Lubalin’s Legacy

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


Lubalin Now
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

Voting Irregularities Already!

The donkey is universally recognized as the symbol of Democratic Party of the United States. Except inside voting booths in New York State, where affiliation with the Democratic party is marked by a five-pointed star. Midwestern voters indicate the Democratic ticket with a rooster, except in Missouri, where the symbol has traditionally been the Statue of Liberty — coincidentally also the symbol of the Libertarian party, which appealed to use the symbol when they joined the ballot in 1976. They’ve settled for using the Liberty Bell instead, though some Missouri Libertarians also use the symbol of the mule. Not the Democratic mule, mind you, the Missouri mule. The mule is the state animal of Missouri.

Those who suspect that Republican iconography will show the same mastery of political organization as the rest of that party are correct: Republican candidates are always signified by an elephant, except inside voting booths in Indiana, New York, and West Virginia, where an eagle is used instead. And in these states, as well as the 47 others, the eagle is also the national symbol of the United States itself.

The Chicago typefoundry of Barnhart Brothers & Spindler showed these “Election Typecuts” in their Catalog 25-A, published around 1930, and 78 years later I think my district is still using this same art. Cheerily Barnhart Brothers accompanied their samples with this legend:

When changes in the political situation — the birth of new parties, revision of election laws, or other causes call for new emblems or characters other than shown above, our facilities enable us to produce the material promptly at moderate cost.

I’m ready. You? —JH

The Evolution of Tech Logos

It took a visit to Finland in 1996 to realize that Nokia the cellphone company and Nokia the tire company were one and the same. Apparently these are merely the latest stops on a very long journey: Nokia was founded in 1865 as a wood-pulp mill, on a channel of rapids between two Finnish lakes, all of which goes to explain why the company’s original logo was this slightly alarmed salmon.

Neatorama is running a very entertaining look at the evolution of tech companies’ logos, which includes such well-known corkers as IBM’s grand typographic globe, and the short-lived Apple logo (that still makes me hear strains of “Carry On My Wayward Son.”) Less publicized, with good reason, is the original Canon logo — née Kwanon — which had all the worldly sophistication of a Charlie Chan movie. I’m gravely concerned for the Motorola logo, though: it’s memorable, distinctive, and typographically lovely; there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, which means it’s probably next in line for the ax. (Xerox, I’m looking at you.) So I'm adding this one to the H&FJ Endangered Logo Watchlist, and offering 3:2 odds on a tragic redesign before the decade’s out. —JH.

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