiss approach to Modern graphic design, turned 100 on June 28. His son, Matthias Hofmann, born in 1970 in Basel, lives and works in Luzern. He is a graphic designer, publisher and musician who has contributed to the cultural scene in Luzern for decades. Since 2000, he has also taught at the Zürich School of Design and has been responsible for the design of books published by Der gesunde Menschenversand. This book, Armin Hofmann: Reduction, Ethics, Didactics (which comes with an addendum: Design Process), is Matthias' heartfelt and intellectually vigorous celebration of his father's career. "In his own work," writes Matthias, "Hofmann defied the dictates of trend and commercialism with intelligence and artistic integrity, creating visual excitement through formal simplicity and the power of symbol." That's good enough for me, yet he adds, "Pointing the way to ingenuity and credibility for today's graphic designer, the relevance of Hofmann's legacy endures in the midst of the digital explosion." I wish I'd had the opportunity, like so many of his students and colleagues, to have learned from Hofmann. Matthias' book brings me close. I asked Matthias to talk a bit about his father and his living legacy. Your new book on Armin Hofmann emphasizes his ethical convictions and educational principles. Would you describe how these overlap and how they developed over time? They overlap in almost every way. As a young designer, Armin was very intuitive and, since he started teaching early in his career, at the age of 27, his professional work continually revealed his educational principles. He never separated the process of teaching from its practical application. I believe that Armin’s teaching methods were an extension of his initial instruction, which used fundamental elements—such as the exercises with point and line—and eventually developed to include semiotic themes. You make a point of quoting Armin on the essence of reduction. How did this philosophical conviction evolve? First, one needs to understand the time when Armin was growing up and designing his first graphics. Posters of this postwar era (the late 1940s and '50s) were mostly colorful and attempted to portray a "happy" life. He wanted to provide a counterpoint to these surroundings. Second, reduction was Armin’s response to changes in society. His most striking posters were often void of color (though vibrant in their own way). For some designers, "ornament is a sin." Was color something akin to a sin for Hofmann? No … not at all. One reason for the lack of color is that he was limited by small budgets and, unfortunately or luckily, he had to adhere to certain technical restrictions—most of his posters at that time were linocuts, printed letterpress. Armin cut the designs for the posters in linoleum in his studio and then reproduced them in the printing department at the Basel School of Design—and mostly in two halves because the press was not large enough to print the world format size. And of course, the extreme graphic contrast of black and white is what he liked! He once said: "The medium of color photography is too simple and too brilliant to be used correctly." I asked that, knowing that his color studies in your book are exquisite but also very precise, which suggests he wanted to control color. Is that a correct assumption? The quiet "precision" of the geometric form carries the color but does not interfere with it. If this is what is meant by precise, then it is this very precision that amplifies and actually gives free rein to the more subtle and sometimes surprising play of color relationships. Armin’s color studies investigated the hidden poetry of artistic-aesthetic perception, whereas most other color theories have attempted to analyze color based on measurable phenomena. Armin sees his color portfolio as a "teacher’s statement of accounts." He wanted to give a wider audience an overview of what he had taught at Yale and in Brissago. In short, I don’t believe it was Armin’s desire to "control" color; rather, his desire to communicate that color is a language. He says he has no interest in dogma, but wouldn't you agree that within his parameters that his work implies a certain philosophical discipline, which might be construed as dogma? Dogma is a blind acceptance of established conventions; philosophy is a quest for knowledge. A "philosophical discipline," as you’ve described Hofmann’s oeuvre, implies his lifelong striving towards a deeper level of awareness, which is why he preferred to speak about attitude. His commitment to this insight demanded discipline, a quality that he instilled in his students. By comparison, as one can see in Müller-Brockmann, Lohse or Neuburg’s design work, these "modernists" dogmatically pursued mathematical coherence, in deference to the precepts of the constructive-concrete artists in Zürich. Armin is an individualist, probably because of his drawing background. At 100 years old, Armin is the last of the great Midcentury Swiss Modernists. How would you like his legacy to be remembered? As a vivid eye-opener … free from conceptual boundaries and, for me, expressing a timeless sense for design.

  • The Daily Heller: Armin Hofmann Turns 100

    On Friday, June 26, we mourned the passing of Milton Glaser on the very day he turned 91. Today, Monday, June 29, we celebrate the birth of Armin Hofmann as he turns 100. Hofmann has given much as artist, designer and teacher to the worlds of design and designers, about which I offer a brief analysis (below). Christopher Pullman, meanwhile, provides an appreciation about Hofmann's time teaching at Yale here. Reaching the century milestone is a major accomplishment. It makes Swiss-born Armin Hofmann one of a small handful of postwar Modernists still around, and the last of those in the direct line from Bauhaus to the Swiss Typographic Style. Unlike Glaser, who worked unabated to within a month of his death, Hofmann has not been able to produce as much in these later years. Yet reaching the 100-year mark is an opportunity to extol his importance as a form-giver and designer, a master of eloquent economy who rejected the cold formulaic reduction sometimes rightly associated, and other times incorrectly associated, with the '50s and '60s corporate Swiss Typography and the International Style. Instead he practiced a kind of complex simplicity that combines purely aesthetic and distinctly functional values. While his graphic language is comprised of radical shifts in scale, precisionist type arrangement and nimble symbolism, rooted in a Swiss rational veneer, it is nonetheless imbued with an unmistakably joyful personality underscored by nuance. Critics of the orthodox Swiss design style have accused it of being unrepentantly mannerist and formulaic, but Hofmann defies and transcends this prejudice. Hofmann’s emblematic exhibition poster “Die Gute Form” (Good Design) is a perfect example of this. While anchored on a tight grid, the armature is invisible to the naked eye and the quality of Hofmann’s schematic typography both is fluid and playful. The letterforms are constructed with sculptural character to be both conventionally read and more mysteriously experienced. He is passionate about words. Some tell a story with only few smartly stacked, constructed and interconnected words, more than most pictorial narratives. With “Die Gute Form,” Hofmann produced an abstract entity that is immediately recognizable as both pattern and message. The viewer experiences the aesthetic virtues—a dramatic arrangement of form—which, when deciphered, is clearly readable as a conventional message and aesthetic element. The drama that Hofmann could achieve with just a few words is even more intense when he uses only two letters. Indeed one of Hofmann’s recurring leitmotifs is the employ of two bold capitals—a modernist monogram—for a series of art exhibition posters at the Kunsthalle Basel. Each exhibition features two curiously yet harmoniously matched artists, and so for the poster, Hofmann has two immense initials sharing the same bill, such as "CL" for Fernand Leger and Alexander Calder, "BN" for Willi Baumeister and Ernst Wilhelm Nay, and "KJ" for Franz Kline and Alfred Jensen. The monograph motif transforms the traditional art poster into perceptual game. For rather than predictably reproduce representative pieces of the artists’ art (resulting in a clash of styles), Hofmann makes the initials into a trademark that not only “brands” the exhibit but forces the viewer to play along in a deciphering sport. Hofmann repudiates routine. When seen as an entire body there are inevitable consistencies of style, yet nothing in his oeuvre (certainly at the time he began his design in the early 1950s) was customary. Nothing supports this claim better than his collected posters for the Stadt Theater in Basel, which Hofmann gave an enduring identity during the late 1950s and early 1960s. These are not laden with titillating teasers or obligatory credits, nor are they overt depictions of the company’s theatrical offerings. Hofmann’s posters are often symbolic summations and iconic signifiers that introduce the audience to dramatic or musical fare while offering visual challenges. Rather than give only the facts, these posters require the audience to interpret the meanings of the images. It is not a complicated quiz, but the questions posed by such pictures as a huge ear and eye, a laughing clown or a scowling, maniacal face, among others, demand that the audience interact with the stimuli rather than remain passive receivers. Passivity is not what Hofmann demands of his viewer nor is it part of his own vocabulary. One need only to look at (and read, of course) his 1965 Graphic Design Manual to understand that Hofmann’s design is actually animated, requiring the viewer’s eye to navigate various pathways. I’ve always felt that if he were starting his career over again today, motion might very well be his principle occupation. If there is any doubt that Hofmann’s static imagery is not jumping madly around a mental screen, simply look at the multiple rows of geometric layout options reproduced in his handbook. Hofmann has designed typography and image for the print medium during the better part of his life, so naturally the relationship to film may not be exactly how he would choose to describe his work. But it is nonetheless clear that a kinetic sensibility has contributed to posters that transcend the inert confines of the medium. It is also the trait that despite the fact that Modernism is an imprecise/unsettling term that connotes the radical overhaul of standards of the mid-twentieth century artist, Hofmann’s kinetics make his work unequivocally Modern and undeniably his own version of that term. To Armin Hofmann on his 100th year: Thank you for a lifetime of inspiration.

  • Armin Hofmann in Color

    Armin Hofmann—Color (Armin Hofmann—Farbe) is an exhibition, or rather “a project,” by Fabienne Ruppen and Christof Nüssli that opens Wednesday, August 29, starting precisely at 6 p.m., and continues from August 30–September 28 at Galerie Susanna Kulli in Zürich. Until now, attention to the Swiss graphic design pioneer Armin Hofmann’s oeuvre has focused on his posters, which are largely in black and white. This exhibition provides the first in-depth look at his intense engagement with color. Its centerpiece is a portfolio of silkscreen prints that is unique in Hofmann’s oeuvre. The silkscreen portfolio is complemented by writings and sketches from Hofmann’s private archive, and problems he assigned in his classes. Recollections of four of his former students—Philip Burton, April Greiman, Aki Nurosi, and Moritz Zwimpfer—open up new perspectives on Hofmann’s interest with issues of color. Here is more from the project leaders: Each of the twelve plates in the portfolio, created between 1989 and 1999, shows four triangles arranged in a square. By eliminating light-dark contrasts, Hofmann was able to focus on color as such and the contrasts specific to it — cold–warm and luminous–dull, as well as contrasts in hue and quantity. As Hofmann emphasizes, the twelve plates should not be regarded as final results; they are guideposts in a process, and their order is variable. The reduction to a single problem held constant led him to a more nuanced vision and a growing awareness of the sensual qualities of color: “When you work in this manner, you become ever more refined, more sensitive.” Art for public spaces was the only field of his practice in which Hofmann used color as a defining artistic element. As in the silkscreen portfolio and in his classes on color, the study of the relativity of chromatic values was central. The critical examination of the role of the mark in its context pervades Hofmann’s entire oeuvre. The engagement with color added another layer to this complex issue and may be seen as bringing further nuance and elaboration to his teaching of form. I asked Christof Nüssli to talk more about the project and what he learned from Hofmann that made his relationship an exceptional experience. How did this exhibition come to be? I did work on the inventory of Armin Hofmann’s private archive where I found the silkscreen portfolio that is unique in Armin’s oeuvre. It quickly became clear that the aspect of color in Armin’s work and teaching has never been shown in a wider context and that there is a big lack of knowledge. With the exhibition, Fabienne Ruppen and I want to make works, sketches, and writing of Armin’s that is connected to this issue accessible to public. We had two interviews with Armin about color, specifically about the silkscreen portfolio and the art for public spaces. Where you and Fabienne students of Armin? Fabienne is an art historian and doctoral candidate at the Univerisity of Zurich. I was once a student of Matthias Hofmann (Armin’s son) in Zurich. I’m studying now at Werkplaats Typografie in the Netherlands. We are both in our mid-20s and therefore way too young to be Armin’s students. What would you say is Armin’s most significant contribution to design? We all know that he made some of the best posters in the 20th century. But he was not only an outstanding designer. He was in the same way or even more a teacher who influenced generations of designers. Armin Hofmann was a teacher in everything he did. All his posters, art-for-public-space projects, and other design works address a certain question to the beholder and activate his individual perception and thinking. Armin believed in reduction of form and instruments, always appropriate to the content of an assignment, resisting any dogma. Is Armin still actively working? Armin is 93 years old and he’s not working anymore. Will he attend the opening? Because of his age and his health he can’t be at the opening, but his wife and son will probably be there. . For more on Swiss design, download Katherine McCoy MP3 presentation Swiss in America at MyDesignShop.com. #ArminHofmann #DailyHeller #GalerieSusannaKulli #StevenHeller

  • Fairey Admits He Lied

    I received this e-mail from Shepard Fairey’s studio on Friday night: STATEMENT BY SHEPARD FAIREY ON ASSOCIATED PRESS FAIR USE CASE OCTOBER 16, 2009 In an effort to keep everyone up to date on my legal battle to uphold the principle of fair use in copyright laws, I wanted to notify you of a recent development in my case against The Associated Press (AP). On October 9, 2009, my lawyers sent a letter to the AP and to the photographer Mannie Garcia, through their lawyers, notifying them that I intend to amend my court pleadings. Throughout the case, there has been a question as to which Mannie Garcia photo I used as a reference to design the HOPE image. The AP claimed it was one photo, and I claimed it was another. The new filings state for the record that the AP is correct about which photo I used as a reference and that I was mistaken. While I initially believed that the photo I referenced was a different one, I discovered early on in the case that I was wrong. In an attempt to conceal my mistake I submitted false images and deleted other images. I sincerely apologize for my lapse in judgment and I take full responsibility for my actions which were mine alone. I am taking every step to correct the information and I regret I did not come forward sooner. I am very sorry to have hurt and disappointed colleagues, friends, and family who have supported me in this difficult case and trying time in my life. I am also sorry because my actions may distract from what should be the real focus of my case – the right to fair use so that all artists can create freely. Regardless of which of the two images was used, the fair use issue should be the same. See more coverage here.

  • The Inside Story of NASA’s “Worm” Logo

    As for the moratorium on the mark, Danne says NASA scuttled the design in 1992 when admin Daniel S.

  • Design Couples: Armin Vit and Bryony Gomez-Palacio

    By: Caitlin Dover | June 7, 2010 When, where, and how did you first meet? We first met in 1997 (when we were both in college, studying graphic design) at a nightclub in Mexico City, where we are from. We had mutual friends and were introduced. We stayed up all night talking until sunrise. Seriously. Where do you work and live now? We both work and live together at UnderConsideration headquarters, a 2,000-square-foot campus that houses our office, kitchen, bookcase, bedroom, and two daughters. How did your relationship initially affect your design careers? Since we are both graphic designers it simply allowed us to focus on this profession with more determination and ambition, especially when we decided in 2007 to quit our respective jobs and devote our time and energy to our clients and ventures. How much, and what kind, of work do you do together? We do everything together, pretty much. Since Bryony is a half-time mom, taking care of our daughters, in the afternoon, Armin becomes the consistent, day-to-day face and voice of the operation. All projects that go out the door have to be approved by both of us and we discuss every decision together. For the blogs, we have found a nice split where Bryony does most of the entries on FPO, and Armin does all the entries on Brand New and Quipsologies. What’s your favorite thing that you’ve done or created together? The corny answer is our family and home. We are very proud that we’ve been able to build a sustainable, profitable practice, and that we are able to spend so much time with our daughters at home, without spending time commuting. The more professional answer is definitely our 400-page book, Graphic Design, Referenced, which took over our lives for the better part of a year and a half. Our dynamic was integral to making sure we finished it. How do you each feel your partner influences your design practice? Bryony: More than an influence I would describe our dynamic as a partnership. One where we can be completely honest with each other while voicing our opinions on each other’s work, a partnership that allows us to push and challenge each other in ways that traditional colleagues can rarely accomplish. There are no hurt feelings, no bruised egos, no broken shells in the process of a project—just the search for the best possible outcome based on each of our strengths. Armin: What I love about Bryony is that I come up with very stupid or money-losing ideas and she never hesitates to say, “That’s a terrible idea.” And it’s always nice to know that you can try different things and have someone that is looking out for you, because you have the same interests and goals in mind. How are your working lives and home lives integrated? Everything happens in the same place. Life and work. We live in a sunny three-bedroom house and what was supposed to be the master bedroom became the office. We took a smaller room and the other is for the young ones. We spend a lot of time in here but, surprisingly, we don’t get cabin fever. It’s also great that you can do loads of laundry while you work, or that you are always around for the cable guy to come over during a 12-hour window. It’s also great come tax-season because we can deduct a lot of expenses. How do you approach design-related decisions that you make as a couple in your daily lives? Everything has to be agreed upon by both of us, and everything happens pretty organically. We might be at the grocery store trying to select fruit and we might discuss type choices for that logo project at the same time. Life and work discussions intertwine and it becomes very easy to solve them. How do you approach your children’s connection to design and the visual arts? We have a 3-year-old and a newborn. There is no real connection, other than we are more discerning with the children’s books we buy. Anything with Comic Sans or dumb quotes stays at the bookstore. What’s the best thing about being a couple working in design? That you are not alone in your craziness! When you point at a bad design, or when you bitch about a poor one, there is someone there that, simply, gets it. Next: Ellen Lupton and Abbott Miller If you are interested in subscribing to Print, click here. Visit My Design Shop for books, magazines, and other products for graphic designers.

  • No One Knows What It’s Like to Be the Adman

    Peter Arnell is just looking for a little understanding. —— PETER ARNELL KNOWS how to deliver a message. For 30 years—since he was barely above legal drinking age—he’s been cooking up design, marketing, and branding strategies for such blue-chip companies as Johnson & Johnson, Reebok, Unilever, Electrolux, Home Depot, Pfizer, and Donna Karan. And the message he seems anxious to convey today, as he entertains a visitor in his firm’s new digs on the 36th floor of New York’s 7 World Trade Center, is that Peter Arnell—one of the most successful ad men alive, a hard-charging corporate-image mogul who has been called a guru and a genius, the commander-in-chief of what’s thought to be a $25-million enterprise, a designer who has created household objects, iconic logos, Super Bowl television commercials, and a cute electric automobile for Chrysler called the Peapod—is misunderstood. “If I had a conversation with anyone about the fact that we engineer cars here, do you know I’d probably get shot in the street?” he asks, flashing an impressively whitened smile that projects conspiratorial bonhomie and disbelief in equal measure. “There’s such a high level of jealousy and envy around a lot of the work—not of me, but of what we do here. Always.” And why is that? “Because of the speed with which I move into an industry, people get nervous. They tend to just say, ‘That’s not possible—so, therefore, it’s baloney.’” Now 50, and slimmed down from 400 pounds a few years ago to a whippet-like 150 thanks to a Spartan diet, Arnell is always recognizable by his trim Tom Ford suits, Corbu-inspired eyewear, and impeccably maintained stubble. The concept of “not possible” fails to register with him. As head of Arnell Group, he’s known for working across multiple disciplines (design, branding, marketing, architecture, and photography are among the skills in what he calls his “large, powerful toolbox”); for probing how these disciplines can entwine to create new forms, strategies, and products; and for occasionally rubbing people the wrong way. Case in point: a pair of perceived missteps that have brought Arnell more attention—and more criticism—than he’s ever received over the course of an enviably high-profile career. First, there was the leak in February of a confidential memo that appeared to outline Arnell Group’s rationale for tweaking Pepsi-Cola’s longstanding “wave” logo into a broad smile not unlike Arnell’s own, an initiative whose price tag was reported to be $1.5 million. The 27-page design-strategy document—titled “BREATHTAKING”—hit the web and spread like an outbreak of avian flu. Tricked out with impenetrable pitchspeak (“The Pepsi Ratio is aesthetic geometry”), a multi-page breakdown of the logo’s so-called “perimeter oscillations,” and illustrations of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, the brief became a magnet for abuse. There were the usual snipings of the Gawkersphere, plus outright derision in the upstanding pages of Advertising Age (“Michael Phelps wasn’t the only one hitting that bong”), the Guardian (“gibberish”), and Fast Company (“one of the most ridiculous things ever perpetrated by somebody calling himself a designer”). In the meantime, PepsiCo’s sister company, Tropicana, announced it would be pulling its brand-new Arnell-designed juice packaging from market shelves. As part of a $35-million makeover, Arnell—who reportedly eats 20 oranges a day as part of his diet regimen—had gone for an updated look swiped from Vignelli’s playbook: sans-serif font, clean lines, lots of white space. If you’ve ever seen a bottle of Method hand soap, you get the idea: housewife-friendly high design. But Tropicana’s loyal sippers were outraged, finding the understated new cartons generic and demanding that the old packaging, with its signature orange punctured by a straw, be returned. Following a 20 percent drop-off in sales, they prevailed. The bloggers and magazines again piled on, calling this the biggest about-face in American business since New Coke. (One aspect of Arnell’s redesign will remain: a dimpled screw cap that resembles an orange half.) Arnell jokes that BrandWeek has now taken to calling him Peter “Tropicana” Arnell. “I’ve been with Pepsi for eight years. Isn’t it funny that no one knew that? And Tropicana has gotten more attention than any brand in the entire brandscape in the last three months. I mean, it’s really—it’s magnificent,” he says, and lets loose a cackle at the irony of it all. But still people aren’t getting it, he insists, equally amused, defensive, and unbowed as he reels off rapid-fire talking points: The Pepsi document, Arnell says, was not a pitch for the new logo but rather part of a presentation on creating outdoor pavilions—taste-test pods for a new generation of Pepsi Challenges. And in the case of Tropicana, the brouhaha had nothing to do with him. “See, that’s what everyone is missing. It was a shopability issue. You like Grovestand, and they didn’t want to do Grovestand anymore. So you went to the store to get Grovestand, and it wasn’t there. What does that have to do with design?” (Requests for interviews with Tropicana representatives for this story went unanswered.) With a sweep of his hand (note the pancake-sized wristwatch), Arnell takes in the entire office: the glass walls, the Barcelona chairs, the incredible views that sweep from Weehawken to Ground Zero, and the shelves groaning with art books. “People don’t know that I live in a library,” he says. “I mean, how would anyone know that I have 78,000 books here?” And then there’s the impressive office archive, containing objects of Arnell’s fascination and obsessive research, including Tropicana packaging from around the world and what amounts to the entire history of Pepsi spun out in glass, plastic, and aluminum: foam-covered bottles from the ’70s, pull-tab cans from the ’60s, and on back to the turn of the last century. “‘You mean it’s real?’” he asks mockingly, affecting the astonishment of a benighted Arnell skeptic. “‘He has every bottle from every year and he did his research?’ And it just gets them more mad out there. You understand? It’s all real. That’s what people can’t cope with.” I I HERE ARE SOME THINGS you should know about Peter Arnell. He was born in Brooklyn and raised on Shore Boulevard in Sheepshead Bay, four blocks from the famed seafood restaurant Lundy Brothers. He graduated from Brooklyn Tech in 1976. He may have graduated from Columbia architecture school, but that fact is disputed. He interned with Michael Graves and has authored or edited 19 books on architecture and photography. He has been married to his wife, Sara, a former Vanity Fair staffer and Arnell Group’s chief strategy officer, since 1988. They have three teenage kids and a mansion in Katonah, bought from Tommy Mottola for $18.3 million in 2001 and filled with Arnell’s assorted collections: Japanese action figures, cars (including the Benz Patent Motorwagen, the first automobile), the longest G-scale model-railroad layout in the world (four-and-a-half miles of track), and those little round specs, 1,600 of them, all from the same Parisian maker. A statue of Darth Vader loomed over the reception area at Arnell Group’s old Prince Street headquarters, which many—including Arnell, presumably—thought fitting. He is friends with Martha Stewart, Rudy Giuliani, and Frank Gehry, who says of Arnell, “He’s the Energizer Bunny. He just keeps going and going. He has an incredible wealth of knowledge, reads everything, and knows everything.” (Arnell has a permanent office at Gehry Partners in Los Angeles.) He adores Diderot and La Fontaine and actually reads them. He listens to Mozart and Haydn while working. The paintings of Gustav Klimt make him cry. He likes to make these facts known in conversation: “The problem is that, in the commercial arts, a lot of that stuff is just pooh-poohed,” he says. The question of whether or not Peter Arnell is “real”—as opposed to say, a master of illusion, a showman, a high-flying charlatan, a manic dilettante—seems to obsess a particular class of design snob, not to mention Madison Avenue observers. But making the rounds with him at Arnell Group, which is part of the Omnicom Group empire, you get the feeling that he represents a certain kind of reality to those who work under him. As he moves around the thrumming newsroom-like space, with row upon row of designers punching away at CAD programs, there’s a sense that his very presence excites the electrons in the atmosphere. He shuttles from station to station among his 180-strong staff, looking over shoulders and offering advice, direction, and corrections, asking after family, inquiring about a recent bout of the flu, cracking jokes, stopping every once in a while to clutch at his BlackBerry whenever it emits its “When You Wish Upon a Star” ringtone. Arnell Group looks like a highly ordered business (“Just look at the fucking people! Have you ever seen something like this?” he proudly exclaims), yet one with a generous amount of creative chaos under the surface. It’s all stoked by Arnell, who operates at one setting: overdrive. Nightmare stories about working for him abound. In 1999, four female employees brought a harassment suit against him. (The action was settled out of court.) In 2007, Gawker tagged him as one of New York’s Worst Bosses, and insiders say Arnell—whose considerable charm is said to turn into abusive rage at the slightest provocation—might be secretly pleased by the designation. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one former associate referred to Arnell’s personality as “classic Jekyll and Hyde.” Rushing outside to enjoy a cigar in the relative peace of his Jeep Commander—conveniently parked at the entrance to 7 World Trade and, at 15-and-a-half feet in length, a far cry from the Lilliputian Peapod—Arnell admits to being “hard-driving.” He grabs a torch lighter off the dash and aims its blue flame at the end of an already half-smoked Zino Platinum (he owns a 50 percent stake in the company). “I mean, I’m just relentless about my work,” he says. “People want that level of precision, and want that level of focus, and want that discipline, in any company.” Arnell often doesn’t knock off until between two and four in the morning, occasionally heading out to the Rockaways after a long day to fish for striped bass until dawn before returning to the office. You can imagine that dealing with mortals—people who like to sleep or spend weekends with their families—can try his patience. “We talked about working together, melding our ideas,” Gehry says. “I failed at it. I couldn’t keep up with him!” But the ferocious pace has paid off. While many superstar designers are content to whip up limited editions for Design Miami or gaudy renovations for boutique hotels, Arnell is helping to create objects that will be used by millions of people around the world. The sheer ubiquity of his work is staggering: all of those Pepsi billboards along interstates, the rows of Tropicana cartons at supermarkets, the ads and posters for the newly renovated Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach, various offerings from Chrysler (where he holds the title of chief innovation officer), the line of household items for Home Depot that includes his award-winning, much-ballyhooed Home Hero fire extinguisher. “We’re doing everything at the same time,” Arnell says. “And we tend to act like licensed professionals much more than artists.” In other words, Arnell Group is no rarefied atelier. When asked about the designers who have inspired him most, Arnell cites Peter Behrens, Norman Bel Geddes, and Raymond Loewy—heavyweights who collaborated with (and even shaped) major corporations and virtually wrote the rules for how design and business go together. His ultimate dream is to design trains, just like Loewy once did for the Pennsylvania Railroad. ARNELL’S FOUR-TOP at the uptown Sant Ambroeus café is situated under a series of framed playbills from La Scala, within eye- and earshot of the nearby baristas and bartenders. Along with his favorite sushi spot, Hatsuhana, he comes here with ritualistic frequency. It’s 8:00 P.M., and the Jeep Commander is parked outside. An office manager has joined us, contributing smiles and nods and keeping tabs on what’s going on back at HQ through her BlackBerry. Arnell is heading out the next day for a lightning circumnavigation that will take him to Milan, London, Tokyo, and back again, the kind of trip he completes about once a month to check in on clients, pursue projects, and gather inspiration. He orders a tomato cut into eight portions and a piece of fish, no oil. He’s wearing an eye-catching pair of $1,200 black-onyx bulldog cufflinks from Alfred Dunhill, which brings up a subject that is very important to him as a design professional: style. Arnell credits André Leon Talley, the Vogue editor-at-large he calls “my mentor,” for impressing upon him its importance. “People don’t care about the design of the iPod,” Arnell says. “They care about style. When people say they love design, they love things they think are beautiful.” It’s a curious point, one that both deflates the pretensions of capital-D design while elevating the entire practice to the loftiest aesthetic realms. (His own pursuit of beauty at Sant Ambroeus will lead him to return his post-dinner espresso twice before perfection is achieved.) Arnell Group is clearly humming along. The Peapod electric car for Chrysler, with a smiley-face front grille and Aeron-like seating, was released on Earth Day. The car has created much-needed buzz for the troubled manufacturer, but the recession is on Arnell’s mind, and he wonders if the beauty he seeks—and the radical brand overhauls he’s famous for—could be on the ropes. “In this kind of turmoil, in this economy, I think people just want things to be stable,” he says, as he restlessly scratches away with his ever-present pen on a sketchpad. “Evolution in design is going to be creeping forward at a very low speed.” Low speed, of course, isn’t Arnell’s strong suit. He thrives on the friction and upheaval brought about by velocity and reinvention. Ironically enough, what’s getting lost in all the blowback from Pepsi and Tropicana is that Arnell’s revamps weren’t half bad. In fact, they’re arguably better than the originals. Since 1991, Pepsi’s graphics have essentially said “arena-football franchise,” and Tropicana’s mish-mash of green and orange type was reminiscent of an Orange Julius stand. Perhaps for Arnell, the most embarrassing thing about these public stumbles is that the projects will now be associated with him, not with his clients—his litmus test for good design. “The moment they get in the public’s eye,” he says of his creations, “they’re the brand’s product. Not mine.” Arnell calls for the check and trains his ever-present Sony Cyber-shot on the two self-portraits he’s been drawing on a drinking glass and a chocolate-dipped meringue. “I mean, that’s huge,” he says. “What I just told you is huge—I don’t own all the things I build, the companies that I do them for own them.” Message received: Peter Arnell brands his clients, and not—despite the little round specs, the stubble, the talk of Diderot and Klimt, the high-profile friends, and the occasional headlines—himself. Peter Arnell is the anti-brand brander: Like the leaked Pepsi document, you don’t know whether to believe it, but it’s somehow impossible to ignore. And that turns out to be a strong branding strategy indeed. * Mark Rozzo is a freelance writer living in New York. Photography by MARK MAHANEY

  • The Unlikely, Thrilling Development of ‘Prince of Persia’

    My thanks to Julia Novakovic, Andrew Borman and Jon-Paul Dyson of the Strong’s ICHEG (International Center for the History of Electronic Games); Jason Scott of the Internet Archive; website admin Bryan Seles; Olivia Chernoff and Brianna Wolfson of Stripe Press; and especially book designers Tyler Thompson and Kevin Wong, who elegantly wove a jumble of disparate visual elements and two narrative voices into a coherent whole.

  • More Typography Lessons From the Masters

    Earlier this year, we rereleased some highlights from Aaron Burns’ 1964 guest-edited issue of Print: Typography Today, featuring the likes of Paul Rand, Herb Lubalin and others. Twenty-two years later, in 1986 Burns followed up his classic issue with a look back in Print. Below, check out Aaron Burns’ review of type’s technical changes over the years—and some quotes he resurrected from his original issue (“special thoughts or words of wisdom that would merit being repeated today”). Did Burns predict our type future nearly 30 years ago? All told, the piece is a time capsule about the state of type as the ’80s began to give way to the revolutionary ’90s. Typography Today—And Tomorrow By Aaron Burns Print XL:VI, November/December 1986 Click for high-res “The aim of typography must not be expression, least of all self-expression, but perfect communication achieved by skill. Taking over working principles from previous times or other typographers is not wrong but sensible. Typography is a servant and nothing more. The servant typography ought to be the most perfect servant. “Our needs change slightly. Our eyes, however, do not change. They are still the same organ as Garamond had. As printed matter sometimes (we hope, in the most deserving cases) survives its originators and what we plan today may be read two hundred years hence, just as we can read books printed three hundred years ago, typography must not change very much. Essentially dependent on the shape of letters, it is an example of genuine tradition. Probably nowhere else is so little change noticeable and necessary as in typography.” —Jan Tschichold “Typography is not an independent Art: it is a means to an end, not an end in itself. It must always be subservient to the text in which is its ‘raison d’etre’…” —Herbert Spencer Click for high-res “The notion that typography in order to be contemporary must have an experimental character is misleading, even grotesque. The typographer must learn to distinguish between good and bad, meaningful and unmeaningful, disciplined and licentious typography. He has to make his decision with the reader in mind and in the best interest of the reader, who as the final link in the chain determines the value or lack of value of a printed piece by being attracted by it, by reading it, or by passing it unmoved and throwing it into the always present wastepaper basket.” —Max Caflisch “Photographic typesetting will bring about a new wave. It will free typography and make it more dynamic and versatile, as contrasted with traditional composition technique which could move type only vertically and horizontally. All technical limitations and inhibitions will tumble… “There will be new forms and rules. It will be even more difficult to mast a good typography, that beautiful yet demanding art, which is limited by the metal nature of type. Only very good typographers will master those new possibilities, and even they will have difficulty in showing restraint. Beginners will find themselves completed entangled.” —Franz Hottenroth Click for high-res “Typography is to printing as elocution and dramatics are to the spoken word.” —Anatol Rapoport “The handwritten letter is being increased by typewritten communications, even in the sector of personal exchanges of ideas and feelings. It can be expected that this development, too, will exert an influence on the methods of teaching letterforms in schools (the elimination of writing utensils, the introductions of typing beginning with the first grade). —Armin Hofmann #herbertspencer #arminhof #anatolrapoport #typographyandletteringawards #JanTschichold #typography #ann #PrintMagazineArchives #AaronBurns #franzhottenroth #maxcaflisch

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