What was it like to work with the legendary Herb Lubalin? And to be involved in the design and production of Herb’s game-changing tabloid, Upper and Lower Case, the International Journal of Typographics.
Jason Calfo, Ilene Strizver, and I — U&lc veterans — got together at “Pencil to Pixel” to reminisce about working with Herb back in the day when designers “sent out for type,” when workstations, instead of iMacs, had drawing boards and T-squares, and when repositioning elements on a layout meant going glug-glug-glug with a rubber cement thinner dispenser rather than using a computer’s arrow key.
“It’s amazing both how groundbreaking U&lc lc was from a technical and aesthetic point of view,” recalled Calfo, who worked at Herb Lubalin Associates from 1979 to 1981. “U&lc spanned a unique era in the development of typography, from metal to photo to digital. Its pages were both a platform for marketing ITC typefaces and for bringing Herb’s revolutionary, inspirational typographic style to designers around the world.”
I was present at U&lc ’s birth, so to speak. After falling in love with Herb’s 1972 “The First Typo-Graphics Agency” booklet, I visited Lubalin, Smith, Carnase on vacation in New York. Luckily, Herb was there and available to talk type with me, “a designer from The Coast.” Within six months, he was my boss, mentor and father figure.
In 1973, amidst the various annual report, packaging, logo and advertising projects everyone at the studio was involved in, Herb proclaimed that he was tired of dealing with clients. He wanted to become his own client, have total creative freedom, and develop a vehicle to promote typefaces he’d designed or overseen — Avant Garde Gothic, Souvenir, Lubalin Graph, Serif Gothic, and many others. My job was to interpret Herb’s “tissues” — squiggly layouts hand-drawn on tracing paper and put the pages together. Typically, I’d bring him a completed mechanical — up to 100 pieces pasted together with two-coat rubber cement on illustration board — and he’d stare it silently for a while and then say something like, “Why don’t you move ‘Mother and Child’ over here and ‘Marriage’ over there.” Every element had to be lifted and repositioned. Herb was right, of course. The revised layout was much better.
In 1979, Calfo took over the lead role. He explained the process in detail: “Herb and I would review the tissues and briefly discuss the look he wanted. The headlines were sketched in outline and, although his line was never straight, I would know exactly the effect he was after. I’d spec the text type and work with the type house to ensure a nice rag or a visually perfect justified column with no widows, no rivers of white space, and an even overall color. Often we’d go through four to six rounds of galleys before the optimal kerning was established. Display type would usually be set on our typositor. Then came the arduous task of ‘type tailoring’ — physically cutting and splicing the letters together to overlap the serifs and retouching with ink and gouache.”
Toward the end of Herb’s life, when he was too ill to come to the studio every day, Calfo recalled, he’d bring the layouts, instead of up the spiral staircase to Herb’s desk, to the Lubalin townhouse on MacDougal Alley. After absorbing Herb’s comments, Calfo would complete and deliver the mechanical boards to the offices of International Typeface Corporation, the company that owned and licensed the typefaces that U&lc’s pages were designed to promote.
Flash-forward to 1988 when, ten years after starting my own firm, I received a “call for entries” from ITC, which was holding a competition; they sent the text and visuals for two spreads: “Why Is ‘A’ the First Letter of Our Alphabet?” and “The Shakespeare Alphabet” to various designers. I submitted layouts made from photocopies of hand-traced type—the photocopier was a major technological advance. Halleluyah! I got the contract to design several issues. By that time, the covers were color and there was a 12-page color section. When I brought the layouts to ITC’s offices, I’d meet with production manager Ilene Strizver.
Now, head of The Type Studio and author of Type Rules! The Designer’s Guide to Professional Typography, Strizver had been expertly assembling the elements since 1979, counting among her responsibilities type specing and tailoring, fine-tuning layouts, hand-drawing the box rules, and making complex manual overlays for color separations. “I had the privilege of working closely ITC’s in-house designer, Bob Farber, and many other top designers including Martin Pedersen, Roger Black and Lou Dorfsman,” she said.
Strizver ultimately became creative/production director, which involved working with all the designers who made their mark with the publication’s evolving look and feel, as well as doing the production. “This role,” she said, “spanned the transition from professionally set type delivered as paper type galleys ready for paste-up, to being completely typeset internally on the Mac.” In 1991, she became ITC’s director of typeface development until the closing of ITC doors in 2001, when the company was purchased by Agfa Monotype, now Monotype Imaging.
It is fascinating to look though all 120 issues of U&lc, many of which appear in the book U&lc, Influencing Design and Typography by John D. Berry, a visual history of the changing aesthetics and technology of typography of the last quarter of the 20th century. As Calfo pointed out, U&lc was always ahead of its time, the aesthetics morphing from Herb’s black-and-white, strictly gridded columns, to an airier look with more white space, to a layered, “New Wave” vibe contributed by such firms as Why Not Associates.
All of us who were involved would agree, I think, that Herb would have “kvelled” to see the innovation that followed him. And that he definitely would have loved to “type tailor” using the arrow key instead of fume-producing rubber cement.
The covers and spreads shown in this post were graciously provided by Alexander Tochilovsky, director of The Herb Lubalin Study Center of Design and Typography at the Cooper Union, which preserves Lubalin’s vast collection of work and provides the design community and the public with the opportunity to study his work and that of other seminal designers.
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