Dana Arnett - MODA Design Conversations

Last night I attended a Design Conversation presented by Dana Arnett, Founding Partner and Vice Chairman of VSA Partners. The talk was held at the Hill Auditorium in the High Museum. This Design Conversation was co-hosted by MODA and Miami Ad School at Portfolio Center. 

Biography via MODA

About Dana Arnett

Dana Arnett is a Founding Partner and Vice Chairman of the internationally recognized firm, VSA Partners. Prior to his position as Vice Chairman, Arnett was CEO at VSA Partners, where he led a group of 300 associates in the creation of design and marketing programs, digital and interactive initiatives for a diverse roster of clients, including Harley-Davidson, Toyota, IBM, General Electric, Nike, Anheuser Busch, and Google.  

Arnett has established a 30-year career steeped in design leadership, business and brand consulting, and policymaking. He and the firm have been globally recognized by numerous competitions and designations including; Communication Arts, AIGA, Graphis, The Type Directors Club, the American and British Art Directors Clubs, ID, The LA Film Festival, theAR100 and the American Marketing Association. In 2014, Arnett was awarded the prestigious AIGA Medal, the highest citation honoring lifetime achievement and contribution to the industry. He was a 1999 inductee into the Alliance Graphique Internationale and holds the honor of being named to the ID40—who has cited him as one of the 40 most important people shaping design internationally.  

Arnett is currently the AIGA National President, along with serving as a board member of the Architecture and Design Society of the Art Institute of Chicago, and The Chicago Children’s Theater, and has been a guest lecturer globally. Dana is also active as an advisor and member of Cueball Collective, who help fund and incubate consumer and socially driven ventures.

(1959) Hiroshima Mon Amour: Opening Sequence Analysis

Hiroshima Mon Amour // Hiroshima, My Love (1959)

You hear the soft sounds of a piano gently growing louder with a melodic consistency. The movement of hands and limbs interplay in a shared space. Glistening dust act as a coat for the moving lifeforms. Sounds become alerting and bodies now appear more lively than ever.

An invisible man gently asserts, “You saw nothing in Hiroshima. Nothing.”

The unique opening sequence of Hiroshima Mon Amour relies heavily on the narrative, sound design, and cinematography. This sequence functions as a gateway to the overarching narrative. Doing so by foreshadowing and providing a glimpse of the exposition.

The sound is crucial to set the tone of the sequence. The use of music, voice-overs, and silence really impact the feel and flow of the film. The cinematography is highly constructed by camera movement and each shot provides the proper visual to coexist with the narrative and sound design.

The sequence’s opening shot begins as an additive dissolve into a close-up shot. The dissolve gives the viewer an opportunity to be eased into the film, just as the music intends to do for sound design.

The pleasant introduction becomes puzzling as the bodies visually intertwine, caressing each other in a confusingly-odd manner. The arrangement of limbs create curiosity and wonderment for what’s occurring.

The frame is primarily full of the movement of the limbs. The rest of the frame is a dead space of black, serving to keep the viewer’s eyes attentive to the bodies.  

Just as you begin to realize what the bodies are doing, debris begins to fall from the top of the frame. The bodies, now clearly noticeable, are covered in a glistening material that’s likely to be silt. This action directs the viewer to question the material’s purpose.

Within the first minute of the film, questions have already entered the mind of the viewer. This effect is integral to immersing the viewer into the narrative.

A transition occurs and now the bodies can be seen glistening with sweat, rather than the silt-like substance of previous. This signifies that change has occurred – time being one. Either the bodies have been cleansed of the silt or the bodies are different from the previous set. If the same, what cleansed them? If different, what’s the purpose of the replacement?   

The opening sequence doesn’t offer the viewer enough information to determine the reasoning behind the cleansing catalyst. Enough information is provided though, to allow for the viewer to understand the reasoning for bodily replacement.

The point of change can signify that love can occur during and after a war. Clinging to the last breath as death approaches or as embracing becomes no more – foreshadowing the relationships yet to be established in the film.

“You saw nothing in Hiroshima. Nothing,” said a man yet to be identified.

This dialogue creates a setting for the film, Hiroshima, Japan, the infamous location of the atomic bombing.

“I saw everything… I saw the hospital – I’m sure of it,” said an unidentified woman in response.

When these words are spoken, the shot transitions to an undamaged hospital. Speaking of Hiroshima in this fashion means the film’s timeline is set after World War II. The new dialogue creates insight that the bodies are of a couple — man and woman. The couple’s opinions on Hiroshima differ while conversing during the scene change.

The new scene begins as a POV (point-of-view) shot of someone walking down a hallway, containing nurses visibly seen in doorways throughout. The POV shot cuts to a medium shot of a nurse near an open room that has two patients lying down in the background. The shot then cuts to another two patients. The patients are older in age, which I believe increases the significance of the words the couple is saying.

The woman speaks of seeing Hiroshima and the man speaks of her not seeing Hiroshima. The patients are old enough to have witnessed Hiroshima for what it was and now truly is – the important cultural history of pain, people, structure, and life.

Cutting to a new scene as dialogue begins, you now see a large modern architectural structure.

The woman says, “Four times at the museum.”

The man replies, “What museum in Hiroshima?”

You now see the museum’s visual portrayal as numerous shots change.

I believe the man’s response can be interpreted two ways. The words can simply be taken as a referral to what Hiroshima museum she is speaking of. Another interpretation is based on there not being a standing museum during the bombing – the bombing would have destroyed any that existed at the time.

You now see signage on a wall depicting a large mushroom cloud.

“Four times at the museum in Hiroshima,” says the woman.

A continuation of new shots shows different features of the museum that bring significance to the Hiroshima bombing. As these shots are being shown, the woman speaks of the scorched and twisting of metal, the bouquet of bottle caps, and other objects on display. She begins experiencing the infamous bombing by her interpretation of the displays. Even though she didn’t experience the bombing first hand, she believes she knows how it felt by viewing the aftermath in the museum.

Her personal narrative for rest of the film is based on this first-hand experience that she supposedly understands. She speaks of Hiroshima as if she knows its pain when clearly she has no history to share.

There are Japanese families and individuals visiting the museum and yet they are portrayed as not fully understanding the aftermath of the bombing. The people are touring, some with their children, while attempting to learn or to be reminded of the brutality and power an atom bomb possess. By speaking French, the woman, of the couple, is highlighted as a foreigner at the museum.

The sequence’s use of sound transforms the viewer’s state of mind. In the opening shot, the smooth sounds of a piano are heard as the couple is together in intimacy. This music serves as a transition, prevalent for when the couple is together in intimacy. Letting the viewer know what’s going on each time you hear the intimate music.

While the woman walks down the hallway in the hospital, the soundscape is pleasant and satisfactory. The music transitions to a solemn-like sadness when the man speaks of Hiroshima.

The musical transition adds to showcasing their differing opinions. The museum scene has intense music when the first depiction of the bombing begins. The next few shots revisit the solemn and sad sounds as you see more of the aftermath.

The remaining museum shots are full of a fast pace, almost happy, kind of music that doesn’t fit the visuals of the scene. The visuals on display are sad and destructive yet the music is happy.

This is due to the emotions of the woman speaking and not the images in the scene itself. The woman feels satisfactory for how well she knows Hiroshima’s history and understands the associated pain.

More grotesque and alarming images and objects appear in the last few museum shots. You hear the music change, becoming more anxious. The shots continue changing as the viewer sees an increasing amount of aftermath showcased in the museum.

The music lingers as do the remaining shots, making you want something else to happen – a much-needed change. The music stops, creating a silence as the scene cuts outside. This signifies a big change in scene and a new opportunity for dialogue.

The scene cuts back to the couple caressing each other while the intimate music plays. Even though the couple has opposing views on the Hiroshima bombing experience, it’s important they still manage to caress each other; showing their deep affection – regardless of opinion.

This connection will be reinforced during the remainder of the film, especially after the viewer is actually introduced to the characters next scenes.

Right from the beginning, the viewer is provided with a mellow yet intriguing dialogue that functions as a gateway and a perfect glimpse to the larger narrative and exposition.

The cinematography and sound design were crucial for the provision of a healthy introductory tone and coexistence with the narrative. 

READ: Harrison Bergeron

HARRISON BERGERON by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. 

Storytelling is the oldest form of teaching. The art of telling a tale is as beautiful as it is dangerous. We define ourselves by our words and actions. A positive reaction is a general goal of sharing but we don’t always follow the curve. 

Kurt often brushed fear on the words he wrote. Mattifying the gleam of positivity from the porcelain language we communicate by. 

War is fueled by the chaos of collection. Trapping and teaching discipline, doctrine and norms to those that don’t already conform. Such a disease conformity is – sadly so. 

Nature shares the same building blocks but not one creation is the same as the next. Why should people be any different? Fear doesn’t support the idea of balance. Power of control is sought after by the fearful. To universally be strung by one hand of control is the easiest way to sweep fear under the rug. 

I recommend you take a few minutes and read Kurt’s short story below. 



by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

French Translation from Avice Robitaille. 

THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

Some things about living still weren’t quite right, though. April for instance, still drove people crazy by not being springtime. And it was in that clammy month that the H-G men took George and Hazel Bergeron’s fourteen-year-old son, Harrison, away.

It was tragic, all right, but George and Hazel couldn’t think about it very hard. Hazel had a perfectly average intelligence, which meant she couldn’t think about anything except in short bursts. And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.

George and Hazel were watching television. There were tears on Hazel’s cheeks, but she’d forgotten for the moment what they were about.

On the television screen were ballerinas.

A buzzer sounded in George’s head. His thoughts fled in panic, like bandits from a burglar alarm.

“That was a real pretty dance, that dance they just did,” said Hazel.

“Huh” said George.

“That dance-it was nice,” said Hazel.

“Yup,” said George. He tried to think a little about the ballerinas. They weren’t really very good-no better than anybody else would have been, anyway. They were burdened with sashweights and bags of birdshot, and their faces were masked, so that no one, seeing a free and graceful gesture or a pretty face, would feel like something the cat drug in. George was toying with the vague notion that maybe dancers shouldn’t be handicapped. But he didn’t get very far with it before another noise in his ear radio scattered his thoughts.

George winced. So did two out of the eight ballerinas.

Hazel saw him wince. Having no mental handicap herself, she had to ask George what the latest sound had been.

“Sounded like somebody hitting a milk bottle with a ball peen hammer,” said George.

“I’d think it would be real interesting, hearing all the different sounds,” said Hazel a little envious. “All the things they think up.”

“Um,” said George.

“Only, if I was Handicapper General, you know what I would do?” said Hazel. Hazel, as a matter of fact, bore a strong resemblance to the Handicapper General, a woman named Diana Moon Glampers. “If I was Diana Moon Glampers,” said Hazel, “I’d have chimes on Sunday-just chimes. Kind of in honor of religion.”

“I could think, if it was just chimes,” said George.

“Well-maybe make ‘em real loud,” said Hazel. “I think I’d make a good Handicapper General.”

“Good as anybody else,” said George.

“Who knows better than I do what normal is?” said Hazel.

“Right,” said George. He began to think glimmeringly about his abnormal son who was now in jail, about Harrison, but a twenty-one-gun salute in his head stopped that.

“Boy!” said Hazel, “that was a doozy, wasn’t it?”

It was such a doozy that George was white and trembling, and tears stood on the rims of his red eyes. Two of of the eight ballerinas had collapsed to the studio floor, were holding their temples.

“All of a sudden you look so tired,” said Hazel. “Why don’t you stretch out on the sofa, so’s you can rest your handicap bag on the pillows, honeybunch.” She was referring to the forty-seven pounds of birdshot in a canvas bag, which was padlocked around George’s neck. “Go on and rest the bag for a little while,” she said. “I don’t care if you’re not equal to me for a while.”

George weighed the bag with his hands. “I don’t mind it,” he said. “I don’t notice it any more. It’s just a part of me.”

“You been so tired lately-kind of wore out,” said Hazel. “If there was just some way we could make a little hole in the bottom of the bag, and just take out a few of them lead balls. Just a few.”

“Two years in prison and two thousand dollars fine for every ball I took out,” said George. “I don’t call that a bargain.”

“If you could just take a few out when you came home from work,” said Hazel. “I mean-you don’t compete with anybody around here. You just sit around.”

“If I tried to get away with it,” said George, “then other people’d get away with it-and pretty soon we’d be right back to the dark ages again, with everybody competing against everybody else. You wouldn’t like that, would you?”

“I’d hate it,” said Hazel.

“There you are,” said George. The minute people start cheating on laws, what do you think happens to society?”

If Hazel hadn’t been able to come up with an answer to this question, George couldn’t have supplied one. A siren was going off in his head.

“Reckon it’d fall all apart,” said Hazel.

“What would?” said George blankly.

“Society,” said Hazel uncertainly. “Wasn’t that what you just said?

“Who knows?” said George.

The television program was suddenly interrupted for a news bulletin. It wasn’t clear at first as to what the bulletin was about, since the announcer, like all announcers, had a serious speech impediment. For about half a minute, and in a state of high excitement, the announcer tried to say, “Ladies and Gentlemen.”

He finally gave up, handed the bulletin to a ballerina to read.

“That’s all right-” Hazel said of the announcer, “he tried. That’s the big thing. He tried to do the best he could with what God gave him. He should get a nice raise for trying so hard.”

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” said the ballerina, reading the bulletin. She must have been extraordinarily beautiful, because the mask she wore was hideous. And it was easy to see that she was the strongest and most graceful of all the dancers, for her handicap bags were as big as those worn by two-hundred pound men.

And she had to apologize at once for her voice, which was a very unfair voice for a woman to use. Her voice was a warm, luminous, timeless melody. “Excuse me-” she said, and she began again, making her voice absolutely uncompetitive.

“Harrison Bergeron, age fourteen,” she said in a grackle squawk, “has just escaped from jail, where he was held on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government. He is a genius and an athlete, is under-handicapped, and should be regarded as extremely dangerous.”

A police photograph of Harrison Bergeron was flashed on the screen-upside down, then sideways, upside down again, then right side up. The picture showed the full length of Harrison against a background calibrated in feet and inches. He was exactly seven feet tall.

The rest of Harrison’s appearance was Halloween and hardware. Nobody had ever born heavier handicaps. He had outgrown hindrances faster than the H-G men could think them up. Instead of a little ear radio for a mental handicap, he wore a tremendous pair of earphones, and spectacles with thick wavy lenses. The spectacles were intended to make him not only half blind, but to give him whanging headaches besides.

Scrap metal was hung all over him. Ordinarily, there was a certain symmetry, a military neatness to the handicaps issued to strong people, but Harrison looked like a walking junkyard. In the race of life, Harrison carried three hundred pounds.

And to offset his good looks, the H-G men required that he wear at all times a red rubber ball for a nose, keep his eyebrows shaved off, and cover his even white teeth with black caps at snaggle-tooth random.

“If you see this boy,” said the ballerina, “do not - I repeat, do not - try to reason with him.”

There was the shriek of a door being torn from its hinges.

Screams and barking cries of consternation came from the television set. The photograph of Harrison Bergeron on the screen jumped again and again, as though dancing to the tune of an earthquake.

George Bergeron correctly identified the earthquake, and well he might have - for many was the time his own home had danced to the same crashing tune. “My God-” said George, “that must be Harrison!”

The realization was blasted from his mind instantly by the sound of an automobile collision in his head.

When George could open his eyes again, the photograph of Harrison was gone. A living, breathing Harrison filled the screen.

Clanking, clownish, and huge, Harrison stood - in the center of the studio. The knob of the uprooted studio door was still in his hand. Ballerinas, technicians, musicians, and announcers cowered on their knees before him, expecting to die.

“I am the Emperor!” cried Harrison. “Do you hear? I am the Emperor! Everybody must do what I say at once!” He stamped his foot and the studio shook.

“Even as I stand here” he bellowed, “crippled, hobbled, sickened - I am a greater ruler than any man who ever lived! Now watch me become what I can become!”

Harrison tore the straps of his handicap harness like wet tissue paper, tore straps guaranteed to support five thousand pounds.

Harrison’s scrap-iron handicaps crashed to the floor.

Harrison thrust his thumbs under the bar of the padlock that secured his head harness. The bar snapped like celery. Harrison smashed his headphones and spectacles against the wall.

He flung away his rubber-ball nose, revealed a man that would have awed Thor, the god of thunder.

“I shall now select my Empress!” he said, looking down on the cowering people. “Let the first woman who dares rise to her feet claim her mate and her throne!”

A moment passed, and then a ballerina arose, swaying like a willow.

Harrison plucked the mental handicap from her ear, snapped off her physical handicaps with marvelous delicacy. Last of all he removed her mask.

She was blindingly beautiful.

“Now-” said Harrison, taking her hand, “shall we show the people the meaning of the word dance? Music!” he commanded.

The musicians scrambled back into their chairs, and Harrison stripped them of their handicaps, too. “Play your best,” he told them, “and I’ll make you barons and dukes and earls.”

The music began. It was normal at first-cheap, silly, false. But Harrison snatched two musicians from their chairs, waved them like batons as he sang the music as he wanted it played. He slammed them back into their chairs.

The music began again and was much improved.

Harrison and his Empress merely listened to the music for a while-listened gravely, as though synchronizing their heartbeats with it.

They shifted their weights to their toes.

Harrison placed his big hands on the girl’s tiny waist, letting her sense the weightlessness that would soon be hers.

And then, in an explosion of joy and grace, into the air they sprang!

Not only were the laws of the land abandoned, but the law of gravity and the laws of motion as well.

They reeled, whirled, swiveled, flounced, capered, gamboled, and spun.

They leaped like deer on the moon.

The studio ceiling was thirty feet high, but each leap brought the dancers nearer to it.

It became their obvious intention to kiss the ceiling. They kissed it.

And then, neutraling gravity with love and pure will, they remained suspended in air inches below the ceiling, and they kissed each other for a long, long time.

It was then that Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General, came into the studio with a double-barreled ten-gauge shotgun. She fired twice, and the Emperor and the Empress were dead before they hit the floor.

Diana Moon Glampers loaded the gun again. She aimed it at the musicians and told them they had ten seconds to get their handicaps back on.

It was then that the Bergerons’ television tube burned out.

Hazel turned to comment about the blackout to George. But George had gone out into the kitchen for a can of beer.

George came back in with the beer, paused while a handicap signal shook him up. And then he sat down again. “You been crying” he said to Hazel.

“Yup,” she said.

“What about?” he said.

“I forget,” she said. “Something real sad on television.”

“What was it?” he said.

“It’s all kind of mixed up in my mind,” said Hazel.

“Forget sad things,” said George.

“I always do,” said Hazel.

“That’s my girl,” said George. He winced. There was the sound of a rivetting gun in his head.

“Gee - I could tell that one was a doozy,” said Hazel.

“You can say that again,” said George.

“Gee-” said Hazel, “I could tell that one was a doozy.”

“Harrison Bergeron” is copyrighted by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., 1961.

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