What's With All Of The 'Hairy Arms' In Graphic Design? The term "hairy arms" is used in the world of graphic design and illustration. But what does that mean? Melissa Block talks to graphic designer Jessica Frease about the industry lingo.

What's With All Of The 'Hairy Arms' In Graphic Design?

What's With All Of The 'Hairy Arms' In Graphic Design?

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The term "hairy arms" is used in the world of graphic design and illustration. But what does that mean? Melissa Block talks to graphic designer Jessica Frease about the industry lingo.


When Jessica Frease was in art school, she kept hearing a strange phrase - hairy arms. It's one that's followed her throughout her career in graphic design. And Frease told me that yes, that term - hairy arms - is an important piece of trade lingo in the commercial art world. We've been asking listeners to send us unusual words and phrases that people outside their line of work might not know.

Jessica Frease learned this lingo while at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. It was her illustration professor who told her the story, and it was tied to a celebrated animation company with a strong presence in that state - Disney.

JESSICA FREASE: So the story goes that probably a long while ago - probably in the '30s or '40s - they had a lead animators, but they also had creative directors. And when the lead animators would make concept designs, meaning, like, character development, they'd be so proud of these characters. And they would go to their art directors, and their art directors would change something constantly even though they thought it was their best work.

So what they realized after working with these art directors - that what they hated the most was anything added to the character, especially hair on the arms 'cause this is, you know, '30s and '40s. Things had to look very slick. So what they did was to distract the art directors from making other changes, they would automatically put hair on the arms of each character.

BLOCK: Oh, they would add extra hair?

FREASE: Right. They would add extra - well, they would add hair. They didn't want hair at all apparently. And then, they would bring it into the big meeting with all the head honchos. And those guys would say oh, well, you've got to get rid of the hair on the arms. And they would kind of be distracted from all the other things they had added to the character. So that's where the term comes from. It's basically something you add to a design that you know you may not even want there, but it's a distraction from your client or creative director.

BLOCK: It's to divert their attention so that they'll focus on that and let you get away with everything else?

FREASE: Exactly. And it's funny I'm saying this but yeah. You know, it happens. Everybody does it. Like, for example, I worked with - 10 years ago - I worked - we did these logos for a famous musician. And they had a lot of people working for them and a lot of voices. And after working with them for a couple weeks, we realized that they hated the color blue. So if we showed them three logos, we would show the ones we loved. And then, we'd do one that they wanted, but we'd put it in the color blue.

BLOCK: This is the one you didn't like, right?

FREASE: Right. And then, they would pick the ones we liked. And (laughter) it's kind of messing with people's psyches, but I look at it as a helpful technique.


BLOCK: It's kind of a decoy?

FREASE: It is a decoy. And I mean hairy arms is literally a decoy. I mean you're covering up what the character looks like. So they want to see through that. And they got what they want. (Laughter) I don't think Snow White had hairy arms. I'm not quite sure. But -

BLOCK: Have you ever been found out in doing this? Like somebody gets wise to your tricks and says...

FREASE: You know what...

BLOCK: ...I know what you're doing here.

FREASE: ...I've never been found out by the client, but I've definitely, like, had, like, a coworker or an art director be like oh, I saw what you did there kind of thing. So maybe it's because we're more hip to it. But no, I've actually never been found out which now I'm kind of ruining it by going here. (laughter)

BLOCK: Kind of, yeah. Your secret is out. Well, Jessica is good to talk to you. Thanks so much.

FREASE: Thank you so much. It was great talking to you.

BLOCK: Jessica Frease of Boston telling us about her bit of trade lingo - hairy arms.

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