This month AIGA Wichita posed six questions to Sean Adams of AdamsMorioka in Beverly Hills, California. Sean and partner Noreen Morioka, have built a reputation for developing elegant and captivating work for clients such as Mohawk, Sundance Film Festival, and Disney just to drop a few names. Sean is also a past-president of AIGA, is a highly-requested judge and speaker, contributes to the design community, has interviewed clients and designers for Step-By-Step magazine, and well, he is a very entertaining person. Visit his blog at www.burningsettlerscabin.com for more insight into how he thinks, a bit of design history, and a great story or two. Now for the Six questions.
Q1: There is a quote on your website “Great clients make great projects”. Does this mean that AdamsMorioka emphasizes finding great clients over finding great projects and how do you weigh client potential versus the project potential when deciding to take on new work?
SA: First, I’d define great clients to us as being smart people who are good at their jobs, want to collaborate, and respect what we do. Once we have that mix, good projects seem to happen automatically. Some of my favorite projects were not the sexiest jobs, but the end result was great because the client was a joy. Alternatively, we’ve all had the experience of a great project going horribly awry when the client is fearful or insecure about his or her decisions.
Q2: The successful partnership of AdamsMorioka and your value in great clients are both collaborative in nature. How does collaboration add value to your work?
SA: I’m stupid, so I’ll take an idea any place I can find one. I like to be challenged and pushed into areas that aren’t so comfortable. Left to my own devices, I’d just redo the same solution over and over. Noreen is an incredible big thinker. I’m better at making things real. This combination works well when we stick to it. When we switch roles, it doesn’t work.
Q3: You have a deep appreciation for the history, people and theory of design. Do you believe design history and theory are being emphasized enough today and what do you think will be said about today’s design 50 years from now?
SA: It’s critical to understand where we are on a continuum and how culture and society affect our choices. History was always present when I was growing up. In fact it was almost like a heavy weight. How did I measure up to others in my lineage? So and so did X in 1609, so and so did Y in 1776. I saw these people as a big web that continued to grow, and I fit into that web. So it’s a given that I apply the same thinking to my work as a designer.
Sadly, I don’t think design history is emphasized enough. Maybe the upside is that this points to the fact that as a profession, we are interested in looking forward. But there are so many wonderful treasures to be found. I try to dig those out on my blog, www.burningsettlerscabin.com.
Fifty years from now, people will probably refer to us as those SoCal designers who did some bright stuff. I would hope for something with more depth, but the world doesn’t work that way. For design as a whole, I believe people will look back and see this as a remarkable and critical fork in the road. They may not define the design world of 2010 in terms of “it was wacky, or Swiss, or grungy,” but that we weathered the most extreme changes in the profession’s history. And we thrived.
Q4: Has the role of the client and/or their expectations changed since you started? What about the audience’s role?
SA: A basic tenant we have followed from the beginning is “under-promise, over-deliver.” That hasn’t changed. I’ve found that the last few years have shifted the clients from working to create the best solution, to simply making them look good, or save their job. That’s often at odds, short-sighted, and very frustrating.
Q5: The USC project has a headline “Imagine yourself here”. Besides work, home and all the usual stuff, where else could you imagine yourself?
SA: When I graduated from high school, I was accepted to Harvard, CalArts, and Art Center. I often imagine what my life would have been if I’d gone to Harvard. I probably wouldn’t be a designer. I’d like to think I’d be doing something creative, but I think I would have slipped into politics. Not because I love politics, but because it was expected. If you believe in a multi-verse theory, there’s another me out there right now as a mean and bitter United States Senator.
Q6: How has being active in the design community and AIGA benefited you?
SA: This always ends up sounding like it’s my religion, but I can’t imagine my life without AIGA and the community. It’s corny, but I’ve met my best friends through AIGA. I’ve been given so many incredible opportunities to visit designers around the world, judge competitions, and see the profession from a 30,000 feet perspective. Serving as AIGA President was the honor of my life. I loved every minute of the experience. Not because I’m a crazy power hungry person, but because I truly believed in the mission at a critical juncture. I regret not staying on for a second term, but I’d probably be out of business if I had.
Bonus question: There was a cattle drive scenario used in the 2004 Sundance Film Festival brochure, the Mohawk paper distribution center into Nevada was promoted with a trail even the Burning Settlers Cabin website references a cattle drive… Coincidence or a real fascination with the old west and cattle drives?
SA: You caught me. I love the American west and what it stands for. The ideas of wide open spaces, limitless thinking, a pioneer spirit, and hard work are so important to me, and so American. The cattle drive poster for Sundance was the best selling poster in Sundance’s history. People love the mythology and energy. The Mohawk Trail started life as the Mohawk Ranch until my grandmother mentioned that it sounded like a brothel. And I love the Burning Settlers Cabin idea; is it settlers on fire, or the cabin. Either way, it’s about risk and courage.