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.

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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.

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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.

Creative Titans: Bradbury Thompson, the Master of Typography

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Born in 1911, J. Bradbury Thompson was a renowned American graphic designer and art director. His impressive background in printing and design began at a young age, when he designed the yearbooks for his high school and college.

Thompson attended Washburn College, where he later designed the college’s mascot and the Washburn College Bible, which was the most significant development in Bible typography since it was first published by Gutenberg in 1455. During his notable career, he received the American Institute of Graphic Arts Gold Medal in 1975 and the Type Director’s Club Medal in 1986. He was also a member of the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame.

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As Thompson put it: “type can be a tool, a toy, and a teacher”. He perfectly illustrated this with his design of the monoalphabet, Alphabet 26, in 1958. The simplified alphabet system contains only 26 unique characters, with the case established by letter size only. Alphabet 26 consists of a transitional serif that mixes lowercase with uppercase in order to make the letters more logical and intuitive.

As the designer of more than 60 issues of Westvaco Inspirations, he was credited with combining photography, typography, and color to create one cohesive design. He also designed or redesigned more than 35 respected magazines, including Business Week, Harvard Business Review, and the Smithsonian magazine.

During his 15 years as art director of Mademoiselle Magazine, he hired many up-and-coming artists to illustrate the magazine’s strong fiction section, including Andy Warhol, Joan Miro, Willem de Kooning, and Jasper Johns. He also served on Yale University’s faculty to further inspire emerging designers.

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Some of Thompson’s most popular work consists of his extensive contemporary postage stamp designs. Serving on the Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee from 1969 to 1978, he created more than 90 stamps of his own and consulted with the U.S. Postal Service in guiding the design of future stamps.

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Thompson believed in simplifying things. He didn’t believe that a letter (or any graphic symbol) should have two different designs. This led to the creation of his 26-letter font system, which is easier to read, write, and memorize than the existing alphabet of over 40 different characters.

Commonly referred to as the “Master of Typography”, he was best known for his bold use of type. He paid homage to traditional design and modernism in his work by blending modernist typography with classic typefaces and historic illustrations.

The New York Times Book Review said that his artistic autobiography, “The Art of Graphic Design,” was a book in which “art and design are gloriously and daringly mixed”, which is a good representation of his design strategy in general. While Thompson passed away in 1995, his legacy remains strong in the design community through his teachings and iconic book, magazine, and postage stamp designs.

Creative Titans: How Michael Bierut Influenced Typography

Graphic Designer Michael Bierut

 

Michael Bierut is one of the most recognized graphic designers in the world. He studied graphic design at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, and is currently a senior critic in graphic design at the Yale School of Art.

In 1980, he began his first job working alongside the legendary Massimo Vignelli and eventually rose to vice president of design at Vignelli Associates. He put in hard work over the years and even worked double shifts for four years at the design firm, and is now a partner in the New York office of Pentagram.  Recently, Mr. Bierut redesigned the Billboard logo, among other notable projects. He has  won hundreds of design awards and received praise and accolades from innumerable industry professionals over the years.

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While at Pentagram, Bierut has created new brand strategies, identities, and packaging for Yale School of Architecture, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Motorola, to name a few.

Bierut set the stage for typographic style design and took advantage of the beauty of fonts and type. He appreciates the way words look and used them to create unique designs that are hard to forget. He likes experimenting with new typefaces until he finds the perfect one for the client. He even hand-drew the typeface for the Nuts.com rebrand. His hand-drawn typeface was digitized and a one-of-a-kind alphabet was created just for the family-owned nut business.

During the Saks Fifth Avenue redesign, Bierut took the iconic cursive logo that was originally drawn in 1973 by Tom Carnese and breathed new life into it. By subdividing the logo into a grid of 64 smaller squares, which were then shuffled and rotated, he was able to create individual logo tiles that can be used to form abstract compositions. This followed Bierut’s strategy to create consistency without sameness.

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His goal is to create designs that people want to look at and read, and that are ideal for everything from logos to corporate brochures. He has given many inspiring talks throughout the years, highlighting his love of the designer/client relationship.  Mr. Bierut has said that being interested in the same thing as the client is key to a successful outcome.

He stated that “simplicity, wit, and good typography” are the keys to an iconic design. He further explained that “graphic design is the purposeful combination of words, pictures and other visual elements to support the communication of an explicit or implicit message.” While he doesn’t necessarily follow trends, he does observe them and feels that finding a balance between simplicity and complexity is at the core of the design process.

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