Old Guns

Essays by Steven Heller
4 468 words23 min read

"I was so much younger then, I’m older than that now"
— Bob Dylan, My Back Pages,
Twenty or thirty years hence, how will the young (thirty and under) designers showcased in this issue of Print devoted to young talent revisit their current work? Will they cringe at the naiveté or nostalgically recall the time before they fell into their stylistic ruts? Going through early design work can be as excruciating as stumbling upon high school prom photos, the ones where you are dressed from head to toe in stylish anachronisms. Yet it can also be a spotlight on one’s development from novice to veteran. For some, the early job was a stepping stone to maturity. for others it was a detour along the way. Before they get to old to remember, we asked 20 veteran designers and illustrators to comment on work that they produced either while in school or during the initial phase of their professional careers. Some of this work had to be cajoled from them, others were given proudly..

Massimo Vignelli
Date: 1963
Age 32
Client: G.C. Sansoni Publishers
Vignelli recalls the exact day that he found the design language that he would be known for. It was 1963, he had a studio in Milan, Lella & Massimo Vignelli Design & Architecture, were he designed in a reductive manner using Helvetica, black rules, and solid colored backgrounds. He put this into practice for Sansoni designing formats for scores of series and hundreds of books until leaving Italy for American in 1965. Today he uses more Bodoni, but hasn’t changed his basic design attitude one iota. He made his early reputation by designing strict formats for series like these.
"I always worked like this from the very beginning, I never had another way but this structural approach,’ admits Vignelli proudly. ‘My aim was always to reach maximum impact, so I used Helvetica on white or solid color backgrounds, which stood out — boom — from the texture of all the other books on the shelves. I designed many series this way, I had some books with only white covers with type raining down and some with a black and white illustration on bottom. We wanted to develop standards to avoid gratuitous criticism by publisher’s wives or secretaries and sales people. First and foremost we were searching for objectivity. So we convinced the publisher that a book was like a soap box. The publisher’s brand was the important thing, so each book looked alike. We played safe with the illustration by using things from the past. Who could argue with Rembrandt and Durer?"

Bob Gill
Date: 1955
Age: 24 years old.
Client: School of Visual Arts
Gill, the co-founder of Fletcher Forbes Gill in London, and currently a designer in New York, was on the faculty at the School of Visual Arts, when he designed this moving poster for the fledgling art academy. It was his first poster.
"The only thing I would change now is the type at the top , ’ says Gill, ‘Our world of graphic design is half about intelligent communications and half about fashion. It was more fashionable 40 years ago to set headlines in all caps. Today I wouldn’t dream of it. I haven’t set a word in caps in 30 years. The typeface is a 50s typeface, something like Folio. Today I would do it in a bolder face. The fashion then was to make everything flush left and right; today it offends me. I’m sure I killed myself to make the centering come out just right. The image is still perfect. And I have no problem with the quality of the photograph, either. If I changed the type I think it would be very respectable for 1998.

Marshall Arisman
Date: 1962
Age: 23
Client: Time Life Promotion Department
Before Arisman became a successful editorial illustrator and chair of the undergraduate illustration and later MFA/Illustration departments at the School of Visual Arts in New York, he worked as a designer for General Motors on the Delco Battery logo. In 1962 he did one of his earliest freelance illustration assignments for the Time/Life Promotion Department, a booklet on reasons to subscribe to Time. This drawing was influenced by the Chaplin film, ‘The Man Who Ate His Shoe.’ He kept this style for two years until he realized that he wasn’t he making any money, nor was it allowing him to grow as an artist. .
"I stole my first portfolio from Andre Francois, having seen a lot of his work while I was living in Paris’ admits Arisman. ‘I didn’t mean to steal it — I was desperately fleeing graphic design at General Motors and hoping not to get drafted."

April Greiman
Date: 1958
Age: 27
Client: John Mauceri
In the mid-1960s Greiman studied with Wolfgang Weingart in Basel, Switzerland, brought it back to the United States and with her former husband, the late Dan Friedman, became one of the foremost exponents of this anti-grid, Swiss style.
"Dan was part of the old boys Yale club and Mauceri was [Yale’s} orchestra leader. This was a paying project, though peanuts. Dan steered the project, as he did the
posters for various cultural events, and determined we should do something typographic, so that we could work together. Since I was a young type-buff right off the boat from Basel. I helped on the poster, but it was his baby.
I also did, exclusively, the little postcard series which accompanied this poster...and there were many more of them silk-screened than the small edition of posters. I remember this piece as one where I was fascinated (and definitely continued to be) with the ‘graphical symbols’ that were part of type letter forms. Those elements sparked the use of the diagonal supportive type. So, yes, this did and does have resonance in my work."

Seymour Chwast
Date: 1958
Age: 27
Client: Dell Publishing
Chwast co-founded Push Pin Studios in 1956 with the idea that design and illustration were really one inclusive activity. At the time he also had a strong interest in historical art and design forms and reprised passé Victorian, Art Nouveau, Expressionism, and Art Deco styles in contemporary ways. With the Push Pin Almanac and Push Pin Graphic, Chwast and the fellow studio members exhibited their old/new approach to graphics. This drawing was one in a series of paperback covers of Dosteyevsky’s classics
"I always loved German expressionistic work,’ Chwast explains, ‘and tried to use that approach in my work. Like all the other old styles, if I’m attracted to it, I try it. I had an affinity because it is freer than naturalistic art that dominated illustration at the time. I did a few in the series. I don’t think we had acrylics in those days, so this was done with Dr. Martin dyes another one was a woodcutty thing. I also designed the cover type in Cheltenham Bold Condensed. The next series I did were Henry James’ books and all the drawings were in outline."

Milton Glaser
Date: c. 1956
Age: 27
Client: Alfred A. Knopf
Glaser designed scores of book jackets and covers around the time he co-founded Push Pin Studios. His preferred the pictorial image wed to and framed by either classical or novelty type. This is one of the first of these covers. He later went on to do the renown Signet Classics Series, which in the Sixties was familiar to probably every high school student.
"The book was enigmatic and peculiar,’ says Glaser, ‘and I tried to make the jacket articulate those qualities. It was a great creative moment in the paperback book trade. Publishers were encouraging designers to do innovative work."

Michael Bierut
Dates: 1972 and 1975
Ages 15 and 18
Client: Normandy High School, Parma, Ohio.
Bierut went to work as a junior designer for Massimo Vignelli after graduating the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, graduating in 1980. He rose to Vice President Is it possible that these two assignments for his high school art classes were the deciding factor?
"’Wait Until Dark’’ is my oldest piece of graphic design,’ says Bierut about his freshman year accomplishment. ‘The Parma School Levy’ [a tax measure that was up to support the city school system]. There had been a series of cut backs (extra curricular stuff like band rehearsals) that the levy was going to help restore. You get the metaphor with the pencils. Don’t ask me if it passed, I think not, actually. The other is about three years later, and is the oldest thing that I think still ‘looks like me’ though I haven’t really kept up with that stipple technique — too bad."


Rudy VanderLans
Date: 1983
Age: 26
Client: 20 x 20 Gallery
VanderLans came to the United States from Holland to study photography in the grad program at U.C. Berkeley. Before founding Emigre magazine and Emigre Fonts, his first (union) job was with the San Francisco Chronicle. I was hired as a graphic designer/illustrator. He designed everything from the covers for the Datebook/Review/TV Week covers of the Sunday section to location maps, special inserts, a spot illustrations. This exhibition announcement was done as a graduation requirement. Given his influence on contemporary typography, it appears to announce things to come
"The piece was for the 20x20 Gallery in San Francisco, the project shown in the exhibition was part of my U.C. Berkeley graduation thesis,’ says VanderLans. ‘It relates to my later and current work in that it attempts to free itself from overly dogmatic interpretations of Swiss International Style design without giving up on issues of hierarchy, functionality, legibility effectiveness and all the other common sense issues that come into play when you design something."

Paul Rand
Date: 1937
Age: 23
Client: Esquire/Coronet Company
Rand attended evening art classes at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, while during the day he was enrolled in high school in Manhattan, New York. After graduation he went to work for Metro Associated Services, did freelance layout for Young and Rubicam, an began to practice his unique brand of Modernism at George Switzer Inc., an industrial and graphic design firm. He was later hired in the editorial/promotion bullpen of Esquire magazine before becoming a full-fledged art director for the magazine. He did this advertisement soliciting for an ad salesman while still in the bullpen. The idea was his and he shaped the copy to the consternation of the older, more experienced copywriters..
"Here’s something I did in 1937 for Esquire magazine, five years before I met Bill Bernbach [the adman credited with starting the ‘Creative Revolution’ who did his first advertisements when Rand was art dirctor of the William H. Weintraub advertising agency],’ Rand wrote in 1987. ‘Note the cube in the corner.*’ [*Rand was alluding to the NeXT logo which he had designed earlier that year and bore a striking similarity to this much earlier logo.]

James McMullan
Date: 1963
Age: 29
Client: Cavalier Magazine
McMullan is best known for his Lincoln Center theater posters, currently collected in the book ‘The XXXXX Posters of James McMullan.’ In 1963 he was a freelance illustrator, with a feature article in Print to his name, and about to join Push Pin Studios. Before arriving at his watercolor style, he worked in pen and ink and color washes. This symbolic illustration was done for a piece of fiction in Cavalier, a the Playboy-clone ‘men’s magazine,’ which gave first jobs to a number of successful illustrators.
"With these kind of magazines,’ McMullan relates, ‘there was an opportunity to do interesting work because the publishers had no interest in what ran other than the stuff that made them jerk-off magazines. Paul Davis, Milton Glaser, Seymour Chwast, and I didn’t look down on this work because we got to do whatever we wanted, This illustration was about a man-eating women. I used a locust (although it looks like a grasshopper). For me the big [formal] issue was turning the woman sidewise. I was very interested in illustration with levels, scrapping away at something that would reveal something else. This was one of the pieces that sort of worked.".

Ivan Chermayeff
Date: 1956
Age: 26
Client: New Directions
Shortly after Chermayeff graduated from Yale in 1955 and before he co-founded Chermayeff Geismar Brownjohn, he worked for Alvin Lustig, who had gone blind that year. Despite his impairment Lusting continued to designed many of New Directions covers and jackets. Chermayeff helped with some of those designs. This jacket for ‘Women of Trachis’ by Ezra Pound, is one of the first of many jackets he did on his own.
"This jacket precurses Mobil a little bit,’ says Chermayeff, ‘in the way I am using letters in other ways than the literal meaning; making the ‘O’ in red and twisting it around so it is a pattern. Back then I was using typography as paint, and doing it with tremendous amount of arrogance, ignoring what the words were saying. New Directions was pretty brave. These were the days when Roy Kuhlman and Rudy DeHarak were doing far out things for other publishers, and ND was very open to, particularly since the relationship to Ezra pound is questionable."

Paula Scher
Date: 1974
Age: 26
Client: Atlantic Records
Scher was a record album designer at CBS Records for a over a decade before founding Koppel & Scher, and then becoming a partner in Pentagram. Influenced by Push Pin Studios when she was starting out, she is known for reprising and incorporating historical graphic styles into her work. This project marked a turning point for those predilections.
"This was the first time I worked with big wood type,’ admits Scher. ‘Drop shadows were stylish in those days, [as were] all the outlines and inlines. It took hours to do the mechanicals, something that would take ten minutes on the computer today. For a long time I thought it looked dorky, but now I think it looks cool."

David Levine
Date: 1955
Client: Davis Galleries, New York.
Levine started his career as America’s foremost political and literary caricaturist illustrating greeting cards in a nineteenth century pen and ink style. Influenced by Honore Daumier and Thomas Nast, these early drawings were well rendered contemporary versions of the detailed engravings that appeared in Harper’s Illustated magazine. His big break came in the mid-1950s when he was hired to illustrate the monthly front-of-the-book columns in Esquire magazine. This early work for a New York art gallery marked a turning point for him.
"This brochure for a Davis Gallery exhibition started my career at Esquire,’ Levine recalls. ‘Clay Felker [a senior editor] saw it and asked me to do an illustration for Esquire. From this developed the front-of-the-book 2’ x 2’ drawings which eventually gave birth to my first caricatures. All the people are members of the Gallery... The event [represented in the image] is real, but the paintings that we produced were pathetic."

Katherine McCoy
Date: 1972
Client: Graphic Artists Guild
After graduating college, McCoy, who for twenty-five years was the co-chair of Cranbrook Academy of Design’s graduate design department and currently teaches at ITT in Chicago, stinted at a number of studios, including Omnigraphics in Boston, and the Unimark (under Massimo Vignelli) in Chicago, where she was an adherent of the Swiss School. Gradually, she diverged from the strict application of Swiss typography and this poster was a turning point in that evolution.
"This poster marks the culmination of my first years as a ‘Swiss School&Mac226;’ graphic designer,’ explains McCoy. ‘It is a piece I remain completely pleased with. I developed the image in the darkroom shooting simple Helvetica letterforms out of focus in coarse dot patterns to suggest the glowing quality of a theater marquee at night — the Artists Guild Show Awards was always celebrated at a gala theater party. I was very excited by the typographic composition of the informational copy. I was still dedicated to the Swiss grid system, but in this case, I deformed the grid so it slid on an angle. This was somewhat risky to try, given the technical limitations and expense of linotype typesetting. While this may not seem like a very large revelation today, I believe it was the first use of this grid. In fact, one of the competition&Mac226;s judges must have liked the idea so much that he used it on his design for an AIGA poster later that year &Mac246; the ultimate compliment! The real significance of this piece for me, however, is the discovery that I had just about explored all I could find within the classic Swiss graphic vocabulary. From this point on, I began to look for additional formal expressions in graphic design."


Matthew Carter
Date: 1965
Age: 28
Client Mergenthaler Linotype
Carter was always fascinated with type and letterforms every since he was a boy in England. Before becoming a pioneer of digital typography at Bitstream, designing Bell Gothic (his seminal phone book typeface), and founding his own firm Carter & Cone Type Inc., he apprenticed for Monotype in England. We he came to the United States he was hired at Mergenthaler Linotype and immediately began designing alphabets.
"Snell Roundhand was one of the first jobs I did when I was hired at Mergenthaler Linotype,’ recalls Carter. ‘Mike Parker, the Director of Typographic Development, asked me to do a joining script for Mergenthaler’s first photo composing machine, the Linofilm, because such faces had been mechanically impossible on hot-metal Linotypes and could demonstrate, therefore, an advantage of the new technology. It’s always harder to think of names for typefaces than to design them. The very first face I did at Mergenthaler, also a script, was called Cascade because I happened to have been working on it the night of the famous New York blackout in November 1965 which was caused by ‘cascading’ of the power grid, a sort of domino effect, each section that failed overloading the next section which failed in turn. But Snell was disaster-free and was simply named for Charles Snell, an early-18th-century English writing master whose engraved copybooks suggested many of the letterforms. I’m not sure what the implications of Snell were for my subsequent work except that it was an example of a class of design that seems to have become a theme with me, in which the typesetting technology has a bearing on the design — for better or worse. In the case of Snell the technology, photo composition, had a liberating effect; Snell was a sort of celebration of the new freedom from the constraints of hot metal slug-casting."

Art Chantry
Date: 1976
Chantry belongs exclusively to Seattle. He is its street artist, alternative posterist, and grunge graphiste par excellence, skilled at drawing the attention of its passersby into its counter cultural melange. Before he achieved such high/low status he designed cut and paste posters for various college events.
"This one is from about the time I first discovered Max Ernst’s collage work,’ Chantry recalls. ‘So I copped one and re-drew it with a grease pencil (right on top of the photostat — a glossy photostat) and then re-stated it. I went through this process about three times —- until I had something that I thought was nearly original. The type on this was Xeroxed out of books (text pages of novels) and cut out letter by letter and glued in place with a glue stick. If you bent the board the whole thing popped off like popcorn exploding."

Charles Spencer Anderson
Date: 1989
Age: 30
Client: Ralph Lauren
Anderson achieved professional kudos in the 1980s as the senior designer for the Duffy Design Group, responsible for much to the firm’s retro look. He has since gone on to found Charles S. Anderson Design Company in Minneapolis, and has veered away from the pastiche that brought him his first blush of notoriety.
"These two wooden boxes designed for Ralph Lauren is from the Duffy Design Group days,’ explains Anderson, ’ These were used to hold various fabric swatches to show to department store apparel buyers. I was influenced by old Boy Schout manuals which exactly reflected the style of the clothing. Although I now feel the design is heavy handed and over the top, I still like the craftsmanship involved in the handmade design and the high quality of materials used in the construction of the box. I also like the irony of the fashion scouts flying their pants as flags."

Dugald Stermer
Date 1959
Age: 23
Client: Scientific Data Systems
"The credit line read, ‘design by Richard Kuhn and Associates,’ and I was the sole associate. I worked for him from 1959 - 1962 and this job was the first one he let me do start to finish. The start was tight thumbnails of each spread in pencil, followed by a bound comp in pencil and, I think, markets. Type indication was pretty tight.
"Dick entered a batch of stuff, including this, in the 1962 AIGA Design & Printing for Commerce exhibit; this was the only piece that got in (ever for Kuhn’s office as far as I know). He was most gracious with the credits, listing me as the designer. This was my first job out of UCLA and my first award."

George Lois
Date: 1952
Age: 21
Client: CBS Television
When Lois, the former wunderkind of advertising and chairman/CEO of Lois/USA, returned from the Korean War he was hired by William Golden, the legendary art director of CBS Television. On the strength of his sophisticated typography he worked under Golden for about a year before entering the advertising business. While there the FBI investigated him as a Communist, but CBS management was not swayed. Lois designed the advertisements, press kits, and in this instance a letterhead that drew more hostile fire than he got in Korea.
"This is a letterhead (and symbol) that I designed for CBS Television [used for the coverage of the 1952 Democratic and Republican Convention],’ says Lois. ‘The fact that I based it on the American flag upset a lot of sanctimonious critics [throughout CBS]. but Dr. Stanton [head of CBS] and Bill Golden stood by my flag!"

Roger Black
Date: 1970
Age: 21
Client: Amerika
Black has been art director and/or consultant for scores of consumer magazines and newspapers, from Out Magazine to the Reader’s Digest. Before this as a novice he designed underground newspapers, but what inspired him to stay in the field was this failed prototype.
"This was the printed prototype of a magazine that ultimately only had one real issue,’ says Black. ‘It was financed by a printer in Chicago, talked into it by our publisher Mark Brawerman, who was the first child of the ‘80s, born, like the magazine, ten years too soon. Mark was a student in the business school at the University of Chicago, and came up with the idea of publishing a Parade-like insert in student newspapers. Together we were able to sign up dozens of them (it cost them nothing but distribution, nor was there any offer of revenue), and could imagine a first-issue circulation of a million. Sam Antupit found this dummy and put it in a special issue of Print magazine on magazines. Ultimately I got Sam to design the first issue, after trying unsuccessfully to find good student designers. We had plenty of writers and editors and photographers and even business folks, but there were very few magazine designers of any age, and none that would fit our requirement that you had to be a student or a recent drop-out/graduate to contribute to Amerika. The interesting thing is that it was a slick radical publication—inspired in part by Ramparts. Unfortunately Madison Avenue had not come to realize that the Baby Boom may be all hippies, but hippies are consumers, too. The cover art was originally a silk screen poster made for the Cambodia strike in the spring of 1970—and the subject is of course Kent State. Sadly, I do not remember the name of the artist, who was a student at the Art Institute. The interesting thing is that there is NO COVER TYPE. Just the big logo, which was made from Letraset’s Egyptian Bold Condensed. Much better without all those headlines, no? This magazine lead me to decide to be a magazine art director, where previously I had wanted to be an editor or writer. Part of it was supply-and-demand. Part of it was that I thought it would be more fun. After nearly 30 years, I still think I was right!’