Creative Titans: Herb Lubalin, the Father of Conceptual Typography

Born in 1918, Herbert Lubalin was a celebrated American graphic designer and typographer. Commonly referred to as “the father of conceptual typography”, he was responsible for introducing expressive typography into print advertising.

As a colorblind and ambidextrous designer, many of his works are in either one or two colors (usually red and green or red and blue). His own work was fairly reductive, so he had to put his faith in illustrators and photographers to create the full-color images. While some would view colorblindness as a setback, he was able to set his focus on letterform and layout, without being distracted by color. This resulted in some truly unique use of typography that had not been seen before, and would set new trends for emerging designers.

Herb didn’t always have a passion for graphic design. Following his education at New York’s Cooper Union, he worked as an accomplished art director for over 20 years. He wouldn’t begin his storied career as a type designer until 1970.

Popular Work

 

Herb Lubalin has a number of influential typographic works attributed to his name and is responsible for designing the Avant Garde typeface. Along with a number of popular logos, he is also responsible for admired poster designs and avant garde pieces. In 1974, he also created the publication U&lc (Upper and lower case), which showcased the International Typeface Corporation’s (ITC) typefaces (which he also co-founded).

 

Herb’s philosophy was “you can do a good ad without good typography, but you can’t do a great ad without good typography.” Along with mastering typography in advertising, he also specialized in subliminal logos and the use of negative space. His favorite work (which is also one of his most widely recognized) is a prime example of this. His award-winning logo design for a Curtis Publication, “Mother & Child,” illustrates the name with the suggestion of a fetus inside the logo.

 

Lubalin was able to express his eclectic side as the art director of three of Ralph Ginzburg’s influential magazines: Eros, Fact, and Avant Garde. There, he was able to combine his work as an art director with his work in typography. The magazines sadly went under due to obscenity charges filed by the US Postal Service against Ginzburg.

Design Strategy

 

Lubalin didn’t believe that what he did should be considered typography, but rather as “designing with letters”. He was inventive with type and really made words speak, referring to his craft as “expressive typography”.

Lubalin was a political designer who wasn’t afraid to say what he believed. He was a progressive liberal and worked on controversial pieces, like his work with Ginzburg. He didn’t take slack from anyone and was famously quoted as saying: “I’m my own client. Nobody tells me what to do.”

He was the recipient of a number of prestigious awards, including seven Gold Medals from the Art Directors Club, Art Director of the Year Award from the National Society of Art Directors, an AGI and AIGA Medal, a Clio, two honors from The Cooper Union, and the TDC Medal.

Lubalin subscribed to both modern and late-modern ideals, which he worked to seamlessly bridge the gap between. He passed away in 1981, but is still commonly regarded as one of the most influential graphic designers of the 20th century. He helped set the stage for typography in advertising and still serves as an inspiration to modern graphic designers today.

Color Theory & Package Design

Custom Packaging & Color Theory

When it comes to branding and packaging, color is crucial.  Colors are often used to trigger sensory reactions and emotions, and to prompt consumers to make assessments about brands.

In an article in the Journal of Management History entitled Impact of Color on Marketing, researchers found that 60-90% of people make snap judgments about products within 90 seconds based on color alone.  “Prudent use of colors can contribute not only to differentiating products from competitors, but also to influencing moods and feelings – positively or negatively – and therefore, to attitude towards certain products.  Given that our moods and feelings are unstable and that colors play roles in forming attitude, it is important that managers understand the importance of colors in marketing.“

Marketing studies suggest that our habits prefer instantly recognizable brands, which makes color incredibly important when creating a brand identity.  Color Research & Application recommends that new brands choose colors that specifically differentiate them from established competitors (Coca-Cola’s can is red, Pepsi’s is blue, 7-Up’s is green… see where this is going?).

All that said, it is important to note that the symbiotic relationship between brands and color can work for you, but it can also work against you.  The reason is that there are hardwired connections between colors and the products they represent.  Yellow is often used to trigger hunger (Golden Arches, anyone?), possibly due to the fact that starches and breads are often yellow and brown.  Blue is subdued and suppresses appetite, and dominant blues and greens are historically unpopular in food packaging design (save in generic household cleaning products and cereals).

Researchers at the University of British Columbia showed fake ads to a group of students, and studied their feedback after seeing different colors.  Red produced a positive evaluation of the imaginary product.  Blue evoked images of water and tranquility: oceans, openness, peace, calm.  They found that blue in product packaging was successful to accomplish specific goals in consumers’ minds—a whitening toothpaste that stops tooth decay –– while red was best to illicit an emotional response and trigger memory.

While certain colors are closely associated with specific traits (e.g., brown with “ruggedness”, black with “sophistication” and “luxury”, red with “passion”), most design and branding professionals agree that it’s far more essential for a brand’s colors to support their personality and messaging rather than reinforcing color association stereotypes.  There is a strong correlation between the use of colors and consumers’ perceptions of a brand’s personality.  Predicting consumer reaction to a product’s color and custom packaging design is far more important than the color itself.  Remember, branding and packaging design can be aspirational… purchasing decisions reflect how the consumer wants their lifestyle to be, not as it actually is.

There are no absolute, concrete parameters or set of guidelines for choosing a brand’s colors and packaging color scheme.  Shoot instead to capture subtle feeling, mood, and brand image, because this has the ultimate power of persuasion.

With all that said, here’s an infographic from First Site Guide that speaks to many of these issues, as well as many others! 

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