< Back
M.AD Insighter Series

Stories of the IBM Poster Program

Apr 07, 2021 - 04:00pm


Robert Finkel

Professor of Industrial and Graphic Design at Auburn University

Shea Tillman

Associate Professor and Chair of Industrial Design


Authors Shea Tillman and Robert Finkel (both professors of design at Auburn University), joined the M.AD Insighters Series to share the lessons, stories, and insights from their recent book, The IBM Poster Program: Visual Memoranda.

Robert Finkel

Professor of Industrial and Graphic Design at Auburn University

Shea Tillman

Associate Professor and Chair of Industrial Design

Share Post


Robert Finkel (00:09):

Thanks Hank and Peppa. We're really excited to be here to share our new book, The IBM Poster Program visual memoranda, and we have a slideshow we'll share with you and Shea is going to get it set up here and we'll get into it guys. Hank, Can I get a verbal confirmation that you can see this screen?

Hank (00:30):

You got it.

Robert Finkel (00:32):


Shea Tillman (00:35):

Great. Well, thanks. Thanks again for having us, we're excited to be here and share with you a little bit about a project that didn't start out the way it ended, but has been a real joy to be a part of and we've learned a lot through it, we've met some incredible people through it, and more importantly we feel like there's a body of work here that is just exemplary and needs to be shared. And so the book is really representative of that, we'll talk a little bit more about that in a little bit.

Shea Tillman (01:09):

But before we frame that up, jumping back to what Hank mentioned, this fellow named Thomas J. Watson, he was really a very prominent businessman in the middle part of the last century, he was the president of IBM, his father had been the president of IBM and he's known for a lot of big business decisions and quotes during that period of time, IBM was a Goliath company at that time as it is today. But he said this, he said, we are convinced that business needs it's wild ducks.

Shea Tillman (01:44):

And in IBM we try not to tame them. This is actually referencing a philosopher's story from hundreds of years ago that focused on ducks flying South for the winter and someone feeding them. And after a period of time they became tame and they wouldn't fly again or travel South for the winter after that period of time. And he felt like the corporate culture, you have to be careful with it because it tends to create people who don't stay creative, who don't innovate like they should. It's a natural phenomenon in a larger organization for that sometimes happen.

Shea Tillman (02:25):

And so he was really, really a strong proponent of creativity in his employees, not just designers, but throughout his entire corporate staff. And he wanted to find ways in their organization to develop and promote and celebrate wild ducks. And in that vein of thinking, start here with a totem here, which is one of the posters from this program that is probably the most famous one I guess outside of this effort, prior to this effort.

Shea Tillman (03:00):

Where Ken White, one of the designers we'll discuss in a moment actually plays on words here. And he comes up with all of these negative reasons why you shouldn't do something. And the theme here becomes how you stop a wild duck, the opposite of what Thomas J. Watson said. And he designed this poster as a message to employees to be seen by employees in the campuses at IBM. And it became really the leading poster, a lot fed out of this as they continue to design.

Shea Tillman (03:43):

So speaking again to reference what IBM was at that time, this is before computing was pervasive like we have today. Instead of having everyone network with smartphones and even the internet where we can communicate through the web in so many ways, computers were large cabinet type products, they filled entire rooms, and honestly didn't have the computing power that you have in your pocket today, but they did help manage large agencies like the IRS, they help put man on the moon, NASA, a lot of the Saturn five systems that help put the trajectories over to the moon were developed by IBM.

Shea Tillman (04:28):

So these were highly technological products, the most advanced products on earth at the time, and Thomas J. Watson was asking himself, how do I make my company look and feel and be as technologically advanced as the products are that we're producing?

Shea Tillman (04:46):

And so this becomes an effort by him and a fellow named Elliot Noyes, who he knew during the war. Elliot Noyce was an architect and a product designer and developed a lot of the smaller products that you might know, the Selectric typewriter, dictating machines, other kinds of smaller product design, and Elliot brought in other designers of the day, consultant designers like Charles and Ray Eames, who were really focused on the films and the educational side of IBM.

Shea Tillman (05:16):

And so these consultants began to work on IBM's image and all of the visual and design information that flowed out of that company, they also hired somebody else.

Robert Finkel (05:30):

So Elliot Noyes, yeah, was in charge of bringing who we all know, Paul Rand onto the scene for the graphic design communication needs for IBM. Rand who designed all the objects you see here, created the IBM logo originally in about 1956 modifying this [inaudible 00:05:49] type face. And over the years he even modified it more to how we know it with the eight bar and the 16 bar striped variant of the logo.

Robert Finkel (06:01):

And so for Paul Rand, to work with IBM, he was given all of the big creative direction to how the identity was applied, and this was critically important for a large organization, but Rand was certainly not doing all the menial jobs and pedestrian jobs, that was left to some of the in-house designers who we have featured in our book.

Robert Finkel (06:30):

Rand certainly created this, one of the most iconic posters of the era for IBM where you see him taking the Stripe variant of his logo and creating a read this for IBM. This poster was initially for the Golden Circle Award, which recognized high achievements within the company, but it has now since lived on as almost a secondary identity for IBM, but even humanizing the company and infusing it with a little bit of a design wit. Rand joked that he thought that God must have been on his side for putting the stripes on the B and how it fit perfectly with his IBM Stripe logo.

Robert Finkel (07:19):

But interestingly enough, Rand who's in charge of all of this graphic consistency across the company was challenged by IBM corporate officers, they didn't want this poster to be distributed, because it was indeed bastardizing his design, but we all know that he ultimately prevailed. So Paul Rand has to be the guiding spirit for a lot of this creative work on that we'll be looking at. In this document, the IBM Design Guide of which there are several variants of it, was the Bible, if you will, for the IBM in-house designers.

Robert Finkel (07:57):

This is a critically important document to make sure that all the corporate communications from brochures and printed collateral to packaging into signage was going to conform to the same typography, same color palettes, the same layout and of course the correct usage of the logo.

Robert Finkel (08:19):

And a lot of corporations in the 1950s and 1960s and seventies as they grew and became multinational corporations needed these sort of guidelines because IBM as a company was all across the world and certainly all across the United States, there were offices on both of the coasts and in between.

Robert Finkel (08:41):

And so this creative guide was necessary to make sure that all the individual offices and all their individual staff designers could keep a consistent look. But there was one group of designers located out there on their own in a little bit of the wild West in Boulder, Colorado, that were able to buck some of the expected buttoned up IBM aesthetic and corporate culture. And this is really where our story begins is at the Boulder design center.

Shea Tillman (09:21):

So, yeah, Boulder as Robert mentioned is in the middle, it's not East coast, it's not West coast, most of IBM's central locations were on the East coast and they had some on the West and many around the world, but the group in Boulder was part of a larger laboratory, so there was a manufacturing facility there, there was an engineering facility there, and then there was the design center, which housed industrial designers, graphic designers, photographers, human factors, workers all under that one department.

Shea Tillman (09:56):

And so the design center had a slightly different culture, IBM was a very buttoned down company, very conservative, at least in the way you dressed, it was the stereotypical tie and white shirt company, and yet a lot of these people that worked in the design center, they didn't take themselves too seriously, they took their work seriously, but not themselves too seriously. So there was a little bit of a counter-culture.

Robert Finkel (10:26):

Yeah, and they described Boulder as the cowboy meets counter-culture lifestyle. And I think the employees were moving to Boulder for that lifestyle indeed and it came back into their work, yeah.

Shea Tillman (10:41):

So three of the people that were in this design center that we're going to focus on and indeed the book really features, are Ken White, John Anderson and Tom Bloom, these were all graphic designers. Interestingly, they were almost different generations, not quite, they all worked together at the same time, but they were, John was a little older than Ken who was a little older than Tom, but they each came into the Boulder office. Paul Rand had actually recommended Ken White for the job and so that was always the good thing. And if Paul recommended you, that's probably a pretty good shot.

Robert Finkel (11:20):

Yeah, Ken actually studied under Paul Rand at Yale, so that connection was.

Shea Tillman (11:25):

And Tom had worked formally for the Rochester plant up in Rochester, Minnesota, and then he'd relocated to Boulder, and then was brought into the design team after that. And John Anderson had worked for Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, a Meredith publishing prior to that as well. So they had each came to this through a little bit different channel, but they became this incredible collaborative and they really pushed each other.

Robert Finkel (11:55):

Yeah, and these were the wild ducks that Thomas Watson was referring to, those who were creative and innovative and willing to not be tamed I think.

Shea Tillman (12:10):

So, a few years back, this all started because we met a former industrial designer who had worked in the Boulder office and he gifted Auburn with a number of IBM things from his era. One of which was a stack of these posters, over a hundred posters. Beautiful silk screen and lithographic posters. And we didn't know exactly who's they were, we had to do a little leg work and once we found out who was responsible for the work itself, one of the people that came out of this was Tom Bloom, he's actually the only surviving of the three designers.

Shea Tillman (12:51):

And I was able to interview him, he now lives today he paints in this beautiful studio home in Switzerland, in the mountains of Switzerland. And we're able to meet him and interview him and talk with him about the posters, he was able to give us a lot of the credits, who did which one and that sort of thing. Was very gracious to have me in for a couple of days and let me interview him. And this becomes a lot of the backstory pieces of the book too, because the work stands alone, you can see how incredible it is just looking at it. But when you hear the stories behind it, I think it gives it a little more life and makes it more interesting.

Shea Tillman (13:31):

Yeah, it shows I think we all share the same sort of creative process, one of the experimentation, risk-taking, sometimes it's just serendipity that things work out, absolutely.

Shea Tillman (13:42):

So Tom was a huge resource on this and still is, we keep up with him about every other week we're in emailing him and keeping up with what he's doing. Another person who is a big part of this story is Roger Hughie. Roger was not one of the graphic designers, but he was the photographer, and many of the posters actually feature his work as a main component of the poster itself. And so Roger still lives in Boulder, and again was very gracious to have me in and allow me to interview him and also give me some great insights and stories into these posters and the backstory and the culture of the bolder design center, which was very... I just found it really interesting, I got really interested in all of the people and their stories.

Shea Tillman (14:32):

There was a process where we had to actually scan all of these in, all 15 by 21, but they all had to be scanned in and edited and refined in the computer. And part of designing and building the book was, Robert really designed the book completely around the content of the posters, but part of that was making sure the posters held up in the book as well. And so we were trying to really very carefully calibrate the printing to match the original silk screen inks, which are incredibly vibrant, and there's nothing like seeing these in person, but being able to actually work with the press very carefully to dial those colors in was a big part of the plan.

Robert Finkel (15:20):

Yeah, so the IBM Poster Program. So this is the core of our book. Going through the hundred plus posters that we have in our archive, led us to two main discoveries, the first was considering what is the content of these posters? So these posters were done as essentially memos for staff. So they would be hung in and around the various company headquarters and offices.

Robert Finkel (15:54):

And so there were oftentimes that we discovered that the themes were or the posters could be divided into series and themes, series were posters that were maybe advertising savings bonds, something that was popular in the seventies. There was a poster series that was trying to promote changing our measurements to be international systems of measurements, IBM was a big proponent of that in the 1970s, although it clearly did not take. Management development, promoting management skills.

Robert Finkel (16:32):

So we have a bunch of series of posters, but then we also had themes that we discovered within the range of posters, and the themes were the top of mind reminders. Even today we got a reminder about email phishing schemes, this was the sort of themes around the posters, security, very important for a company like IBM, equal opportunity promoting diversity and inclusion essentially back then. Health and safety, quality and excellence, sustainability, things that they were always trying to remind the employees as they related back to some of the brand tenants of IBM as even dictated in the core values from Thomas Watson.

Shea Tillman (17:13):

And I can't emphasize enough just how amazing it is, a period of time where a company had the resources IBM had and was able to spend custom silk screen money on posters for their employees to go on bulletin boards, this is not advertising, this is not external promotion but internal bulletin board fodder as it were. And just knowing that they had enough, that they were wealthy, the company was rich and they were throwing money at things that today you would probably like say, don't spend your money there, but it gave us this beautiful art work.

Robert Finkel (17:52):

Yeah, and so these posters were designed deliberately to be placed in hallways. In fact, Ken White before even developing the poster system, developed this display system, what they call information boards, which we consider to be these bulletin boards. Each one I believe was four by eight in size, and within those information boards, you could hang two posters of which the entire series was scale to be 15 inches by 21 inches, so every poster is 15 by 21 inch size. And then within that information board, you could have a couple of eight and half by 11 announcements hung as well.

Robert Finkel (18:31):

And so this information board would be a hundred in a single building, like you see here, multiplied then by various headquarters across the US. They were sometimes producing up to 2000 copies of a single post that would then be distributed all across all the headquarters in campuses within IBM. So it was interesting to see this systematic design approach and standardizing the form of it.

Shea Tillman (19:06):

And once word got out, I mean the Bolder designers just had this synergy going on this, and once word got out across all these campuses around the world, Ken's and John's and Tom's posters started actually getting reprinted around the world. So it started out in Boulder and it just grew and grew and grew, and so everybody started to recognize that team as being the graphic design group really at the time.

Robert Finkel (19:32):

And as a sign of every good design is they were stolen or taken off the walls repeatedly, many IBM alumni, we are hearing stories of them having these.

Shea Tillman (19:41):

That's how we ended up with them.

Robert Finkel (19:43):

That's how we ended up with them. So we're going to start taking a look at a couple of the series and themes.

Shea Tillman (19:47):

Yeah. So the first one here is creativity and accomplishment, so this was an identity system actually that Ken White developed over a couple of days. He left the office, disappeared, had been challenged by the group he was working with to develop a Mark that could be carried over for an annual dinner, an annual event that IBM had for awards, it was an award dinner. And that was called the creativity and accomplishment awards, and they gave it to employees who went over and above their typical tasks to innovate for the company.

Shea Tillman (20:24):

And one of the cool things about this design is the market itself shows up on a number of different things, but just the symbolic meaning of having the two pieces here, it's like you think of an identity being a singular thing, but in this case, having co-marks that work together, one being the opposite of the other in terms of its form giving and the green on the left symbolizes creativity, the creative spark, the external spark. And the square on the right represents the internal accomplishment that happens through that creative spark.

Shea Tillman (21:02):

So you can't really have the accomplishment, the individual accomplishment without the creative spark, and those two fit together and show up in a number of different pieces of the posters themselves. These were actually to introduce the mark, I think when they first launched the identity, but then you see it start to spread across many of the different posters.

Shea Tillman (21:26):

So, this gave Ken and Tom and John all the creative freedom to play with it in different ways and focus on it in sometimes more formal, sometimes less formal ways, but it shows up and it becomes an annual event that employees start to look forward to it a few weeks before that time.

Robert Finkel (21:48):

I mean, they branded this whole series and used it for years in all sorts of different ways.

Shea Tillman (21:54):

Yeah. In addition to that, it actually got translated into physical gifts and exhibitions and things that were three dimensional. So a lot of the industrial designers worked with Ken to embody it in signage and in displays and in gifts, salt and pepper shakers, handkerchiefs, ties, all sorts of things that were given away to employees began to incorporate this identity system for creativity and accomplishment.

Robert Finkel (22:23):

Yeah. And so another thematic, the thing that we have is security, so you can imagine a company like IBM who's creating some of the most innovative products of their time, security was a big, big concern both for just patents and private company needs, but also a national cold war concerns. And so this was probably one of the most reoccurring things that we saw in a lot of the posters was reminding all the staff that security is of utmost important.

Robert Finkel (23:06):

And what's so great about this is how creative they were able to be with a single theme. And that was something that most impressed us with this whole body of work. The examples here, they're aesthetic rooted in the Swiss modernist style which these is all revered at the time and we still do today. And in fact part of the impetus to create this Poster Program was that they wanted to have work that was as good as a lot of the Swiss design seen in magazines, such as Graphis, because remember these were in-house designers doing maybe pedestrian jobs and following Rand's guidelines, but this gave him an opportunity to break out of that a little bit.

Robert Finkel (23:54):

So we saw a lot of posters that were using this type of graphic style as the main aesthetic force. Company policy was that you always had to have your badge on. So Badger the Badge-less, I think it was said that they were actually not allowed to put this one up because corporate management thought it was maybe a little too aggressive, but the idea was that you needed to call out your employees if they didn't have their badge and on.

Robert Finkel (24:20):

The figurative typography and the security leak was one of my favorites, simple creative messaging that again attracts your attention and reminds you in a clever way. And mom, dad, sister, and brother, one that is reminding you to make sure that your company workplace talk stays within the workplace, don't let your family in on the potentially top secret work that you are doing within the office.

Shea Tillman (24:53):

It was interesting on that note, Wendy White the daughter of Ken White told me in talking with her on the phone just a year or so ago that some of the posters, the first time she saw them were actually in a school room where her teacher's husband had worked at IBM and had stolen them off the walls and put them in their classroom because they were confidential, Again, it was not for public consumption, So these were just for IBM employees.

Robert Finkel (25:25):

This was one of the funny stories that we learned about, this was a photographic treatment or photographic dominant poster that Roger [inaudible 00:25:34] the staff photographer did the photography on. They use Ted Cowley, an industrial designer-

Shea Tillman (25:40):

Industrial designer.

Robert Finkel (25:41):

... As the model for this shot, for poor security habits are tough to swallow. And I'm not sure if it's showing on your screen, but there's a little bit of type in the paper that's in his mouth that says IBM confidential. Now the Boulder offices where the cowboy culture, the renegades, if you will, within the company. And if you notice Ted Cowley here has his stripe shirt. Well, that was frowned upon IBM, they in fact made Roger [inaudible 00:26:11] hire a photo retoucher to trade the white shirt of the model, because that was the company policy that everybody needed to be in there button up white clothing.

Robert Finkel (26:26):

In another interesting policy that we maybe don't have as much today, because we're so digital was locking your desk at night. And in fact, this reminder a photograph from Rogers of the front range there in Boulder of the Rocky mountains, assessed that reminder out in an ominous way. And you could in fact have your pay dodged if you did not clean your desk at night and lock it up before going home.

Shea Tillman (26:57):

So one of the other cool things about IBM's resources was that they could afford to treat their employees in extraordinary ways, they would open their campuses up once a year for open houses. They would rent out an entire theme park for the day to let their employees hang out in it. I think they bought the house one night for a Disney on ice event or something so that all of the employees could go. Anything that was going on in Denver they had a hand in some ways, but these posters, the events and programs posters oftentimes were a way to celebrate that, celebrate all that IBM was doing for their employees and giving them opportunities to grow onto themselves.

Shea Tillman (27:50):

And so family day was one example of that, where you could bring your family to the work, and this set of posters, each one in its own hand a little bit, but queuing off of the primary colors, the Alexander Calder thematics of the day showing up there in a fun way. So this would get employees fired up a few weeks in advance again for what was going on.

Shea Tillman (28:14):

This one being a really beautiful one that Tom Bloom did, it was an interesting story, he was working on this one after hours, which wasn't uncommon actually, the graphic designers would come in on the weekends and work on them, he was working on this one after hours and was trying to come up with an inspiration piece to celebrate the Christmas party, to celebrate the Christmas event.

Shea Tillman (28:37):

And he noticed he had these close pins, the old fashioned wooden clothes pins that were laying all over his desk and he was trying to figure out what he could do with those. And then the janitor walks through and starts to clean the office and he notices this feather duster that the person was using to clean the office and decides that, wait, that's interesting, let me grab that quick. And he took that and the clothes pins back to the stat camera, which was a large device we don't use anymore, but was a large camera that essentially could translate a three-dimensional photographic to two dimensional full scale. And then you could use that and create line art, or other pieces out of it.

Shea Tillman (29:22):

And shot that and then developed this beautiful toy soldiers illustration really from those pieces of clothes pins and scale feather dusters. And this just, the colors on this are amazing, it celebrates everything that is Christmas and that's a little random for IBM, a little playful, right? So playful that Paul Rand actually complimented Tom on this one, this was one of Paul Rand's favorites that came out of this program. And you can see that a little bit, I almost feel like it's definitely one that could be random.

Robert Finkel (29:58):

Early Paul Rand design style for sure.

Shea Tillman (30:04):

Another area that was a series was the equal opportunity series, so.

Robert Finkel (30:09):

Yeah, so 1964 we think we have the civil rights acts passed, and by 1972 we have equal opportunity employment act passed as well. And so IBM in several instances was a little bit even ahead of the game of the US government, they were already promoting equal opportunity and diversity within their company, again, they were interested in hiring the best and the brightest no matter where they came from.

Robert Finkel (30:42):

So it was really a hip and company in that regard, but certainly by '64 and in '72 when lost were mandating it, IBM fits right within that. This poster the equal opportunity pattern for progress designed by Ken white is an interesting one because it has a lot of similarities to the nature of computing of that era.

Robert Finkel (31:10):

Again, this is not digital computing, this is computing that's using a punch card like you see here done in an analog sort of fashion. And so the particles of the poster certainly have a reminiscent feel to the punch cards that were used in computing at the time, creating these interesting patterns in sequences of square and shapes.

Robert Finkel (31:38):

Words, list and copywriting was the big thing for these designers. Partly is a way to maybe arrive at a quick type of graphics solution, and then to be able to screen print and just the nature of the production. But it always allow for the ideas to come forth more quickly. The one on the left to listing of various ethnicities and colors and races and whatnot showing the inclusion of equal opportunity or the really typographically clever one that equal opportunities within people is within all of us. And then the one on the far right, another one of Ken whites, more famous posters, equal opportunity is colorblind, rendering Rand's logo as if it is a color blind test. Something that you would maybe have to look at to see the letter forms within it.

Robert Finkel (32:44):

And if we zoom in on this one, I want to take a moment to really highlight the craftsmanship of the silkscreen posters. This is a four color print, two grays and two pinks that were printed by Fred Gerardi, who was a screen printer in Denver and he and his family in fact printed all of the posters, and was really a critical collaborator within this entire poster program because-

Shea Tillman (33:13):

Absolutely uncompromising really-

Robert Finkel (33:14):

Uncompromising quality when it came to the printing fidelity and looking at it on this poster at a close level shows just the registration and the purity of the colors and other cues. And that's really partly what makes this collection so phenomenal is the quality and fidelity of them.

Robert Finkel (33:35):

And we have over a hundred of these features within our book, we don't have time to go through all of them, but it is a really impressive collection that's coming from a single organization, a single headquarters and three really committed graphic designers and photographers that were the wild ducks if you will.

Shea Tillman (34:00):

Yeah. When interviewed Tom in 2017, fall of 2017, it was a fun adventure, it was going to a place I'd never been, it was meeting someone I admired already from their work decades prior. But he opened up to me, he talked about all of the stories, he talked about... He was truly wanting to share with young people, with our students and still is wanting to teach, he's always excited about teaching and sharing with students the work that he's done and the stories behind it.

Shea Tillman (34:37):

But when he started reminiscing and thinking about the totality of the work, all of these posters, all of that work, unbelievable quality, unbelievable creativity, all for just bulletin boards. He said it takes four things, four things to make a design successful. I started per cup at this point, it sounds like something that's quotable, right? So what are those things, Tom? He says, number one it takes a great client. A great client that understands they have a problem that design can solve. Not all clients understand that design can solve a problem. They have some other idea or some other track they're already on. Do you have a client that understands that they have a problem that design can solve?

Shea Tillman (35:28):

Number two, he said, you got to have producers who are of the highest level of professionalism, and that would be Fred Gerardo, the silk screeners whose level of craft is so high that they're going to hold your design intent, right where it needs to be. And they're not going to compromise or push one way or the other just to make it happen or hit the shortest distance between two points, they're actually trying to hold your design and tenant in place.

Shea Tillman (36:01):

Then he said, number three, you got to have creative collaborators, that would be the design center team, Tom, Ken, John Anderson, who push each other, who really challenge each other each day to do better work than the day before. And they were collaborators, they were always working together no matter who was lead on the poster, if you don't have people you're working with, aren't pushing you, your design is not going to be successful either.

Shea Tillman (36:32):

And then lastly, and maybe a little less obvious, and I think really reflective, he said, you've got to have effective management, this is so IBM, it's like he really praised his boss, Jack Stringer who was really responsible for assembling the team in the first place and giving them the resources. Do you have a champion? Do you have the effective management that champions your design and enables it to thrive?

Shea Tillman (37:01):

And this becomes really the four things, and he said, when you got those four things, boy, do you have it good? And for me, that was IBM. And so that's what we are excited to share with you about in this book is that little sliver of amazing work that's been hidden all these years and was just for IBM employees, but it's so stunning, it's worthy of being able to be seen outside of that. So.

Robert Finkel (37:34):

Absolute craftsmanship. Thank you all.

Shea Tillman (37:37):

Thank you.

Robert Finkel (37:41):

We're going to [inaudible 00:37:42] could stop our screen sharing here and... All right, Hank.

Hank (37:57):

Yeah, we got time for some questions here maybe from some of the students. If you have some questions now it's a great time. I think it was amazing just watching those posters and the topography. If you go back and you study some of that old topography students, it is amazing to Swiss design, some of you have been involved in that recent notes. You just look at the color values and how they use them.

Hank (38:22):

And one of the amazing things that I was thinking about when you were talking about Paul Rand was I... And that poster with the little dots inside, none of that stuff, there was no program called illustrator, it was all by hand. Imagine that. And the volume-

Shea Tillman (38:43):

That's the real irony. That's such an irony, here's this massive computer company and they didn't use computers. It wasn't until the mid eighties, right? When [crosstalk 00:38:52]-

Robert Finkel (38:52):

Desktop publishing, yeah, yeah.

Hank (38:55):

Well, let's turn it over and open up. Stephanie, are you here? Can-

Stephanie (39:00):

I sure am. I sure am, yeah, everybody can go ahead and unmute themselves if they have a question or raise your hand. Go ahead.

Sierra (39:09):

Hi, my name is Sierra I'm in the master's program with portfolio center in [inaudible 00:39:14], and thank you so much for giving us this wonderful presentation today and sharing your book with us. I had a question about, through your handling of the posters, what was most striking about your research, or did anything surprise you or stuck with you most, either through your interview with Tom or your actual physical interaction with the posters themselves, either design wise or otherwise?

Shea Tillman (39:42):

That's a big question. I'll share what kind of hit me and it may be different from Robert. The color is pretty stunning on these things, I mean, when you get them in good calibrated light, it's like the inks are really saturated and there's a lot of ink on a lot of these posters. And so when you start to put them out in mass and look at many of them at one time, I mean, I can't tell you how many times we went through them, curating different things for shows and exhibitions. And then it was like, no, we can't take that one out, no, we can't take that one out. It's just too good. And so we're like in love with all of them in a way, which is funny but I always found it really funny that Tom had moved on, this was just such amazing work, but Tom came back, he studied in Switzerland-

Sierra (40:36):

Studied Switzerland.

Shea Tillman (40:36):

... Under Fineguard, I think, and then came back into IBM in the nineties again, and work more in management and then abandoned it. And we surprised him one day when we came out and Hey, are you the guy that did these amazing posters? And so for me, it was like this gem, this treasure that you're opening up that, I don't know, I can't pick one that I love more than the rest, but at yeah.

Robert Finkel (41:02):

Yeah, I'll piggyback on that, I think the stories from Tom and from Roger about behind the scenes making if you will was one of the most striking things, I mean the memories of a photo shoot that they did for the poster or the memory of Oh, I remember when we put this one out there, everybody said we couldn't hang it up. Having those memories of your past creative work was really special and I think, yeah, it really endearing, something we can all relate to.

Robert Finkel (41:34):

The other thing that I think was most striking that I love about this poster program is the this design systems thinking behind it. The information board has a particular size, then all the posters are going to have a particular size. And I don't know if we mentioned this, I mean, they were doing these once a week, that was their goal is to put one out for a week. And so they were doing it after hours on top of their day-to-day job duties.

Robert Finkel (42:01):

And so being able to come to that quick design solution which is why a lot of them have that Swiss style or that typographic voice, and I just think that sort of creative activities is really inspiring.

Sierra (42:18):

Yeah. Thank you.

Speaker 6 (42:24):

I'm [inaudible 00:42:24], I am a first quarter student, the Atlanta campus studying art direction. The four points that you made at the end really stuck with me, and I'm wondering the first point was you need a great client who understands that design can solve their problems. So I'm wondering how you know when it's a problem of design or the problem lies somewhere else.

Shea Tillman (42:49):

Well, I think and Robert can probably speak to this better from the graphic standpoint, but I think a lot of it it is about building a relationship of trust to a certain degree with a client, having the integrity and authenticity to tell shoot straight with them if you feel like what they're looking for really isn't about design, if they've already locked in on something or not really allowing a creative solution to thrive.

Shea Tillman (43:20):

So I think some of it is just about cultivating maybe the client relationship a little bit but I'll leave it to Robert there to-

Robert Finkel (43:30):

Yeah, yeah. You almost have to ask yourself what is designer to find that first, right? I mean, we think of Paul Rand, I think he said everything is design, right? And we can broaden our definition of design as broad as possible. And in doing so, everything is a design problem that can be solved, I mean, it may not be a typographic problem or solution, it may be something that's non-formal, but as design as a plan of action. If we think of it as that maybe as the core of what design is, then any problem needs to be solved with a plan of action, that's going to relate to other parts and solutions.

Shea Tillman (44:16):

And I think one of the things is when you work in a large corporation like IBM or a big company, there's a framed design problem, and that is help the organization. Whatever design problems occur within that organization, it could be a customer, it could be a design brief, it could be a poster that's on the wall for Roger, he's a photographer, he's a staff photographer, he has his own studio, LYYN Hawk cameras all this stuff, he shot work that needed to go in manuals and posters and all sorts of things. But he also ran into an engineer one day who needed a super high speed shot of something that was tapping inside a box, inside of a machine. And they couldn't get the shot. I mean, there was no camera to get that shot and he built one.

Shea Tillman (45:08):

So he modified a camera for IBM, so this was science work, it wasn't even what we would call creative design work, but here's a photographer solving a design problem within that organization, helping that organization. One day he's photographing, doing art direction with Ken white and the next day he's in there with the engineers doing something. So yeah, it could be anything.

Speaker 6 (45:34):

Thank you.

Jasmine (45:40):

Hi, my name is Jasmine, I am in my third quarter at the Atlanta campus in art direction. My question, I don't know if you all would necessarily be the best answer or the person that made the posters, but I just wanted to know I do screen print as well. And so something that really struggles for me is how I can pitch the skills that I picked up and screen print to big companies that don't traditionally use it or need it, because I've never even known that IBM would know anything about screen printing. So it just seems really out of the ballpark for me. So what's something that you would suggest for me to tell other big companies about the skills that I have in screen printing?

Shea Tillman (46:20):

Wow, that's a [crosstalk 00:46:21]-

Robert Finkel (46:24):

Yeah. I mean, well, I think there's a couple of examples outside of IBM, we saw a lot of parallels with this poster work at IBM, big tech company, don't do these kinds of screen prints with... And I don't know if it's still kind of in existence at Facebook, they had the analog design lab or something like that. Some Facebook product designers decided to bring us some screen printing equipment and letterpress printing equipment and have this creative outlet for the work. And then it started coming through to their campuses and creating internal posters or Facebooks.

Robert Finkel (47:03):

So I think there is these opportunities, I think if anything you can just show that you have this broadened skillset. And I think stuff like screen printing and all these lumpy, but also with letterpress printing are such great antidotes to our hyper digital world to be honest. And I think there is some great merit in having that skill and you frame it as an extension of your train of life, really.

Shea Tillman (47:33):

I mean, that goes back to the hook of these posters, I said the color, but really it was the printing and that unbelievable physical artifact that just stood out for me, like what Robert said from all of the digital stuff we have, anytime you have a client who really can benefit from that physical digital artifact that goes beyond what the digital communication is. I think that's a huge opportunity, so, yeah.

Jasmine (48:05):

Sorry, I had to unmute myself, thank you guys so much.

Shea Tillman (48:17):


Robert Finkel (48:17):


Hank (48:17):

Some more questions-

Robert Finkel (48:31):

Is there anything else, yeah.

Hank (48:34):

Yeah. I mean, say guys, I believe your book is now available maybe on Amazon published by yeah, Lund Humphries.

Robert Finkel (48:44):

Right here.

Hank (48:45):


Robert Finkel (48:47):

Yeah, you can... I'll make the hard sell Hank. lundhumphries.com. You can order it directly, our publisher is in the UK, but they can ship out to you if you're state side. So you can order it from lundhumphries.com, we put together a website, visualmemoranda.com as well, where you can see some of the sample spreads and make the order there also. Amazon will start stocking it I believe in the middle of May, but go directly through the publisher and you can get your copy. Hank, you said you bought 50, right?

Hank (49:30):

Not 50, I bought 5 and I've given them away as gifts and they make great gifts and you guys should get to know a lot about IBM and what they have done and what they are still doing to this very day, because I think one of the things you can look at these posters and you can figure, how can I bring those forward into different conversation today?

Robert Finkel (49:56):


Shea Tillman (49:58):


Hank (49:58):

Such an amazing company that plays behind the scenes on so many, there's probably something at least four or five times in your day that you touch that IBM is highly involved in, you just don't know. Because they are a lot in the background, but these posters were amazing by some people. Think about yourselves doing something like this, like Jasmine was that you brought up about the silk screen?

Jasmine (50:28):


Hank (50:28):

Yes. And get together again, start skill screening some. That's a great way to get back together and a little bit, and try some things that you haven't done that way. It's so much fun and it just-

Robert Finkel (50:45):

Yeah, and Hank, let me, yeah, one of the lessons out of this, I really do think it was the behind the scenes making of these three designers and photographers, I mean, they were going beyond their daily routines, they were in-house graphic designers and now in-house design it has gotten more companies recognizing the value of design, but this is an opportunity to be like, Hey, I want to do more creatively. I have more design ideas in my head. And here's the place where we can enact on them, I think that's one of the great things about this profession is that you can do anything with it, we are resourceful as designers I think.

Hank (51:33):

Well guys, thank you all for coming today and doing this. It's been really interesting to hear all this background. And I was going to say, you should write a book, you did, and we should buy your book.

Robert Finkel (51:47):


Shea Tillman (51:49):

We thank you for the opportunity to share and to share this amazing work. And we hope it has been inspiring, helps you in your work, that's the ultimate goal, so, thank you.

Robert Finkel (52:01):


Other Events that Might Interest You

World-leading creative experts every week. Live on Zoom each Wednesday at 4pm.
Sign up below for weekly invites.

Want a creative career?
Apply by October 2024.

Join Miami Ad School and make your creativity work for you.

Schedule a Call

This is your chance to meet a MAD career advisor. They can answer all your questions about the application process, choosing a speciality, and building your career.