Seersucker, Stripes, Star Wars, Synthesis, and San Francisco

Memorial Day marks the unofficial start to summer (official arrival is June 21 at 8:28 AM CDT, to be exact). What really makes me happy is that Memorial Day also makes it acceptable (to some) to break out all seersucker-related clothing, even though the fashion police have long supported a permanent ban.

Living in the South, what’s not to like about seersucker? It is ultra cool, breathes well, is guaranteed to wrinkle, comes in fashionable colors (though sucker purists steer clear of anything but traditional blue) and has vertical stripes. It is even recognized by Congress when the Senate holds Seersucker Thursday in June (traditionally the second Thursday in June), where members dress in the traditionally southern attire (impressions of Colonel Sanders are not appreciated, but aggressive mustaches and bow ties are).

My wife says that based on my husky disposition that I should never wear horizontal stripes, but vertical stripes have a different effect. They make me look like Matlock. Seersucker also has its own fan page on Facebook with 260 fans. IBD’s fan page has 464, if that tells you anything.

In most cases in design, a bold element such as stripes, vertical or horizontal, should be used in small doses (much like seersucker for everyone but me). Unless it’s used in a way that represents the message or improves communication of that message, right? Or it’s used in a way that is original, supports the grid, or becomes a design element.

Several years ago I received a book titled The Star Wars Chronicles. Before you run away to read another blog that is much more insightful, witty, and generally more interesting, this is not going to be another Star Wars post. It just happens to be coincidence that the example I am using in today’s post is Star Wars related. I digress. I was immediately interested in the content of the book, obviously, but I was continually impressed with the visual interest of the design. A large component was striped elements, horizontal and vertical. I had to learn more about who was responsible for the book’s layout and design. I was so impressed, I was sure it was George Lucas himself.

I was wrong; it was Designer Earl Gee and Fani Chung of Gee and Chung Designs out of San Francisco, California. Their work has won countless awards, their logos start logo trends, their products have a special place in the Library of Congress (Paul and I have been banned from that library for incidents related to Paul’s red Crocs and my affinity for seersucker), and most importantly, their work is interpretive in nature. Many of their designs break the mold of what is generally acceptable in design circles (this is unconfirmed but they may even use PCs). Gee’s approach is apparent in this quote from an Adobe Design Center article:

“To me there is nothing risky about being innovative,” says Gee. “It’s far riskier to look dull and boring, and miss the chance to be unique.”

As interpretive designers we should always remember that it is our specific sites and stories that make us unique. By asking ourselves questions like, What makes our site special? What makes us stand out from others? What elements of our mission makes us different? You can focus energy into interpretive products—personal and non-personal—that can be enhanced through innovative design.

The Star Wars book goes beyond being innovative; it is also a perfect synthesis of the writer’s work and design. Each purposeful design element supports the message or current theme. The design is bold, stands out, and is forceful (no pun intended, okay intended), but it doesn’t take away from the content, it enhances it. Bold design choices such as stripes may not always be the best decision in design or fashion but if used properly they can be effective. Most importantly designers should strive to interpret the interpretation. The design itself should not be the interpretation but should be interpretive while maintaining legibility and other basic design functions.

The Adobe article goes on to say, “For designer Earl Gee, every design choice matters. No element is merely decorative. It either contributes to what the client wants to communicate, or it doesn’t belong on the page.” This should be the case for everything we design and how we manage interpretation. It should be purposeful.

The real purpose behind me wearing seersucker is to embarrass my wife.