Will Burtin’s Beauty

Posted inThe Daily Heller
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The May-June 1955 issue of Print magazine, co-edited by Leo Lionni, was pretty special. In addition to Lioinni’s bi-monthly injection of art and art history into the editorial mix of the magazine, an insert written and designed by Will Burtin titled “A Program in Print: Upjohn and Design” is seamlessly folded into the magazine.


For those who do not know Burtin (former art director of Fortune magazine and one of the early proponents of information graphics), read the biography by R. Roger Remington and Robert S.P. Fripp, Design and Science: The Life and Work of Will Burtin (read my review here).

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Along with all his accomplishments, by 1955 Burtin had been design consultant for seven years for the Upjohn Company (a pharmaceutical leader) and art editor of its monthly house organ, Scope, which set a high conceptual standard for such periodicals. Print wrote: “Burtin feels that his own approach to developing a design for graphic representation is best summed up by an old Japanese proverb which instructs: ‘First know all there is to know . . .then memorize it, then solve the problem intuitively.’ But for Burtin intuition is not so much a ‘magic spark’ as the result of human curiosity and a consistent experiment guided by logical thought.”

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For Burtin, Print continued, the principal role of a designer is “to increase the range and depth of man’s understanding. . . . Even the meaningfulness of invisible phenomena such as atoms, mechanical stress patterns, microbes or enzymes, can be convincingly portrayed if related to the more obvious things in man’s day-to-day existence.”

Only a small portion of the Print insert is shown here, but it is enough to fill the mind with the vast possibilities that were in the hands of graphic designers during the mid-century modern period, and how they’ve evolved exponentially today. In part thanks to Will Burtin.

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For more Steven Heller, check out “The Education of a Graphic Designer‚” one of the many Heller titles available at MyDesignShop.com.