My Guide to ’60s Design, as Seen Through Myopic Eyes & Rose-Colored Glasses (Part 1), which I originally wrote years ago, was republished on Friday. I wrote this recollection mixed with historical research and interviews on the design phenomena and language of the time. Since then, design history has opened its umbrella to include under-represented and utterly ignored groups and individuals—outsiders for whatever reason and purpose. Read through the following Part 2 with the understanding there are gaps in knowledge, some of which are currently being filled by scholars, archivists and designers who are building upon this and other foundations.
Television and Its Impact on Typography
With the new advertising came, quite literally, new vehicles. For example, the sides and tops of buses became moving billboards. And as the pace of life changed, the pace of page-turning a magazine also quickened in direct proportion to the popularity of TV. This forced typographers, consciously or not, to compete with the television medium.
Herb Lubalin was not satisfied that type communicates its message clearly, he was compelled to present in one image both the message and the pictorial idea. “Television has had its affect,” he wrote as early as 1960. “We are becoming more accustomed to looking at pictures and less in reading lengthy copy. The resulting trend in advertising has been towards large pictorial elements and short, sparkling headline copy. … These influences have created a need for experimentation. … One of the important results is … the typographic image.” As practiced by Lubalin, the “word picture” challenged the inertia of traditional typography by eliminating leading between lines, removing letter-spacing, and altering type forms. In keeping with the TV aesthetic Lubalin contended that the designer “has resorted to distortion and disfiguration of type forms, but the obvious emotional result often lends justification to these disfigurations.”
“Today, the predominance of images over text is a clear indication of a gradual transition from an intellectual to a sensory civilization,” wrote Aldo Novarese, the designer of the typeface Micrograma, in an article explaining his design of his other sans-serif, Eurostile. “This new typeface should be considered a symbol of our present civilization exactly as other faces represented and were the expression of other civilizations in the past.” Indeed Eurostile, which some critics argued tried so hard to be modern that it became a novelty face, based its form on icons of the era, particularly its ‘o,’ which resembles the typical shape of a television screen.
The influence of television on the print medium also prompted philosophical enquiry into the future of print itself. Marhsall McLuhan was perhaps the most controversial savant of the decade. And in 1964 he predicted the demise of print in the age of telecommunications. McLuhan argued that the invention of print changed society from a collective with oral traditions with memory as the supreme storehouse of information, to a cult of individualism. This happened because information could be put down on paper by a lone person in a solitary environment. McLuhan asserted that it did not matter whether books were read or not, because just the physical act of transcription and printing gave rise to categorization, specialization and ultimately alienation. Print shattered tribal unity into many splintered worlds but with television tribal patterns would soon return. The television image was chaotic not orderly; it demanded that people participate in the storytelling process. Forcing people back together through shared images would result in a new world community that McLuhan called the Global Village.
The Kinetic Book
Book design was the last bastion of historicists in their fight against modernity. During the ’60s, however, the book entered the 20th century with a vengeance. Quentin Fiore’s design for McLuhan’s The Medium is the Message and War and Peace in the Global Village (and later Jerry Rubin’s Do It!) set the standard. Static page layout was eschewed for the kinetic experience. Fiore used sans serif body text of various weights and sizes used to emphasize or highlight specific points. Black-and-white photographs were used not as illustrations to underscore a text, but as information as inextricably tied to the content as any words. In the manner of a television transmission (and echoing McLuhan’s argument), fragmented illustration throughout the book would periodically come together to form completed pictures. Fiore’s approach was a link between the moving and static image that opened the door to more progressive experiments.
But before print (or for that matter, paper) could be entirely replaced by electronics, a universal typographic language had to be developed. And despite serious attempts beginning in the 1920s to standardize letterforms, signs and symbols, such regimentation has often met with resistance.
Typography: Expression and Systemization
The International Style developed its typographic voice with the introduction of two sans-serifs designed in the ’50s, Univers (by Adrian Frutiger) and Helvetica (by Edouard Hoffmann and Max Miedinger). Both were neutral, purposefully void of personality so as to eschew any interpretative components. As one critic described Helvetica, “it offers no ambiguity—the message is the message.” Although successfully marketed in Europe, these faces were not immediately available in the United States because type was still primarily metal and required an enormous investment for fonts of various weights and sizes. Moreover, the modernists seemed content to use what was already available; Akidenz Grotesque, Trade Gothic, Lightline Gothic and other sans serifs. However, when Mergenthaller introduced Helvetica in 1962 it became such a popular face that for a while it seemed to be the only type on the market. Even so, Helvetica and Univers never totally dominated American typographic tastes. Designers during the ’60s, like those of previous decades, were still interested in both the classics and the novelties.
“There are countries such as the United States,” wrote Aaron Burns, guest editor of PRINT’s 1963 special issue on typography, “where typographic design radiates in all directions and in all fields, where competition between typographers and designers goes on daily, where national restrictions are few if any.” As director of the Composing Room and later the principal of his own type business, Burns was a leader in the discipline known as “typographic design.” Indeed, his oversized book Typography (1961), was an inspiring cogitation on the untapped expressive potential of hot metal typography as applied to the New Advertising and was illustrated by a wealth of creative, rule-breaking applications. Burns was also a pioneer of photocomposition and literally dragged designers with whom he worked into the 20th century by proving its utility. Towards this aim he published a series of primers on the operation and application of this new technology. Though Photo lettering Inc., Varitype, Compugraphics, and Visual Graphics Corporation, among the major suppliers, fervently promoted the new technology, Burns made the most convincing argument for its widespread use, breaking down the considerable resistance to photocomposition among art and type directors.
Yet even during the ’60s there were significant holdouts. Tom Geismar admits that since he preferred the “kiss” of hot metal, Chermayeff and Geismar did not switch to cold type until hot type was no longer economically viable—or available. Conversely, to accomplish his typographic pyrotechnics, Herb Lubalin immediately and zealously embraced the new form, carving out a niche as the “master” of phototype design. With Lubalin’s work as the model, many young designers began to specify phototype set excruciatingly tight in the manner known as smashed typography. Burns once confided that he thought Lubalin, his one-time partner and close friend, went a little too far. For what Lubalin had intended as expression too quickly became a misused conceit.
On the revival front, Morgan and Morgan published specimen books of Victorian wood types. Some critics argued that this trivialized typographic design, while others savored these faces for their romantic character. Working with Lubalin, Tom Carnese customized many historically derived letterforms and Tony DeSpigna revived calligraphy as a viable method. Toward the end of the decade, hundreds of old metal and wood typefaces had been transferred to film, and Photo-lettering Inc. offered a panoply of redrawn and reinterpreted Victorian, Art Nouveau and Art Deco display faces.
Magazines: Storehouses of Inspiration
While modern typography supplanted handlettering in advertising, eclectic typography enlivened the traditional magazine spread. McCall’s’ art director Otto Storch was one of the preeminent revivalists. Yet his layouts never looked nostalgic. The trick of reviving things was not to mimic the past, but to give it new life. Storch was not, however, content to prolong his “trendsetting” formula for long. In 1965 at an AIGA conference called “Magazine: U.S.A.” Storch announced his intention of initiating a new format. “Some of the things I’ve done in the past,” he admitted, “I think now are a little overdesigned. I’m beginning to feel that a simpler, quieter approach is better.” Indeed, Storch was speaking for many art directors when he announced, “a magazine doesn’t have to be a circus where you keep jumping through a hoop with each spread.”
Monocle was one magazine published during the early ’60s where the reference to a circus was apt. Edited by Victor Navasky and art directed by Phil Gips, this oblong-shaped magazine was stridently satiric, prefiguring The National Lampoon and Spy. The magazine even ran one of its contributing editors, Marvin Kitman (now a syndicated TV columnist), for president to disrupt the Republican party ticket. Monocle was three times a proving ground: Its Victorian-inspired design, with pages that often resembled 19th-century circus posters, helped popularize a “retro” approach. For pictorial needs it relied exclusively on illustration, so Gipps assembled the best commercial illustrators around—who also turned out to be some of wittiest graphic commentators of the decade, including Seymour Chwast, Edward Sorel, Milton Glaser, Tomi Ungerer, Lou Myers, David Levine, R.O. Blechman, Robert Grossman, Marshal Arisman, Randall Enos, Paul Davis and John Alcorn. Lastly, it was one of the few magazines since The New Yorker to publish sophisticated social and political humor. Though short-lived, it became a veritable clip file for some underground designers later in the decade.
The year before John F. Kennedy was assassinated, the rumblings of social conflict were becoming audible in Berkeley and elsewhere. The early ’60s thus began a fertile period of political/cultural publishing. Rooted in the limited circulation “literary magazine” sensibility, the New York-based The Second Coming, art directed by Tony Paladino, and the San Francisco-based Contact, art directed by Nicholas Sidjakov and Jerry Richardson, became archetypes of the New Left counterculture journal. Owing to limited means, type was confined to transfer letters or whatever the printer had in his type case. The layouts were, nevertheless, clean, curiously irreverent, and provided signposts for future design directions.
Evergreen Review was the next evolutionary stage. It began as a quarto-sized Beat journal featuring fiction, poetry and drama. In the mid-’60s under editor Barney Rosset and art director Richard Hess it increased in size and expanded its content to a full-fledged magazine with color covers, erotic portfolios, political commentary and ribald comic strips. Like Monocle, Evergreen used Push Pin members and kindred illustrators to position itself as alternative culture. Later, under the precise art direction of Kenneth Deardorf, Evergreen became a primary outlet for the next generation of illustrators.
In 1964 Warren Hinckle, Robert Scheer, an activist editor, and Dugald Stermer, an equally activist graphic designer, transformed Ramparts, a failing two-year-old San Francisco-based radical Catholic magazine, into an investigative national monthly. Its restrained, albeit flexible, format was based on classic book design; its signature was the Oxford rule and Times Roman typeface. “Our design had to be credible,” says Stermer, “because we were saying incredible things.” Stories on women’s and gay rights, political folly and covert government intrigue were regular ingredients. For Ramparts’ graphic commentary, Stermer used Carl Fischer’s strident montages and startlingly staged pictures (one showing four hands holding burning draft cards caused a Washington inquiry). Stermer also developed a visual identity around artists like Gene Holtan, Ben Shahn and the Push Pin alumni. When Ramparts published “University on the Make,” an article that exposed Michigan State University for willingly providing cover to CIA operations in South Vietnam, much of the fuss and fury aroused was due to Paul Davis’ malicious cover painting of Madame Nhu in a cheerleader’s pose wielding the MSU banner. And Edward Sorel further irritated the powers with his “Sorel’s Bestiary,” a monthly graphic commentary that explored the similarities between leading cultural/political bete noirs and their animal relations. Sam Antupit credits Stermer’s work as the model for the design of some late-’60s periodicals.
If the measure of a successful magazine is how it reflects the time in which it publishes, then Esquire and Playboy are among the ’60s most sacred documents. Each not only reported on events and issues, they helped to make them. During the ’50s Esquire had been the quintessence of urbanity, having evolved from a men’s magazine into a bibelot of contemporary culture and mores. Art directed for 12 years by Henry Wolf, Esquire‘s persona defined an American bon-ton—a rather rarefied approach to life that was eventually eclipsed by ’60s turmoil. After leaving the magazine to replace Alexey Brodovitch as art director of Harper’s Bazaar, Wolf was briefly replaced by Robert Benton, who was eventually followed by Sam Antupit (Wolf’s former associate at Bazaar). Owing to Antupit’s graphic wit and his editor Harold Hayes’ social concern, each issue of Esquire had its finger on the pulse of the liberal body politic. Though a monthly, Esquire’s stories were pegged to those issues uppermost in its readers’ minds, and its acerbic parodies (most notably the “Dubious Achievement Awards”) were consistently on target. Even its fashion features had a certain raw edge.
Using relatively quiet typography and not overdesigning every spread, Antupit allowed conceptual art and photography to bear the editorial weight. That Esquire was a magazine of ideas not decorative trivialities was further underscored by George Lois’ poster-like concepts for covers that were photographically rendered by Carl Fischer. Lois worked directly with Hayes on covers which, rather than advertise the contents of the magazine, made trenchant graphic commentaries. Fischer’s ironic photographic manipulations of Andy Warhol being sucked into a can of soup, Richard Nixon being made up to appear more presidential, and a frighteningly banal portrait of Lt. William (Mai Lai) Calley posing with a group of Asian children are cultural icons as anthropologically revealing as any ancient artifact. Moreover, they underscore the power of the static image over TV. Despite the satiric breakthroughs of such humorous ’60s TV series as “That Was the Week That Was,” television executives were loath to risk libel and slander or offending the undefined mass audience with hard-hitting commentaries. Esquire appeared to be fearless.
Nevertheless, Esquire was usually found in doctors’ waiting rooms, suggesting that it was not really a threat to the status quo. But even during the libertine ’60s Playboy was reserved for home reading. Hugh Hefner was not only a former employee but a devout fan of Esquire, and his new magazine, originally titled Stag Party but changed to Playboy when it premiered in 1953, was the next evolutionary step in men’s magazines. The key was its unholy union of erotic photography with serious fiction and nonfiction, designed in such a handsome package so not to look the least bit tawdry. The first few issues designed by a young illustrator, Art Paul, who continued as its art director for 30 years, were done with limited resources. “I used the type that the printer had available,” recalls Paul, “and chose Baskerville and Stymie because they were masculine typefaces.” By the early ’60s Playboy was not just a magazine, it embodied a philosophy. Though its content seems schizophrenic, in fact, the mix of sex, journalism and literature was decidedly progressive. Moreover, its design represented advanced visual thinking, especially in the field of illustration.
“I tried to be adventurous to a fault,” says Paul. He gave mural-like spaces for paintings and drawings and sought out painters whose work lent itself to illustrative use (among them Ed Paschke, Tom Wesselman and members of the Chicago group known as the Hairy Who), in addition to those “young illustrators trying to discover themselves.” The key to a successful Playboy illustration: “finding the essence rather than the literal idea. From the outset I was not interested in drawings which required captions.” Paul believed illustration was a cooperative effort, and even convinced certain authors to write to the art. In Playboy collaboration was also evident in the various paper “tricks” (die-cuts, inserts and fold-overs) that Paul calls “participatory graphics,” included in every issue. By the end of the ’60s, Playboy had developed a genre of realistic and impressionistic illustration, and launched the careers of many artists who would lead the field in the ’70s.
As the sexual revolutionaries mounted the barricades in 1962, Ralph Ginzburg, another Esquire alumnus, founded Eros, a sumptuously produced hardcover review of eroticism. Its content was not prurient, but rather an amalgam of sex in art and literature with provocative portfolios. The most taboo-smashing was titled “Black and White in Color,” a “photographic poem” by Ralph M. Hattersley Jr. with introductory copy that read: “Interracial couples of today bear the indignity of having to defend their love to a questioning world. Tomorrow these couples will be recognized as pioneers of an enlightened age.” For the job of Eros’ art director/designer, Ginzburg (who was eventually jailed for using the United States mail—postmarked from Intercourse, Pa.—to sell the “contraband” magazine) selected Herb Lubalin. From the very first issue Lubalin’s expressive advertising typography was brilliantly applied to magazine layout. Eros had an advantage over the weekly and monthly magazines because it had no advertising to fight the editorial. But such a competitive edge should not disqualify Lubalin’s design as being a milestone, nor should it exempt Lubalin as one of the decade’s leading magazine art directors.
Fact was another productive collaboration for Ginzburg and Lubalin. With its premier issue in 1964 Fact positioned itself as a New Left alternative to the liberal New Republic and the anti-left New Leader (which Lubalin also later designed). It was designed for easy reading with wide columns of large Times Roman text usually illuminated by full-page conceptual illustrations (by artists such as Ettienne Delesert and Chas. B. Slackman) facing each story. Often one illustrator would do the entire issue. Design was of primary importance, and in the first issue Ginzburg announced that Fact would be “a handsome magazine, elegantly art-directed.” About the art direction Lubalin noted in an interview, “I had to come up with a format that would be so rigid that the cost of designing each issue would be kept to a minimum. Everything had to be figured out beforehand down to the last character of type. From that point on, I didn’t have to ‘design’ the books at all. All I had to do was select the illustrator.” Each cover was a typographic billboard that sold the lead story by using the ambient advertising technique. One such was the issue with the inflammatory “Fact: 1,189 Psychiatrists Say Goldwater is Psychologically Unfit to Be President,” over which Goldwater sued for libel and won.
In 1961 Lubalin was asked by The Saturday Evening Post‘s art director Ken Stewart to design some feature stories in an effort to, as Frank Zachary wrote, “replace a rather dowdy Midwestern image with a more contemporary look.” Circulation was sliding and the business department thought that sprucing up the Post‘s look would have beneficial results. But the patient was near-death and cosmetics were not going to help. More important, says Stewart, “Lubalin really didn’t understand our readership. They weren’t interested in his brilliant typographic styling; they wanted Norman Rockwell and felt safe with very literal art.” Though Lubalin was not well-suited to this very conservative publication, he was the perfect choice to art direct Avant Garde. As the title suggests, this was perhaps one of the most progressive-looking publications of the age. It was square, like a record jacket, giving the magazine an immediate distinction and allowing Lubalin great flexibility with layout. Avant Garde was Ginzburg’s opportunity to unite the contents of Eros and Fact into one journal. And Lubalin used every thematic opportunity to make riveting typographical images. But his most enduring invention was the angular Avant Garde logo, with its decidedly modern ligatures. Avant Garde, the typeface, was subsequently marketed and became a frequently misused alternative to Futura and Helvetica.
Some magazines are “of their time,” and others are “for their time.” Rolling Stone represents the latter and Eye the former. Rolling Stone was originally a tabloid designed by John Williams, who copied rule for rule the format of The Daily Ramparts (a San Francisco strike paper designed by Dugald Stermer, for whom Williams worked as an assistant). The cover, however, was slightly different; it was quarter-folded using separate paper stock and had a hand-drawn logo by San Francisco comix artist Rick Griffin. Sometime during the first year Robert Kingsbury was hired as the new art director. Kingsbury was publisher Jan Wenner’s brother-in-law and, more importantly, a painter who knew little about conventional magazine design, but nevertheless developed a strong visual persona using some old tabloid tricks (e.g., silhouetted photographs, spot color and duo-tones). Before Rolling Stone there were two extremes of music journalism—the adolescent teeny-bop magazines (Sixteen and Tiger Beat) and the industry newspapers (Billboard). The Stone elevated the discourse by fusing stories about the industry, personality features and music news with writing informed by the politics of the day. The Stone got better and better from year to year, and vast improvements in visual and editorial content could be seen from issue to issue. Even in its early years it set a design standard for alternate culture journals (as it was ostensibly the first professionally designed underground paper). It was also the first national publication that defiant youth could really call their own.
In the late ’50s there were large-circulation magazines for teenage girls, like Seventeen (art directed by Art Kane) and Junior Bazaar (art directed by Bob Cato). But the ’60s marked a profound increase in baby-boomer buying power. Fashions and entertainments aimed at youth dominated the marketplace, and in 1968 the Hearst Company decided to cash in. Eye was their attempt to harness youth culture and to lure record companies, cosmetics and other lifestyle advertising away from the more traditional media. “Eye was doomed to failure,” says Sam Antupit, who designed the original format. “It was conceived by the parents of the kids they were hoping to attract to teach lessons that the kids weren’t interested in.” Hearst wanted to market a good magazine and so gave it tremendous support (Eye even had discrete offices in Greenwich Village, many blocks from Hearst headquarters). But even these supportive executives had no idea what they were getting into. After all, this was the era of sex, drugs and rock and roll, and Eye was not committed to the ethic. Eye was a preppie in hippie clothing. Its look was defined by psychedelicized Deco typefaces, rainbow colored borders and photographs of the latest Carnaby Street fashions, but ultimately it tried too hard to be “of the times” and so lacked the conviction of the more conventional magazines it hoped to surpass and the underground papers it could never emulate.
As fashion magazines go, only one was genuinely vanguard. In 1964 two former assistants of Harpers Bazaar’s art director Marvin Israel, Bea Fietler and Ruth Ansel, took charge as co-art directors. Two decades previous Alexey Brodovitch had eliminated the static fashion photograph, and Fietler and Ansel saw “the visual idiom of the magazine as more and more cinematic, a photographic means of grasping the elusive ‘now’ of fashion,” wrote a critic in 1967. Drawing inspiration from Pop Art and underground cinema, Harper’s Bazaar dramatically represented the glitter side of the “expanding visual experience” of the ’60s.
Two other “for their times” magazines published on opposite coasts. West, the Sunday supplement of the Los Angeles Times, was exceptionally art directed by former Playboy designer Mike Salisbury, who was eclectic to a fault. If Frank Zachary is correct and “art direction is the handmaiden of the editorial idea and not its mistress,” then one might accuse Salisbury of pulverizing accepted mores. More accurately, though, he invested this originally “male-oriented” supplement with a cacophony of visual treats that transcended its original editorial intent. Salisbury’s design was content—and it was the liveliest presentation of visual stimuli of the decade.
In New York Milton Glaser entered a partnership with editor Clay Felker (another Esquire alumnus) that resulted in the 1968 revival of New York, the former supplement of the defunct Herald Tribune, as a weekly magazine devoted to contemporary city life. A virtual novice to the field of magazine design, Glaser developed a subdued format that relied on illustration and photography for graphic impact. Though the first issue’s contributors included Tom Wolfe, Jimmy Breslin, Gloria Steinem and Clare Booth Luce, New York was basically unfocused. It also failed to attract sizeable readership. But when former Esquire associate art director Walter Bernard was hired as the art director (Glaser took an active conceptual role with the title Design Director) the layout got tighter, and was primed for surprise. Moreover, the quirky coverage of the city that became New York’s trademark began to coalesce. Because the budget for art was meager, the covers of the early issues were generic cityscapes. Bernard managed, however, to persuade Carl Fischer to do his conceptual wizardry and become a frequent contributor. And since New York was, not coincidently, headquartered in the same brownstone as Push Pin Studios, Bernard availed himself of their talents as well. Seymour Chwast did poster covers for special “seasonal” issues, and Sorel, Grossman, Davis and Barbara Nessim contributed too. Spot art was used to maximum efficiency; one illustrator, such as Chas B. Slackman or Jan Faust, would regularly illustrate a back- or front-of-the book column. New York covered the city well into the ’70s with the wit and irreverence, as well as the concern and conscience, borne of the ’60s.
Newspapers, the Final Frontier
When New York premiered in 1963 it was the Sunday magazine supplement of the New York Herald Tribune. It was also the flagship of a redesigned fleet of Sunday news sections commanded by design director Peter Palazzo. Although the title “art director” was not new to newspapers (a reference is made to one in an 1897 Tribune type book), the Trib was the first contemporary newspaper to hire a full-time design director to implement radical changes in a medium that had been only slightly tampered with in over 50 years. The Trib was one of 12 New York City dailies fiercely competing for newsstand sales and reader loyalty. Though the daily Trib basically held its own against its leading competitor, The New York Times, on Sunday the latter consistently blew the former out of the water. The Trib‘s owner, John Hay Whitney, believed that extreme measures were required to make any noticeable impact on sales. Enter Palazzo, who said about the project in 1964: “An editorial as well as a design concept was needed because the design itself couldn’t be changed without also changing … the traditional approach to the news.” This meant “more careful editorial planning and editing of stories in a feature magazine way.” With a commitment from the editors to make unprecedented adjustments (and prefiguring current computerized newspaper makeup), Palazzo designed a modular format, which acted as an automatic organizer for many news items on the page. He selected Caslon as the principal typeface because “of the instant impression of integrity it gives to the news.” White space, which was always considered a taboo in newspaper makeup, was key to the new format.
Perhaps more remarkable, Palazzo (and his autonomous section designers, including Richard Mantel, Stan Mack and Gil Eisner) reinvented editorial art. Conceptual illustration, which has often been credited as the invention of The New York Times Op-Ed page, was perfected five years earlier in the news and feature sections of the Sunday Trib. Palazzo believed that a newspaper was an amalgam of visual and written elements: “Sometimes news shapes design,” he wrote, “sometimes design shapes the news.” Before the Trib’s sad demise and doomed reincarnation as the World Journal Tribune, Palazzo was getting ready to mount a full-scale attack on the daily paper. “What I’d really like to do,” he wrote, “is shift the whole newspaper into a magazine format—but this is still premature.” He was right. Yet his revolutionary approach was the inspiration for major redesigns of The New York Times and The Minneapolis Tribune that commenced at the end of the decade.
By 1969 there was a common feeling that with the success that television was having in attracting large advertising revenues, newspapers would become extinct in the way of the great behemoth general magazines (Colliers, The Saturday Evening Post) because they could not support large circulations with small advertising revenues. The future, it seemed, was linked to the success of redesigns. As Louis Silverstein began to make inroads at that “old grey lady,” The New York Times, in 1969 Massimo Vignelli was taking larger strides with a brand-new, five section weekly newspaper called The Herald. Vignelli designed a rigid format with no typeface variations, only changes in point size and leading to show story hierarchy. Equally important was the fact that The Herald used cold type and was printed on an offset press at a time when traditional newspapers had virtually not changed technology since Gutenberg. Though it only published for a year, The Herald was an inspiration for other weeklies.
Records: From Charles Ives to Janis Joplin
We know that the ’60s was a decade of extremes, but nowhere was it more profound than in the music industry. So many public tastes had to be catered to that a single record company usually had an exceedingly variegated inventory of talent. Beginning in the 1940s Columbia Records was in the forefront of progressive, popular and classical music, as well as a pioneer in its packaging. In the ’60s it also became the preeminent purveyor of rock and roll, with Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and The Byrds among its many luminaries. In 1960 Bob Cato, a photographer and editorial art director who had apprenticed with Alexey Brodovitch, was hired by Columbia Records’ president Goddard Lieberson, and in 1965 he became the Vice President of Creative Services. One of Cato’s breakthroughs was the elimination of what had become known as the “tombstone” cover, which was essentially a spiritless point of purchase advertisement, in favor of customized art and photography. “I created an open-door policy, allowing musicians and their management who for many years had no voice in the creative process of packaging to have a say,” recalls Cato. “I also wanted the artists to be photographed by the best shooters in the business.” He arranged for, among others, Eugene Smith to do Charles Ives and Fats Waller. “It wasn’t that the in-house photographers were bad, but Smith, Richard Avedon, and the others brought a distinctive personality to their subjects. I was also committed to using contemporary artists, such as Robert Rauschenberg, for projects like the American Music Series. And Lieberson was excited because this had never been done before.”
By the mid-’60s an album cover was a plum assignment for a graphic designer. By the late ’60s, with the rock and roll renaissance in full tilt, it was a decided proving ground for exciting new ideas. “But it was also evident that the rockers wanted to do their own record covers and control their own image,” says Cato about this new, challenging relationship between designer and artist. Although it appeared to outsiders that rock music and its packaging had no constraints, Cato reminds us it was very much a business: “Janis Joplin wanted R. Crumb [the San Francisco underground cartoonist who created Mr. Natural and Angel food McSpade] to do the cover of Big Brother’s second album. We both loved the finished art, but I was concerned that if the title was “Sex, Drugs and Cheap Thrills,” as planned, that even in those days, the album wouldn’t get airplay. I asked if she would settle for just “Cheap Thrills?” I wasn’t asking her to compromise—”Cheap Thrills” really said it all anyway. And Janis, in her funny, gracious way, agreed that it was better. Janis was a smart as they came, and really understood the constraints of the business.”
Cato and his associate John Berg (who became Vice President in the ’70s) created a hot house mentality at CBS allowing other talented designers (among them Henrietta Condak, Jerold Smokler, Ron Coro, Richard Mantel, Tony Lane and Virginia Team) to push the visual form. Poster-like typography and conceptual illustration (by the likes of Philip Hayes, Milton Glaser, Cliff Condak, Robert Weaver, Paul Davis and Nick Fasciano) were used in unprecedented ways. Contrary to the perception that many CBS rock covers were merely fashionable or trendy, many were rather timeless in concept and execution, and still hold up. Indeed, two of Cato’s projects reveal the graphic diversity within this one company as regards rock and roll. When it came time to do Laura Nyro’s first album, Cato, who had become her close friend, decided upon a dramatically lit photo of Nyro’s downturned face. It was such a striking shot that he didn’t want any copy on the cover but rather had it printed on the shrink wrap. It was the first time this technique was tried, and opened new realms of printing applications. Cato also had the greatest American iconographer, Norman Rockwell, do a cover for the “the greatest American rock duo,” Al Cooper Mike/Bloomfield. At CBS, no possibility went untried.
Although CBS was not the only record company producing good music and exemplary packaging, it did so with the most consistent verve. At the zenith of American record production and sales, Columbia Records’ corporate philosophy helped spark the Golden Age of album design.
Building the American Corporate Image
“The case for corporate identity is being stated—and possibly overstated—with increasing frequency,” wrote Patricia Allen Dreyfus in a 1969 PRINT critique. “It is invoked in the name of higher profits, greater efficiency and improved public relations.” One-fourth of the American corporations, she reported at the time, had full-time directors of corporate identity, and many others had a planned system and policy to guide identification practices. The CI field began in the mid-’50s, with Container Corporation of America (Herbert Bayer), IBM (Paul Rand) and CBS (William Golden) in the forefront, however, “total communications planning” boomed during the ’60s, owing to an epidemic of mergers and acquisitions that lead to “a large-scale identity crisis.” Companies were not only merging but emerging. Over three times more corporations were doing business in the ’60s than the previous decade. Equally important, this was the era of diversification. “You don’t need research to tell you that something that says Radio Corporation of America no longer fits a company where radios represent less than two percent of its total business and whose operations … now extend throughout the entire world,” said RCA’s director of corporate identification in a 1969 interview.
Though the practice was only a few years old, in 1968 Fortune referred to corporate identification as “a somewhat arcane phrase.” What began as a graphics problem became one of “total corporate communications,” including everything from graphics and nomenclature to interiors and architecture. One firm even coined the pseudo-scientific term symbiotic to replace the words corporate identity, thus fueling the criticism of the corporate communications field as just a lot of mumbo jumbo. Jargon like synergism, system studies, catalytic, and quality rub-off replaced the straightforward “that’s nice” or “it works” in an attempt to give style to the emperor’s new clothes. Lippincott and Margulies were the first to offer “massive research,” which many critics called a dog-and-pony act designed to show clients that they are getting value for their big communications dollars.
The rationales for corporate communications were varied. One was that if consumers are pleased with one product in the corporate family, then they will try another. Advocates also argued that the fiscal consequence of CI was that a company that catches the public eye will also attract investors. Many purveyors of CI believed that its primary value was internal. As an example, Dreyfus quoted from a Lippincott & Margulies promotional pamphlet entitled “Con Edison: A Troubled Giant and Its Dramatic Turnaround,” which claimed that Con Ed’s “clean energy” theme, devised in the ’60s, offered employees a standard of excellence which encouraged them to improve the quality of company services. Perhaps more accurately, the change of slogan from “Dig We Must for a Growing New York” to “Clean Energy,” on its new powder-blue trucks was really geared to turn around the consumer’s perception from Con Ed as corporate foe to a beneficent pal. Dreyfus, however, noted that “… if you have lousy products [or services], putting Helvetica all over them isn’t going to change anything.”
The common complaint about CI, even back then, was that corporate symbols were too similar. “The problem facing both the manufacturer and the designer today,” wrote Robert Zeidman, an industrial designer, in a PRINT article, “is how to develop a symbol that will not get lost in the crowd.” One obvious solution was to avoid the many clichés that had developed. “[M]ore than 9,000 symbols in the shape of a diamond have been registered with the U.S. Patent Office,” wrote Zeidman, who also said that ovals, circles, arrows and “simplified representations of the planetary system” were too commonplace. While not discounting geometric marks, he suggested that trade characters ultimately evoke the most powerful feelings. Admittedly in the 1960s this was reactionary.
Before 1961, the year that Chermayeff and Geismar’s new identity for the Chase Manhattan Bank was introduced, logos for financial institutions were quite literal (e.g., the Chase National Bank logo showed a map of the USA with its founder in an oval). However, when the company merged to become the Chase Manhattan Bank (the largest banking institution in the world), Chairman David Rockefeller decided that a recognizable identity was imperative, and a unique mark was needed that would stick in the public’s mind. “We showed him abstract marks like the Red Cross, as well as those beautifully simple Japanese family crests,” recalls Thomas Geismar. “None of these were indicative of banking but that was not as important as achieving some distinction. Our particular design solution was actually a random selection, but one that could also be rationalized afterward as one of those foreign coins with holes in the middle.” Chase’s abstract mark became the archetype for banks and other multinational institutions.
Before 1964 oil companies had employed industrial designers to design gas stations, trucks, uniforms, etc. By the ’60s even the best of these systems was deemed old fashioned. When Elliot Noyes (who had brought visual order to IBM and Westinghouse) was commissioned to develop a unified program for Mobil, he collaborated with Chermayeff and Geismar on the graphics. The result was the first truly integrated plan for architecture, industrial and graphic design for any oil company—including the development of a new logo and a radical new form for the gas pump.
Beginning in the ’40s, Container Corporation of America had been in the vanguard of progressive design in terms of its corporate identity, owing to its President Walter Paepke’s appreciation for modern art and the Bauhasian influence of Herbert Bayer, whom he had hired as design director. John Massey, who went to CCA in 1957, continued the Bayer tradition when he became director of Corporate Communications. “I was attracted by the corporate philosophy that design should be integrated with industry,” he says, “and with the notion that clear, crisp expression of ideas can be achieved by using type, space, color and form without reverting to superficial trends.” Massey administered The Great Ideas of Western Man program; the flagship of CCA’s design program, it was a landmark campaign that used a variety of design and art forms to express the company’s diversity and creative approaches. Massey’s design was at once timeless, yet decidedly of its time. “That is because everything was orderly. Our principal typography was Helvetica, but every once in a while, we’d go wild and use Univers.” Paradoxically, the design of CCA’s packaging for clients often failed to equal the high creative standards of its corporate philosophy, suggesting a troublesome dichotomy between what was deemed acceptable for institutions and salable to the public.
For Massimo Vignelli, rational corporate identification was not simply a vocation—it was a mission. In 1965, together with Chicago-based Ralph Eckerstrom (former design director of CCA), Jay Doblin and James Fogelman, Vignelli founded Unimark to provide total communications services for International corporations. Unimark soon became multinational themselves, with offices in Chicago, New York, Johannesburg and Milan, among other cities. Vignelli was zealous about “spreading the gospel” of graphic discipline. “I believed that the emphasis on individualism, and the lack of discipline prevalent in design at the time was wreaking havoc on graphic communications and hampering the access of information.” Helvetica and the grid were his tools of preference, order and objectivity were his credo. Accordingly, members of the firm were required to wear white lab coats.
Making the Environment Better
One of the most complex commissions awarded to Unimark and Vignelli was the 1966 decision to unify the New York City subway signage and maps, which had gone untouched since the three independent train lines were formed into the Transit Authority in 1940. “Plunged into ugliness, inundated by a jumbled spectacle of misinformation,” wrote John Lahr, “the subway rider is a victim of poor city planning, his own anxieties magnified by the despairing confusion around him.” Making the environment easier to navigate was the ministry Vignelli wanted to serve. The result, however, was in Lahr’s words, “a complete fiasco. The Authority sought [Unimark’s] advice only to implement it without a true understanding of the total design concept.”
The plan by Vignelli and Bob Noorda was designed to eliminate the redundancy of information by coordinating all signage and graphic standards. The principal, Vignelli recalls, “was to give the information only at the point of decision—never before, never after.” They developed a modular system of sign panels that would suspend from special channels. “In our plan,” explains Vignelli, “we had drawn a black strip to represent the channel into which each panel would fit. But they [the Authority, who appropriated some of the plan but did not have enough sense to let Unimark do the execution] misunderstood and painted this black strip across each sign as part of the visual image.” Vignelli said at the time, “the wrong approach is to do [this] on a democratic basis.”
Interestingly, a concurrent commission awarded to Walter Kacik by the New York Sanitation Commissioner to modernize the department’s trucks and signs gave total control to the designer. His efforts at standardizing signs and trucks were well-received until his patron, the commissioner, resigned and the program lost momentum.
Black Rock, CBS’ imposing Manhattan headquarters, is a prominent example of total design control. “The traditional emphasis that CBS places on quality and taste in design is symbolized by its striking new building,” wrote Irwin Rothman in a 1966 analysis. “Both William S. Paley, chairman of the board, and Frank Stanton, president of CBS, saw the building as an unparalleled opportunity to create a distinguished, unified expression of the corporate personality.” Louis Dorfsman was asked to design the entire graphics program, from lobby graphics (the main typeface was a modified Didot and a secondary face a modified Helvetica called CBS-Sans Serif) to the top-floor restaurant. With the Paley-Stanton dictum “no detail is too small to warrant serious attention” the reason for Dorsfman’s total involvement is clear: “Allowing a contractor to dictate the use of typography on structures,” said Dorsfman in 1966, “has generally resulted in a low standard … for most buildings.” Indeed, every detail, including the clock face and numerals on elevator buttons, was specifically designed. About the uncommon, and decidedly elegant use of Didot, he said “I could have resorted to the obvious use of a strong typeface. But instead I took the opposite course and chose the elegant delicacy of Didot … set against the strong, bold quality of the building, [it] created a desirable counterpoint.” Rothman concluded that “the CBS building clearly serves as an example of what can be accomplished when top management seriously attempts to coordinate and integrate building design with good graphics.” One should add that without a design autocrat like Dorfsman, even the best intentions could, and have, gone sour.
Anarchy: Fashion or Philosophy?
One might think that no two design methods could be more dissimilar than the corporate and psychedelic styles, but there are curious similarities. The former is about conveying information precisely, the latter is about transmitting an aura instantaneously. Both use graphic means to symbolize an ethic or point of view. In fact, one of the leading San Francisco poster artists was taught at Yale by ex-Bauhaus master Joseph Albers. Victor Moscoso, who had more classical design training than many traditional designers, says of Albers’ influence on the psychedelic poster, “I had vibrating colors down pat. I thought it was some kind of Zen meditation trip at the time, it was driving me crazy. But I did store it. So, by the time that a situation presented itself where I was able to use that information, it was like a having … an oil well on your property.”
The psychedelic poster, as designed by Mouse and Kelly, Rick Griffin and Wes Wilson, primarily as announcements for the San Francisco concert halls, was a unique language based on old forms. “We took from any and all sources,” Moscoco continues. “The world was our swipe file. Any image was our image. All we had to do was put it in a different context.” Psychedelia, which connotes a drug-induced, mind-expanding state, was really a people’s art, a rejection of the staid typographic and pictorial vocabulary of “officialdom” for a universal sensory experience. One needn’t be stoned to read these generational signposts. Once decoded, the language of psychedelia was simple: “These posters worked,” says Moscoso, “because they were not encumbered by the rules of ‘good design.’ The rule that a ‘poster should transmit a message simply and quickly’ became ‘how long can you engage the viewer in reading.’ ’Don’t use vibrating colors’ became ‘use them whenever you can and irritate the eyes as much as you can.’ ‘Lettering should always be legible’ changed to ‘disguise the lettering as much as possible.’ After all, the musicians had turned up their amps to kill … so I turned up the amps on my color so that every edge vibrated.”
Within a year of its inception psychedelic art became a national craze with some good, and mostly bad, imitators working at full gear. Moscoso, dumbfounded by how quickly the commercial society ate it up and spit it out, turned his attention to underground comix. With his poster peers, as well as cartoonists R. Crumb, S. Clay Wilson, Gilbert Shelton and others, he published Zap Comix in 1969. It was the granddaddy of the form, featuring an exciting array of graphic approaches used to present many taboo subjects, including the most taboo—incest. Moscoso notes that this time the establishment wasn’t so quick to co-opt: “They drew the line at incest.” The graphic inspiration for these comix came from pre-war comic books, Tijuana Bibles and pulp magazines. But the ribald and sacrilegious content of the underground comix was born in the early ’50s in Harvey Kurtzman’s MAD magazine, and raised to new heights of creative anarchy by young cartoonists who spoke for the Hippies, Yippies, Aquarians, and all the otherwise baby-boomer kids of the ’60s.
Before there were underground comix books, the strips appeared in a variety of underground newspapers—some which published for many years and others that were fly-by-night operations. The most venerable were the Los Angeles Free Press and the Berkeley Barb but the most famous was the East Village Other, which began to publish in 1965 on the Lower East Side of New York. EVO, as it was known, had an ad hoc format which changed regularly by whoever was laying out its pages. Its covers were often surrealistic photomontages in the manner of the German Dadists, while its insides were collages of pictorial debris from all over the lot, as well as full-page comic strips by Crumb, Spain Rodriques, Kim Deitch and others. Realizing that EVO was filling a void created by the fact that no “official” publications existed for the growing youth market, record companies began inserting fashionably designed advertisements that provided a stunning counterpoint to the anarchic layout. EVO, which continued to publish, albeit emasculated, until 1974, was the bridge between a real counterculture and today’s more trendy culture tabloids.
The ’60s: Over in Our Lifetime?
The underground is dead, but if it had lived it wouldn’t have stayed underground. Just look at Rolling Stone. A product of the youth culture, it has ebbed and flowed with the vicissitudes of politics and culture, and today it is a well-designed and edited chronical of current events. What the underground represented in the ’60s was, however, merely the surface. The real design advances were tied to the mainstream. So, what has happened to these manifestations?
Many of the designers who injected new life into American practice are still practicing. Quite a few of the magazines still publish, and many of the corporate identities continue today. However, have the lessons of this mature period of American design been carried on? Now that television has drained the advertising talent, is print as well done as before? Now that MBAs have become middlepersons in business and corporate design programs, can creativity still flower? Now that mega design firms are forced by economic necessity to make high profits, will design become more service-oriented?
What is undeniable is that the ’60s (as we’ve defined it) was a dramatic period during which technological inventions and conceptual innovations converged to form a distinctively American design profession—one that had never been seen before.