Herbert Lubalin Advocate of Provocative Typography

Herbert LubalinThere is a new word to describe typography. This word is provocative. Its initiator is an advertising typographer named Herbert Lubalin.

Most New England printers now know just what Herb Lubalin means when he says that something is provocative—or it isn’t. These same printers may not yet have recovered from their experience; nor, even more likely, has the Tileston & Hollingsworth Co., papermakers since 1801.

The design of the Tileston & Hollingsworth calendar has been a typographic fixture for the past 35 years. In 1961 the firm “broke with tradition” and asked for 12 designs from professional typographers rather than from commercial printers, as had previously been the custom. The break with tradition was even blunter when Herb Lubalin accepted the task of presenting the critique of the 12 sheets.

One former critic stated that if 12 independent designers contributed sheets, there might not be 12 calendars, but there most certainly would be 12 things to talk about. Mr. Lubalin, himself the 13th departure from tradition, lived up to his advance billing in presenting his critique.

In the present controversial typographical situation in which traditional and contemporary designers are facing each other across barricades, Lubalin has become a standard bearer for the latter. He is a lucid spokesman for his side, and no matter how provocative his use of type may be, he can explain it in terms which bear no resemblance to apologia.

In a statement prepared for an exhibition sponsored by the Type Directors Club of New York, Lubalin said: “Through typographic means, the designer now presents, in one image, both the message and the pictorial idea. Sometimes, this “playing” with type has resulted in the loss of a certain amount of legibility. Researchers consider this a deplorable state of affairs, but, on the other hand, the excitement created by a novel image sometimes more than compensates for the slight difficulty of readability.

“The designer, today, has used typography to complement and give meaning to an illustration or photograph, and has used photographs as vital parts of typographic elements. He has resorted to distortion and disfiguration of type forms (harsh words that give fuel to our critics) but the obvious emotional result often lends justification to these disfigurations.”

At present Mr. Lubalin is vice-president and executive art director of the New York firm of Sudler and Hennessey. Because of his success in this post, his name has been added to the design division of the agency, which is now known as SH&L. Since graduating from Cooper Union Art School in 1939, he has been the recipient of a great many awards for design. He has written and lectured on the subject sufficiently to inspire an appreciative following and to effect wide acceptance of his ideas.

Lubalin has been commissioned by the U.S. Post Office Department to design a series of air mail stamps. His current work includes a hand in the face-lifting of the Saturday Evening Post. This may or may not represent good design—depending upon your viewpoint—but again it is something to talk about.

Since Lubalin is a leader in the creation of a typographic image for our own time, it is good to know that he has given the matter serious thought and has definite suggestions for the future.

”In the past few years there has been more poor typography than at any previous time in advertising history. But there has also been an abundance of exciting new approaches by a great many designers, where in the past this excitement was provided by an isolated few.”

This article first appeared in the March 1962 issue of The Inland Printer/American Lithographer. Although uncredited, it is most likely written by Alexander S. Lawson.

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