once in a while you come across a design that just bowls you over. here is a piece of stationery designed by henrik nygren from stockholm, sweden, for atmosfär produktion. (see the whole program here.) in the photo of my desk pin board you can see henrik’s business card. the tiny white rectangle with the single ‘h.’ i met henrik years ago when he contacted me through an acquaintance. i believe he was considering moving to new york, and stopped by my studio to share his work and ask a few questions about design in nyc. the work was clean, spare, restful and above all inspiring. after his visit i did not maintain a correspond-
ence, but his card remained on my wall. years later, i was in munich, zurich, geneva—frankly i don’t remember where— but i bought a little book that was published in swedish. as far as i could tell, it showcased superb samples of graphic design and intimate photos of printing presses, a wonderful point of view. since i believe in looking everywhere, at everything for inspiration, i thought i had found a wonderful resource despite not being able to read it.
so many years ago now, i taught a few classes at parsons school of design, and i had a swedish student, mats hakansson. he’s a talented designer i don’t see enough of and who happily, for me, worked at our studio. unfortunately, new york has the habit of coming between friends. life intrudes, and there is a lot of life in new york city but we managed to have lunch and i asked him to stop by the studio. while he was there, i brought out this book and asked him to translate. he told me it was the work of one designer and the book was about his projects and, suddenly, it hit me, i knew this person—it was henrik. wow. i never made the connection until that very moment. i had poured over the pages and looked at each project carefully, and i did so again with renewed interest. later that week, i located his business card. it had been filed away to make room for a new wall collage. i sent him an email and told him that i had discovered the book somewhere and just realized it was his work. i mentioned how much i loved everything in it and asked if he could send me a copy of the atmosfär letterhead. it so happened he was coming to nyc the following month for a project and he would be happy to stop by and bring a few samples. needless to say i was thrilled. i’m now thrilled to share this wonderful letterhead with you.
i moved to new york in 1989 and i’ve only been to mr. chow’s once. it’s expensive, but frankly i don’t remember the food. i do love the letterhead, though. i have absolutely no memory of where i found this. i have racked my brain, but for the life of me i simply cannot remember. for a so-called modernist i certainly have many examples that do not fit into that narrow category. i actually believe i have more that doesn’t. there is a great deal i like about this letterhead. i appreciate it because i don’t think i could have designed it. one of the best reasons to work with other designers is because of their unique ‘voices.’ being of a certain age, i tend to gravitate to particular typefaces, stay within a comfort zone, i simply do not see certain possiblitlies. design is often a team effort, sharing the discovery and the solution is rewarding. what strikes me in particular about this design is the laid paper. a perfect choice. i have rarely specified laid paper, not sure why. typefaces are everything when designing a letterhead and the choices here is spot on. i remember when i taught typography and had a long discussion about choosing a typeface. one student had selected a specific typeface for his resume. stealth. the name of the font says it all. my questions to this particular student was, ‘what does this say about you? does it say too much? how “designed” do you want something to be? what note do you want to hit?’ mr. chow’s letterhead really resonates with me. maybe it does with you?
maybe you’ve read this book, maybe not. i read it in the summer of 1988 when i was working at wolf olins in london. i was between my first and second years of grad school and as a second-year student one of my classes was to be with paul rand. since starting my blog, i have often been asked to share my memories and experiences as a student, especially those with mr. rand. before i started my second year, i decided that i should prepare for his class. the rumor (which turned out not to be true), was that he was a tough taskmaster. therefore, i decided to read through the footnotes from his books, a designer’s art and thoughts on design. this meant hunting down those books referenced and reading them before my classes started. i wanted to be sure that when he mentioned one of these books i could say, ‘yes, i’ ve read that.’ mr. rand’s class was pretty straightforward. we were given a text from le corbusier and ozenfant, sur la plastique, and told to design a booklet around it. a problem for the grid, pacing, typography, book binding. the research was not particularly difficult per se, but i do remember sitting at my desk and thinking about where i should start. all the second-year students were housed on the second floor of 212 york street. the first-years in the basement. (surely on purpose?) to enter 212, you had to pass wolf’s head, one of yale’s secret societies. i was endlessly fascinated by these amazing mausoleum-like structures, but what was particular about this secret society was the building. it was designed by bertram goodhue, the designer of cheltham typeface. cool, right? anyway, back to class. my experience there was rather uneventful, i thought i was judged as much by what i knew as by what i was doing, and was pretty much left alone. i think mr. rand’s criticism and toughness were reserved for those with less design experience and less understanding of the problem at hand. at that time, at yale, there were many students who came into the program with little to no knowledge of design. much to my surprise. throughout the semester, a few of us would make our way to weston, ct, to visit mr. rand at his home for a review of our assignment. often he would share the latest books he was reading, and would mention that we should be reading them too. on one occasion, i went to visit him alone and i was allowed to poke through his library. i pulled out one book. it was nothing special, but of course i recognized the spine. i was thrilled to see that mr. rand had marked and annotated throughout the book. it was rich with his thoughts and comments. i returned it to the shelf feeling as though i had just passed through his brain. i have always loved the idea of marginalia, and recently enjoyed reading a thoroughly academic book, ‘margins and marginalia’ by evelyn tribble. so the years went by, and i would make visit after visit to mr. rand. unfortunately they became less frequent, but whenever i called on him i was always welcomed. after he died i tried to visit mrs. rand when i could, and when she mentioned that she was going to sell his library, i couldn’t image it being dispersed. i asked mrs. rand if i could buy some of his books. she mentioned that yale’s sterling library was coming to make a selection for yale students to browse through at the art of the book room at the sterling, and once they had made their selections i could come see what was left. the first book i selected was the very one i had looked at years before. mr. rand’s copy of ‘art as experience.’ it’s one of my most treasured items, and i could never give it up. enjoy. i know i have.
i have written before about a particular category of my collections which falls under ‘i just like it.’ here is another item from that category, or maybe i should start a new one entitled ‘why did i buy it?’ unfortunately, i believe i have quite a few things that would fit into this category. this cover was bought because i thought it might be useful in a design one day. imagine what arcane piece of graphic design would use such an item. maybe it could be part of a background on a poster. i am reminded of trompe l’oeil paintings. i have always admired them, but when I see them today i wonder why people paint them. i guess i can see how technically satisfying a painting like this could be and i certainly enjoy looking at them. if i recall my art history and the antique road show, as well as refreshed by google, otis kaye always did trompe l’oeil painting with us currency. maybe just framing this piece of paper would be enough. the merits of its color. its folds. the little dash of color. am i projecting? most likely. maybe you can tell me what you see.
i mentioned that i worked at wolf olins for a summer, years ago. it was through a friend of mine, simon johnston, who made the connection there for me. i met simon in basel where he was studying at the basel school of design. i was with my classmates from rhode island school of design. our teacher, franz weiner, who had attended sfgbasel, took a group of students to visit and do similar but abbreviated assignments, meet the teachers and visit notable design spots. i loved it! i relished everything but the brussels sprouts. i tried to keep in touch with simon over the years and i was excited when he started the magazine octavo, along with mark holt and hamish muir. hopefully most everyone is familiar with this publication. it was beautifully produced and had wonderful articles; i cited one here before. i was excited to visit their offices on endel street. often, when simon was not working, which was not often, we would eat at centraila (an extremely cheap italian hole in the wall) and talk about design, book collecting and english football. i have many fond and treasured memories. anyway, here is something you most assuredly have not seen: the letterhead for the magazine. the design is straightforward, clean, simple and says what needs to be said. often not the case. however, what is missing, and what you can’t experience, is the paper. it is light as a feather, a 10-pound typewriter paper. i have no idea how 8vo was able to get someone to print on it. years ago, i printed on a similar weight parchment and it took three days to print twenty thousand sheets. the printer, daniels in everett, mass., was super but not happy. as i have mentioned before, my letterhead collection is my favorite and i don’t often get a chance to add to it. simon visited a few years ago and presented me with this example. another treasure.
in several posts, i mentioned that i collect playing cards. actually, although i have several reference books on the subject, i really don’t collect playing cards. they just present themselves as irresistible pieces of artwork. mind you, often it is a card with just a club beautifully centered in a white rectangle. i am hopelessly in love with the endless variation. here are four that i picked up at an ephemera fair years ago. if i remember the price, it’s usually because i paid more than i should have. since i don’t remember how much these cost, it must not have been too much. as with so much in my collection, i know little about these cards and, unfortunately, i do not own the entire deck. however, these four cards are enough to make me smile. ‘a batch of barristers’ is so amusing. hearts and spades as faces. tea cartons as diamonds. i can’t image how the clubs were used. i search for playing cards
on ebay but have never seen anything like these. there is one particular dealer who has many nineteenth-century cards, often just selling one card from the deck. like so many categories of collecting, this is a culture unto its own, with its terminology, grades and rarities. i have no idea where these cards fall, but i bought them because they are unique to my eye and I was happy to add them to what is now a collection of playing cards.