House Aesthetic

The House aesthetic has always been an unconscious one. Although a couple of us have fancy college art degrees, we’ve always considered ourselves blue-collar designers. The fact is, we were attracted to design before we knew what it really was. Exposure to graphic design came through assorted American sub-cultural phenomena from the past few decades, such as the hardcore music scene, skateboarding and video games. It also didn’t hurt to have pinstriping dads who built hot rods and older brothers who collected Mad magazine. Not surprisingly, mimicking Santa Cruz deck graphics was incredibly formative, as were the countless hours spent perfecting the interlocking letter forms of Priest and Maiden logos on notebook covers and jean jackets. We absorbed the lettering that surrounded us, even though it would be years until we were schooled enough to recognize that the Thrasher masthead was a stylized rendition of Banco.

As we became more formally educated about graphic design, our heroes appeared to be conspicuously absent from the history books. Where was Al Jaffee and Don Martin who illustrated serials for Mad or Norm Saunders who painstakingly painted many of the Wacky Packages stickers? Their work was not irrelevant or disposable; as far as we were concerned it represented real design. It wasn’t overly clever “design for designers;” it was honest commercial art accessible to everyday people, like us.

Naturally, House draws from areas of interest that introduced us to the world of unsophisticated graphic design. We prefer to create our own projects rather than to try to please art directors who insist that they want us to do our thing. More often than not, potential clients just want us to rehash our own stuff. Typefaces, textiles and other products allow us to produce the kind of design and illustration that work for hire really doesn’t give us the chance to do.

The font collections, in particular, provide an opportunity for House to draw attention to all of the under-appreciated art genres that made such an impact on us during our impressionable years. Beyond the vacuum of the latest inward-looking graphic design annuals are commercial art trades that are still insufficiently chronicled (if at all) by historians. Each House Industries project attempts to administer an art history lesson of sorts, and to share our appreciation for these influential design eras and practices. We also do our best to give credit where credit is due, often collaborating with the original artists who inspired us.

Invariably, “retro” is brought up when discussing our work. We’ve never been very fond of the “R” word; it’s thoughtlessly used to describe anything that references popular cultural imagery from the past few decades. Oddly, digital fonts based on early twentieth century metal type are appreciated as “typographic revival,” while fonts reminiscent of hand-lettered Fillmore concert posters are dismissed as “retro.” Go figure.

Truthfully, it is craft that is at the heart of everything we do. When a situation calls for an elaborately detailed painting or a quickly executed brush and ink illustration, that’s what we do. Sure, we could run a photo through a few computer filters or scan and auto-trace some found lettering, but it seems to us more direct and efficient to create artwork by traditional means. Not only is the hands-on approach more fulfilling for the artist, it generates loads of self-indulgent original artwork to hang around the office. (Besides, as we learned from Ed Roth, plastering our faces on everything does wonders for self-promotion.) Ultimately, we think that preserving characteristic production techniques while drawing from personal interests gives the unique flavor that makes the House Aesthetic one of a kind.