Early in my career, I worked for an architect. Roger possessed a brilliant mind, always curious, always pushing, always learning. His clients were mostly residential, a few commercial. The office was small and he ran it like an atelier in the fashion of Le Corbusier or Mackintosh. Like them, he designed in toto and sweated every detail. Like them, he too was a painter.
Roger lived in a Midtown six-plex his entire adult life. When I asked why he never designed a place of his own, he talked about the struggle of designing for oneself. He could confidently talk to a client, listen to his story, assess the situation, devise a solution and shepherd it to completion. But for himself? There were too many ideas to explore, too many variations that he wanted to try, too many options that presented themselves and demanded realization. It made more sense — for him —to take a humble approach, design a sofa or table or chair as the need arose, have it crafted by like-minded artisans, live modestly and meaningfully. I was young then and heard what he was saying, but I can’t claim that I understood it.
Today I am no longer a young man. But happily, I understand.
When we at MAD started discussing a poster design, my brain bubbled with ideas. But once I was staring down a white sheet of paper, those initial ideas evaporated and I suddenly understood everything that Roger had told me. Designers fresh out of school often complain about being hamstrung by client demands, and feel that their creativity is being squeezed out of their work. In time, most learn that the restrictions imposed by clients — budget, time constraints, audience needs, philosophical differences, whatever — can be a blessing, quickly focusing one’s mind and illuminating the path forward. Lifting any and all design restrictions can actually create its own unique kind of paralysis. It’s a common question among designers: When you can do anything you want to do, what do you want to do? That can be tough to answer, and finding that answer was a huge struggle for me as I imagined MAD’s first poster.
You can see where I landed. How did I get there? By imposing some restrictions on myself. We’re still a young company and we wanted to create something that could be printed economically and priced so that virtually anyone who liked it could afford it. Conversations with local printers led us to the modest but respectable dimensions of 14-by-21 inches. The color palette and typography are taken from our existing graphic identity. MAD is a partnership and wouldn’t exist if it weren’t, so thematically the idea of teamwork made sense. (Teamwork will likely be the theme of our next poster as well.)
Giving a twist to a well-worn cliché — and illustrating that with our brains driven by the rational and inspirational in equal measure — nicely distilled our vision of creative alchemy. I’ve always loved pattern-making and the decorative arts, which led to creating a background pattern of laboratory beakers. A game of solitaire inspired the symmetry of a flipped image à la a deck of playing cards.
Last, but not least: Who isn’t amused by the image of a brain in a jar?
Check out the poster in the MAD Shop.