Selling Design in 1942

Chicago was (and still is) a hot graphic design town. Back in 1942—and for many years before and after—27 designers, typographers, and illustrators were gathered together in a spiral-bound book to sell their wares. The platforms may have changed somewhat in 72 years, but the methods of self-promotion and selling design are still the same.

I’ve excerpted some of the most alluring pages from this annual volume, all the while fascinated by the parallel world that was Chicago. Many designers there had stylistic counterparts elsewhere, some who were more “famous.” (Can you find the Lester Beall acolyte?) Others appear to have invented their styles from whole cloth. All but one of the names below is familiar to me; the others, for one reason or another, never made it into the history books—and Chicago had its fair share of designers in the canon, as it stands.

Noteworthy are the graphic elements frequently used: antique type, surreal landscapes, cubist compositions, and a preference for script typefaces.

Also remember that the United States was one year into World War II, so at least a few of the designers sold themselves through the graphic language of wartime patriotism. And for many, it was the last year that they practiced their art and craft in civilian clothes until after the war.

For a contemporary self-promo primer, download Jeff Fisher’s HOW Design Conference presentation on Planning, Packaging, and Promoting Yourself as the Product.

6 thoughts on “Selling Design in 1942

  1. Pannekoek

    Very nice. Boy, a lot of folks eating off of Lester Beale’s and Herbert Bayer’s plates, though. But then, the New Bauhaus and the Container Corporation of America did leave deep footprints in Chicago.

  2. Carol Arrington

    thanks for posting this. I worked for a point of purchase display company in downtown Chicago. I was in the same building at Ohio and ST Claire as Bert Ray worked. That area was great fun in those days – I could attend art gallery openings every week, take in talks at the Art Institue and the Museum of Contemporary Art had just opened on Ontario ST. forgot to mention this was the sixties and seventies.

  3. Andy

    A lot of Salvador Daii influences.  What is sad to me is that behind the graphic design of 1942, there was a real industry in Chicagoland, as compared to today, when the surface of everything is all we have, a virtual cornucopia of image without productivity.  
    See this article about the invention of the ballpoint pen, manufactured in 1945, ready for returning soldiers. American ingenuity and industrial might.
    Today, all the pens would be made for pennies in India.