The Daily Heller: Family Planning Made Modern

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Rudolph de Harak (1924–2002) opened his studio in 1952 to make design that was driven by the virtues of modern order and simplicity rooted in geometry. In his design work he was devoted to the universality of sans-serif typography to achieve efficient communication (not purely literal but decidedly interpretable). His hundreds of book jackets, record covers and posters, sometimes comprised only with bold yet disciplined type treatments, other times with high-contrast collage and abstract pictographs and optical experiments, are evidence of his systematic approach to this aspect of design. (He also had a more painterly, emotionally expressive artistic side.)

The systematic approach, however, is famously featured among the almost 350 covers he designed for McGraw-Hill paperbacks in the early '60s. “De Harak's signature grid structure was a tabula rasa on which abstract and symbolic imagery evoked the conceptual themes of these books—philosophy, anthropology, psychology and sociology,” I wrote in The Moderns: Mid-Century Graphic Design.

Around 1958, under the studio name Rudolph de Harak Incorporated, he was introduced to Berthold's Akzidenz-Grotesk and he began using this exclusively for Westminster Records and book jackets he designed for Meridian Press, New Directions, Holt Rhineheart and Winston, Doubleday and the aforementioned McGraw-Hill paperback covers, which became laboratories for his experiments with color, type, optical illusion, photography and other techniques. He worked with a limited number of typefaces, at first Franklin Gothic, News Gothic, then Akzidenz-Grotesk, and ultimately Helvetica. Each element was fundamental since de Harak did not allow for the extraneous.

The oeuvre mentioned above comprise heritage works that Greg D’Onofrio and I showed in The Moderns. Recently, de Harak’s wife, Carol, found some forgotten work ranging from the early 1970s through the late 1980s, covers for Family Planning Perspectives (later retitled Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health), edited by her brother-in-law Richard Lincoln, an author, editor and social activist.

Regarding the work featured throughout this post, but a small sampling of the covers, she says: “I’m fairly certain that Rudy assigned one person to work on the covers and he, Rudy, would work closely with that designer as the design was developed. I also remember that the budget for the covers was limited, therefore the many covers with a stock photo instead of an original design.” Indeed, many were photographic, while this selection has the de Harak imprimatur.