Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth, who have reissued facsimiles of the 1970 NYCTA Graphics Standards Manual and the NASA Graphics Standards Manual, are announcing The American Revolution Bicentennial manual. It is a precursor to the NASA logo that Bruce Blackburn would design a couple of years later. The long-forgotten manual is now available for sale by their publishing imprint Standards Manual. It’s a perfect facsimile of the original, wrapped in a black blind-embossed dust jacket, featuring a foreword by Blackburn and an essay by New York magazine’s Christopher Bonanos. A limited-edition run of 1,976 copies will include an original 1976 U.S. postage stamp that displays the only true-to-form representation of the symbol. Editions without the stamp will also be available. It goes on sale today here. I asked Reed to tell us more about the impetus for this emergence of facsimiles.
This is your fourth standards manual. Why are these reprints so important for you and Hamish to republish?
It’s important to continue archiving bodies of work that have potential to be lost over time. The Bicentennial program, along with NASA and NYCTA, are just a few critical moments in our profession that students and younger designers risk not knowing about. We’ve been fortunate enough to work with the designers on these projects, namely Richard Danne and Bruce Blackburn, which is a critical feature in allowing the stories to be told by the individuals who made them a reality.
You’ve done extremely well selling the MTA and NASA books. Do you see an endless (or almost limitless) fount of these designer-treasures?
Endless might be pushing it, but there’s certainly a wealth of incredible case studies that are left to be preserved. As we’ve seen in Unit Editions’ Manuals volumes, our profession’s history is rich in precedent, and being imitated to an unbearable degree by designers who might not be familiar with the past. Our goal is to expose the great work that has been influencing contemporary graphic design.
What are the criteria for those that you choose to reprint?
The work should have had an impact. This impact can manifest in many ways, but the systems we’ve investigated thus far have proven to be successful over the course of many decades. We see their influence in our work and our peers, and that says a lot. As much as the design fascinates us, we’re really interested in the stories behind these manuals—how they came to be, their demise (in the case of NASA), and all the insights that come with creating larger-scale graphics programs.
Simply put, the work is intentional, rigorous and done with great integrity—maybe that’s our criteria?
Do you see your demographic for the bicentennial as more than designers with an inkling for C.I.?
For each of our projects, we’ve always thought there was at least one other audience outside of designers that would have an interest. With NYCTA it was New York City residents and transit enthusiasts. NASA appealed to followers of the aeronautics program as well as those who grew up during the administration’s heyday. And we think the Bicentennial program also hits home for those with an avid interest in the history of this country and what our independence meant for the lives of everyone who calls the United States home.
On a more topical note, we can’t help but realize the timing with our current presidential election and what it means to be “American”—how you represent yourself, what that message is, and how it impacts others around you. Bruce’s symbol really did that for our nation—it was a symbol of pride that people strongly embraced.
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