Avant Gardiste

We can't get enough of Herb Lubalin-lovin' so it's a good thing Unit Editions keeps feeding our addiction to the work of the American design genius. Here are five highlights from Herb Lubalin: Typographer

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Herb Lubalin (1918–81) was one of the most inspiring graphic designers of the last century – the wit, energy and maverick spirit of his design still inspires today, despite the fact that he has been in and out of fashion over the decades. Publisher Unit Editions has documented and critiqued Lubalin's work in two previous books, but this third and latest offering focuses entirely on Lubalin's work as a typographer. Interestingly, Lubalin always denied that he was a typographer, claiming ‘I’m terrible, because I don’t follow the rules.’ As this book proves, that's exactly why we still love him. Here, Shaughnessy picks out five examples of work from the book that illustrate seminal moments and unique concepts that Lubalin developed as a designer. 

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Zebra logo by Herb Lubalin

Many of Herb Lubalin’s best logos were black and white. As well as being famously ambidextrous (he was said to be able to sketch letterforms with one hand, and sign cheques with the other – at the same time), he was also colourblind. This classic logo for an advertising agency called Zebra had an extra reason for being black and white – it was the first USA advertising agency jointly owned by African Americans and white Americans.

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Advertisement for Spasm by Herb Lubalin

Herb Lubalin began his working life in advertising in the 1950s. He worked for the leading New York agency, Sudler & Hennessey, eventually becoming a director of the company. Later he was to reject advertising and devote himself to design. But it was while he was an adman that he developed his typographic theory of  “graphic expressionism”. Others called it “word pictures” or “conceptual typography”. But as this famous “spasm” ad demonstrates, it was Lubalin’s way of enhancing meaning through expressive typography,.

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Andy Warhol poster by Herb Lubalin

Andy Warhol
In the 1950s, while he was working in advertising, Herb Lubalin frequently commissioned the young illustrator Andy Warhol to do illustrations for pharmaceutical ads. Much later, Lubalin designed the cover for Warhol’s book – The Philosophy of Andy Warhol. Did Warhol request that Lubalin design the cover? Was Warhol a Lubalin fan? Who can say?

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Avant Garde
This logotype was designed in 1968 as the masthead for a magazine called Avant Garde. The magazine was edited by Ralph Ginzbug, and was the third publication he worked on with Herb Lubalin. “Lubalin and I worked together like Siamese twins,” Ginzburg said “It was a rare and remarkable relationship. I had no experience or training as a graphic designer. Herb brought a graphic impact. I never tried to overrule him and almost never disagreed with him.” Later the logotype was turned into one of the most successful typefaces of the 1970s. It was drawn by Lubalin’s long-time associate Tom Carnase. When the typeface was released by ITC (International Typeface Corporation) it made a lot of money for Lubalin, a founder and director of ITC. Lubalin’s financial success was greatly resented by Tom Carnase.

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The graphic designer Mike Aron worked in the Lubalin studio in the late 1970s. One day he was working on a masthead for a new magazine called Families. He was struggling to come up with something that satisfied his famously hard-to-please boss, Herb Lubalin. The deadline was drawing nearer, and Aron’s stress levels were rising. The internal phone rang. It was Lubalin. He said: ‘Dot the L’, and hung up.

Herb Lubalin: Typographer [Unit 25] is available to buy here.
Editors: Adrian Shaughnessy & Tony Brook
Consultant editor: Alexander Tochilovsky
Design: Spin
Edition of 2000