book design. page design. title pages. dust jackets. binding. every book i buy, new or old, has these elements. however very few are designed better than this book, the tables of the law by thomas mann designed by paul rand. with all the things written about rand, it’s amazing that none dissects or highlights his ability. i mean really examines it critically. i can look at his career and tell you some of the high points (like this book) and certain low points (his logo for amex) and see inspirational design. the book jacket, binding and book typography were all done by rand in 1945, almost 70 years ago. shit. it remains fresh, except maybe the jacket color, which is a bit drab. but read the book and the color makes sense. i’ve bought countless books for their design, many in german, dutch, czech, japanese…but this one from knopf is translated from german for the american market. thankfully, i can read it and that helps informs my understanding of the design. the tables of the law is about the early life of moses and rand’s design evokes restraint, refinement, sophistication and reflection. what i love most about this book is the grid. the lovely grid. rand once said in class, “a grid is like a musical instrument. it’s only as good as who’s playing it.” well, the grid for this book is a classic mirrored symmetrical design, with generous proportions. it never bores me to examine it. the typographical hierarchy is rich and detailed.
as a design student, i visited the steinhour press in vermont. it was a wonderful place where they printed amazing books, all by letterpress. the type was set on monotype machines and i remember seeing the galleys of type. one specific thing i learned on that visit was line count. i always wondered how a book, such as ‘the table of the law,’ maintained such a perfect grid. seems like a silly question now, but at the time i had no idea. i had never designed a book—brochures, yes, but not a novel. as you know, orphans are rather unsightly and what happens when you let a line carry over to the next page and leave a horrible orphan or widow? the manager overseeing the page layout said that they simply varied the line count if necessary. ‘the tables of the law’ is set to 37 lines deep, but to avoid poor line breaks several pages cheat, not with the line depth count but in the number of lines between chapters. instead of six, there are times when just five lines are used. what i love most is the page numbers as they relate to the chapter numbers. the relationships are amazing. size, scale and placement move the eye around the page. it makes me laugh to express such enthusiasm for typographical details. one of my favorite books on book design is by Jost Hochuli <http://www.typotheque.com/authors/jost_hochuli>, an amazing book designer of whom I have long been a fan and whose work I also collect. there are many other memorable design elements about ‘the tables of the law.’ the binding is simple and rich with a lush green cloth and gold foil stamping on the cover and spine. what is under the dust jacket is also wonderful: the religious iconography and the spine all covered in gold, which is often rubbed away. i heard about that ms. knopf complained about the production costs of the books designed by rand. it seems they were expensive to produce. i can totally see that. this is 1945 after all. i have no idea as to the truth of this story, but i do believe there was great care given to these designs. i had rand sign all the copies of the books he designed that i had collected, but i never discussed them with him. he was always surprised when i brought him something that he had designed. “where did you fine that? still damn good.” we would spar about whose tschichold collection was better. his was, of course. you can’t compete with personally inscribed editions. back to ‘the tables of the law.’ another wonderful aspect of this book is the title page. one of my favorites. a tour de force of asymmetrical typography. don’t forget the year is 1945 and check out the vertical type of the date. also keep in mind this is metal type. this book is printed with letterpress—metal type. which means the title page would have be laid out by hand. no polymer plates then. when i first started collecting in the ‘80s, i checked out many of the printing houses where these books were made. i had dreams of visiting their archives and discovering correspondence from designers like rand, with marked-up galleys, instructions made and corrections reviewed. Alas, by the time i checked they were long gone. maybe just a little is saved here.
my motto, or one of them, is “you’re only a good as the obscurity of your sources.” when i begin a project—or, frankly, even before a even get a project—my head spins with ideas. what about this? no—that!? that’s too far out. where should the client take this? whom are they trying to reach? their brand is great but they have forgotten their core. i review myriad possibilities and have endless discussions with myself. generally i have a meeting with a client and gauge where they want to go, and that usually narrows down the avenues. many times, my collections come in handy as inspirations and a resource. i rarely buy things or books specifically as sources or references—“this book will be good for letterforms” or “this is good for patterns.” my collections serve me for visual stimulus and what i think will be the foundations for an interesting design somewhere down the line. my collections have also been a way for me to dream. i have dreamed of opening a store for years. (my daughter has even wished she would win the lottery just so she could give me the money to open that store.) many times my collections do aid in the design of a project or to just stimulate discussion with other designers. like this one: hundreds and hundreds of matchbook labels collected by one person. i love that this individual collector had taken the time to organize them topically and visually by color. i bought these because it was such a comprehensive collection, rich with design and history, and because i thought they would look amazing framed. imagine all the red, the black, each a blur of color, only to discover the nuances separating one from the next. many collectors of matchbook labels collect them topically; elephants, birds, deer, etc. but of course i love the typography, the illustrations and the color. we recently did a project for a men’s store in mexico city, silver deer. when the client came to us, he already had the name and a clear idea, however done by another designer, of what the store should look like. well, we tried (and i think successfully) to take him in another direction. we started here, looking at these old matchbook labels of deer, but after a while we felt it looked too specific and too familiar. we eventually presented a more clean and stark identity, a fresh canvas to sell the heritage brands the client was passionate about. i am proud of the design but my heart still has a soft spot for these matchbox labels. it’s wonderful to see the depth and richness that can be conveyed in something that is only 2 inches across. enjoy.
1869. germany. caspar moos. there is nothing modern about this letterhead, however the typography speaks to me. the many covers that i have written about are usually bought for the letterhead contained inside. here is just one of the hundreds that i must own, though i have never counted. i think it’s like counting your chips at the poker table. the realization of what you have changes the game. these letterheads serve as so much inspiration. the aspect of the paper, typography, handwriting and the engraved letterhead all add to its richness. the paper is lightweight, maybe 8lb. i think i bought this for one reason: the nine. the eighteen is preprinted and the last two digits are handwritten with a lovely flair. how does your handwriting look? i bet not many of us write that well. why is that? do they teach penmanship in school anymore? i know i was graded on ‘writing’ in elementary school. i remember my report card—all c’s. this letterhead is in german and i tried to make out the handwriting to translate it for you but i gave up. sorry. other more pressing things to do. whenever i think about handwriting i make a mental note; actually, michael sull comes to mind. I’d like to take one of his classes or workshops one day. i already have the tools. i’ve told my daughter we should do this together. of course i get the roll of the eyes and the ‘what planet are you on?’ look. i am interested in acquiring this skill. some day. just another thing for retirement.
here’s a photogram of my paper clip collection. yes. i collect paper clips. i’m sure i have mentioned this collection numerous times before. and yes i made this photogram—in a dark room. they still exist for my pleasure.
paper clips. a perfect collection for new york city. they don’t take up much room and they are pretty cool. i have written about this collection before, in that, when i attend paper fairs, i look at old documents hoping to discover a paper clip that i don’t have. there are many different shapes and if you look carefully you will see no two like. 48 distinct shapes. the majority are pretty old. they have names like: the niagara, the gem, the eureka, the banjo clip, the owl clip. don’t you just love it. i learned more about my collection when linda sullivan, a professor of design at byu, gave me a copy of henry petroski’s evolution of useful things. there is a chapter on the paper clip and i just loved it. such a simple object with such a history. petroski tells how paper clips were worn as a sign of defiance. cool, right. the book is worth reading. i personally just love the different shapes and the notion or idea that this simple form merits such refinement. it works for me and i am thrilled when i discover a shape i have never seen before. i thought the best way to display my collection was in the form of a photogram. the last time i was in a dark room was in grad school, twenty five years ago. quite a while ago. wow a generation in fact. my daughter came along and actually kept things going when i would got too obsessive. nice to have a level headed person around. an amazing fact about new york is that there is just about everything for everyone. i went to this great brooklyn studio where theo, the owner, had prepared a proper darkroom for me and my daughter. the chemicals mixed. proper instruction and everything in it’s place. we spent the next three hours getting the right density of black and making several compositions. at twenty bucks an hour it was well worth it. spending three hours with your daughter and doing something cool. a wonderful memory. she added a great deal to the experience and what a wonderful result it is. i put one of the photograms in my show but this particular one did not make it. the one that did is gridded and shows a more taxonomy-like approach to the clips. happily, gladly, surprisingly someone bought it. how about that. my show ends on the tenth of december do stop by.
for those of you who made it to my first opening, thanks so much. i was so worried that i would need to stand on the corner and hand out ten dollar bills. it was lovely to see old friends, current friends and make new ones. a special thanks goes to andrew, patrick, lulu, laura, brad, pedro, marlene, and stephanie. all of which, without their help, this event would not have taken place. these last few years have been trying ones for me. i have had support from friends and family which is so important. i am not an easy person to live with and i often cannot see the forest for the trees. i hope everyone enjoyed themselves. for those of you who didn’t make the opening, here are a few pictures. i do hope you can stop by and see it. tell me what you think and most of i hope you enjoy it.
the avant garde letterhead. ( great book to own) i have written that this is my main collection and i am devoted to it. should there be a fire in my building, i would know which box to grab. this letterhead is from 1931. incredible, right? tschichold’s ‘neue typographie‘ was first published in 1928. i don’t believe this letterhead was designed by kurt schwitters and i’m not sure if he was in hanover at this time, either. i’m not an art historian, but i would love to return to school and get a phd in design history, focusing on this period. many of the teachers who taught design history when i was in school were not art historians but designers who simply had an avid and passionate interest in the design history. i have acknowledged the depth and insight in christopher burke’s ‘active literature,‘ the monograph on tschichold, and strongly feel that all monographs about designers should be this informative. the time, the place, the reactions to current events—so many factors that contributed to the evolution of a particular piece of design are truly intriguing. this letterhead for a book binder—was he so progressive in his company’s marketing? was he even aware of the current design movement or did the designer simply do a barter and so got his way? whatever the case, the design is memorable and worth considering. enjoy.
sutnar. certainly one of my favorite designers. i have posted about him before, but included only one of his letterheads. here are two that i attribute to him but cannot confirm that definitively. i suspect they are sutnar, but they lack a certain forcefulness that i have come to expect from him, though these are early, ’37 and ’38 respectfully. sutnar was art director of prague’s largest publishing house, drustevní praise, at that time, so it’s feasible. no matter who designed them,they represent another study in the evolution of the avant garde letter-head that ihave come to love. simple, ordered and exhibiting all the sighs of tschichold’s ‘neue typographie.’ these were a real find. ebay strikes again.
i enjoy searching for vintage ibm materials. i recently purchased a new book (at least new to me): ‘the interface, ibm and the transformation of corporate design.’ i have only skimmed it, but it has already heightened the pleasure i take in that period of design. i started out as a lover of corporate identity, long before the phrase ‘branding’ was used. i often prefer to use the word ‘identity.’ it’s more manageable, in my mind, and often more relevant to many of the clients with whom i work. i’m not sure if rand designed this letterhead, but i expect so. i would guess it’s a relatively early design given the logo. rand was designing pretty much all ibm’s materials himself during the early years. there should be an exhibition of just the ibm stationery materials. there were vast quantities of them. i believe at one time ibm was responsible for using more paper for promotional materials and company literature than any other company in the world. incredible. i remember interviewing at saatchi in the ’80s. i was told that i would be working primarily on the ibm account and was asked how i felt about bodoni. since it was the ibm house font, i gathered i wouldn’t be using anything else. this letterhead is certainly before those days. i love the use of city typeface, too. it works perfectly for me. and that blue edge….hey, i’m a happy collector.
the letterhead. in my mind, it remains my most active collection. that is to say, if i see or am offered one, i usually buy it. the finite piece of paper—either eight and half by eleven or a4—gives me infinite pleasure. i never tire of looking at letterheads, albeit old ones. i recall while working in my second job in houston, texas, i had the opportunity to design a program for a company called milpark that made drilling products. ‘mud,’ in fact. i learned that ‘mud’ is a lubricant that aids in drilling for oil. the logotype was already set when i arrived, but the application had not yet been completed. the colors were black and red, and i happily set to work. i recall taking out my ruling pen, mixing red gouache and using a red rule for the design element. i went to town, working on it for a couple days. the creative director was a designer from cranbrook named craig minor. super great guy. (though he fired me after six months, a story for another time.) this was the feeling-out process for the new designer: a simple project with narrow constraints. after a few days, i pinned all the designs up in the conference room. they filled a whole wall. i remember craig coming in and being a bit surprised. i had done very little editing. hell, i was having fun. i didn’t care about the client, i just loved moving that little red rule around the page. the letterheads i’m sharing from my collection use the square much more successfully than i used my red rule. these designs by max huber are from the 60s or 70s, i believe, though i’m not sure. my apologies, as i do not have access to my reference books to check if these letterheads are included. they were bought at auction along with a pile of other items by max huber. i have always enjoyed the a4 format over the u.s. format. the slightly narrow vertical just seems right. there is an art to placing something on a piece of blank paper. i recall the 2d assignments of my freshman year. a small black square on a ten-inch white square. then, in the spring semester, learning in art history about the story of two squares. i even use this image as my skype picture. (yes, I carry design way too far). the swiss style is always comforting to me. i love the order. i love the simplicity. everything has its place, and moving anything on the page changes it altogether. it was obvious when i made my presentation to craig that my designs did not have this sense of completeness or uniformity. i was learning then. i still am.
it doesn’t have to be old nor found at the flea market to find its way into one of my collections. i have a box, several in fact, filled with tear sheet after tear sheet. (sadly, when we moved out of our studio and into our loft, i threw out 20 boxes filled with tear sheets.) unlike most of my collections, these tears sheet are easily categorized—stills, home, portraits, interiors, beauty—and all of these have subsets. for portraits, there are folders for women’s fashion, men’s fashion, kids, etc. then there are the specific photographers: richard burbridge, miles aldridge, raymond meier, hans gissinger. all favorites of mine. the tears sheets serve as inspiration and are used for concept work. i have many instances where these images—mostly photography, though there is a category for illustration—actually drove a particular design.
once we were hired by the pr firm kcd to work on the pr materials for isabella rossellini. the ad agency leagas delaney in london was handling the positioning and they had come up with the name ‘manifesto.’ it coalesced ms rossellini’s idea of individual beauty into a basic concept of ‘accept who you are no matter what race, size or color, and celebrate yourself.’ (and buy the cosmetics behind this concept, of course.) it seemed simple enough to me. upon getting the assignment, i pulled out folder after folder and looked through my trove of tear sheets. (this was before flickr and google search.) i am one of those people who garbage-pick magazines, and subscribe to way too many, and i still love tearing out my favorite images. i found a beauty image by mile aldridge in allure magazine of a young girl, 14 or so, wearing braces and bright red lipstick. his lighting is just amazing. everything about this image was a home run and it spoke directly to the core message. the braces juxtaposed with the lipstick was so perfect. so we built our brochure around this series of images that miles had done in allure. the design was presented and accepted. everyone was happy. (you can see a bit here and here.) but there’s a twist to the story. the agency in london did the casting and selected the perfect model with braces for the shoot. a week before the shoot, she came in for another go-see and she’d had her braces removed. oops. it was too late to find another model with braces so we had to pay to have this young girl’s braces replaced. she wasn’t too happy about that. ah, the things we do for fashion.
now, these tears sheets. wieden and kennedy, circa 1993. sports illustrated. odd, since i rarely read sports magazines, but they are a ten in my book. for content as well as photography. the photographer is kenji toma. after seeing these images, i hired him to shoot some 18th-century tureens for a magazine i was designing. ‘classic home,’ now long defunct. you might not be able to read the text on the twinkly. it says “ingredients: who are you kidding? you know what this stuff is made of, nothing. it’s not good for you. you know what’s good for you? tennis. a nice healthy sport. fresh air, exercise, sweating, and no partially hydrogenated animal shortening.” great, right? how often do you find this level of design in advertising? makes you work harder, doesn’t it. it did me.