Lucian Bernhard Type Design on Speed

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Lucian Bernhard is best known for his German poster style Sachplakat, or object poster. Focusing on a single object or product with minimal type altered the look of advertising. He also made inroads into German type design when the Berthold Type Foundry issued a “block” letter in 1910 that looked suspiciously like Bernhard’s own poster lettering, which forced him to seriously design his own alphabets to protect his inventions. In 1913 Bernhard’s first typeface, Antiqua, was released by the Flinsch Foundry in Frankfurt; it was a good book face and the beginning of many more.

Yet these were only in Europe. After the war, Bernhard accepted an invitation to come to the United States in 1922. Roy Latham, who ran a lithography firm in New York, proposed that Bernhard speak before various art directors’ clubs about advertising and logo design. Bernhard was seduced by the city and decided to stay on for another six months, which turned into a permanent residency.

During his first years in New York, Bernhard was routinely hired to render advertising sketches, but most were rejected. Although his German style was underappreciated in New York, he refused to compromise to American tastes. Some clients did come knocking with his original style in mind, but he needed another income stream. Bernhard had developed typefaces for Flisch and Bauer Type foundries in Germany, including a transitional bold brush script. He designed his first elegant script, Bernhard, in 1922 while traveling from Germany to New York on a steamship. In 1928 he joined forces with American Type Foundry, for which he produced his family of gothics. He believed that sans serif type should not be used for text, once writing: “There is no doubt that the best type for continuous reading is the one in which schoolbooks, novels and newspapers are printed: Garamond, Jenson or Goudy Old Style.” Understanding that display faces were subject to the whims of fashion, however, he cluttered the market with new advertising types. Some were modern and others classic, but when looking at the specimen sheets today, there is a certain timeless quality that should give young revivalists a few ideas on how to use Bernhard in contemporary times.

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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →