5 November, 2009
Photo: Mike Essl
Leonardo da Vinci might have made scientific studies of the vascular system and designed the steam cannon, but today he’s best remembered as the painter of the Mona Lisa. Some identify Johann Sebastian Bach with his concerti, cantatas, and brilliant fantasias for the keyboard, but most know him only as the tunesmith behind that staple of afternoon weddings, “Air on the G String.” It’s a cruel fate, to be remembered only for your least ambitious work, as type designers from Frederic Goudy to Ed Benguiat can surely attest. But none has suffered more than the estimable Herb Lubalin, a situation which the Cooper Union will begin to correct tonight.
Lubalin’s name has become convenient shorthand for his eponymous family of typefaces, ITC Lubalin Graph. The design, an okay slab serif in seventies dress, was in turn an adaptation of his sans serif design ITC Avant Garde — itself an adaptation of his earlier logotype and lettering for Avant Garde magazine. For many, Lubalin’s body of work ends here, a tragedy that eclipses a whole universe of letters that came from the hand and mind of one of typography’s most significant practitioners.
Tonight, the Cooper Union in New York opens Lubalin Now: the inaugural exhibit at the Herb Lubalin Study Center of Design and Typography. The exhibit, curated by Mike Essl and Alexander Tochilovsky, celebrates not only Lubalin’s work but that of contemporary designers who channel the Lubalinesque. Just a very few of my favorites appear below; the show promises lots more, as well as an answer to an age-old question: it’s Loo-bal-in, not Loob-a-lin. —JH
Opening Reception Thursday, November 5, 2009, 6:00–8:00pm
Exhibit on view through December 8, 2009
The Cooper Union
41 Cooper Square
New York, NY 10003
Left: Justin Thomas Kay; Right: Matt Owens
Left: Alex Trochut; Right: Gretel
Left: Like Minded Studio; Right: Thirst
5 August, 2009
John Downer at The Propagandist
Twenty years ago, John Downer and I were introduced by a mutual friend. He’d introduced us as “type designers,” a flattering description of my professional achievements to date (I was a recent refugee from graphic design), and a somewhat elliptic summary of John’s credentials. Whether or not he was intentionally vague, I’ll never know, but it set me up for a very entertaining afternoon.
John visited my studio, where I was working on a set of roman capitals that would ultimately become the Requiem typeface. He had some suggestions about the design, which like most critiques were especially hard to articulate; typography suffers from a poverty of terminology. Eyeing two bottles of Rich Art poster paint in my taboret, John reached for these along with a sheet of typing paper, and the cheap plastic paintbrush that I kept for dusting my keyboard. In a few effortless strokes of black, he perfectly reproduced Requiem’s capital S, waited a moment for the paint to dry, and then reloaded the brush with white to render his corrections. The whole shebang couldn’t have taken fifteen seconds, most of it spent waiting for paint to dry. I just stared: it was like watching someone fold a paper napkin into a remote control helicopter, and then pilot it around the room. The detail our mutual friend had neglected to mention, of course, is that John came to type design through his other profession: he is a master sign painter.
Type design has always been a wonderfully polygenetic field, and a random sampling of practitioners is likely to include calligraphers, graphic designers, stonemasons, letterpress printers, engravers, graffiti artists, and programmers. This mixture produces a marvelous synthesis of perspectives in terms of both technique and culture, and serves to make type design a vigorous and exciting discipline. But few type designers I know bring this particular experience to bear on their work:
I began graduate studies in painting at The University of Iowa in 1973 after working at sign shops in Des Moines for about a year. The chairman of the painting department at the UI was Byron Burford, proprietor of The Great Byron Burford Circus of Artistic Wonders — a traveling art show and circus, in one. It included moving cutouts of exotic animals, motorized trapeze artists, contortionists, and acrobats...
3 March, 2009
Tobias Frere-Jones: An Exhibit at the Royal Academy of Art
Tobias is the fourth and current holder of the Gerrit Noordzij Prize, which was presented to him in 2006. Every few years, the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague celebrates an individual for his "unique contributions to type design, typography, and type education," qualities which honor both the recipient and the prize's namesake: Gerrit Noordzij, as an instructor, a designer, and a type designer, has influenced generations of typographers, and has been singularly instrumental in establishing typography as a realm for disciplined, critical thinking.
This Friday, the prize passes to the next recipient, an occasion marked by two festivities: Wim Crouwel will receive the 2009 prize, and the Royal Academy will open an exhibit of Tobias's work. If it's any indication of the scope of the show's contents, let me just say that even I was surprised by some of the things Tobias pulled from the files; it is an exhibit not to be missed.
The exhibit opens this Friday, March 6, and runs through Saturday, March 28, in the KABK Galerie. —JH
10 June, 2008
The World’s First Graphic Design Museum
On my first trip to Amsterdam in 1992, I spent a couple of hours having lunch at a pleasant café on Willemsparkweg. I’d come from seeing an exhibit of the year’s best book covers, and planned to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the city’s many graphic design bookshops. A passing waiter, noticing my open sketchbook, idly asked me what I was designing. I took note that he’d said “designing” rather than “drawing,” and on his return trip he surprised me further: “are you designing a typeface?”
A nation whose visual literacy is such that the lay public is familiar with the concept of typeface design is surely a designer’s paradise. And if there were any doubt that Holland is the world’s preeminant design capital, tomorrow will see the opening of the world’s first graphic design museum in Breda. There’ll be live coverage on the museum’s website, emceed by none other than Queen Beatrix! I love the Dutch. —JH