Herb Lubalin

by Saturday, December 9, 2017

Most people recognize the name Herb Lubalin in association with the typeface Avant Garde. And he was the typographer and designer behind its creation, after the success of Avant Garde Magazine and its typographic logo. But, his career spanned a much wider scope than that. One of the people behind the culture-shocking magazines Avant-Garde, Eros and Fact, he was a constant boundary breaker on both a visual and social level. Part of the founding team of the International Typeface Corporation (ITC) and the principal of Herb Lubalin, Inc it was hard to escape the reach of Herb during the 1960s and 70s.

His constant search for something new and a passion for inventiveness made him one of the most successful art directors of the 20th century. He had offices internationally in Paris and London and partnered with many talented individuals over the years including Aaron Burns, Tom Carnase, Ernie Smith and Ralph Ginzburg. A graduate of the Cooper Union in New York he spent time as a visiting professor there as well as designed a logo for them. Constantly working and achieving much success throughout his career, at the age of 59 he proclaimed “I have just completed my internship.”

Although he is celebrated for his lively type, Herb Lubalin didn’t consider himself a typographer; the term felt too mechanical. Instead, he said, he designed with letters. He rejected the rules of traditional typography and the rigors of modernism to create type that was more expressive. He manipulated letterforms, incorporated flourishes, and added a dose of humor. Type became more than a medium for setting text; type became image.

Changes in technology helped. Phototypesetting, a process of projecting type onto film for printing, gave designers in the 1960s much more freedom than setting metal type. This enabled Lubalin to experiment with big changes in scale and unusual letterspacing. He co-founded International Typeface Corporation (ITC) in 1970 to produce typefaces for the new technology, and sought to compensate type designers fairly with royalties and copyright protection. To promote ITC’s products, Lubalin edited and designed the journal U&lc, which became a respected source for inspiration and information.

Lubalin began his career in advertising, spending 20 years at the agency Sudler & Hennessey, Inc. He established his own studio in 1964 and worked with different partners over the years. Throughout the 1960s, Lubalin collaborated with publisher Ralph Ginzburg on three progressive magazines that reflected the changing sexual and political culture of the era: Eros, Fact, and Avant Garde (whose logo later became a typeface). Accordingly, Lubalin’s designs were looser and more experimental than traditional periodicals.

Lubalin died in 1981, but there has been a renewed interest in his work as designers move beyond simple and clean in a search for new means of expression.

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