Thursday, May 31, 2012

Alexander Girard's Influence on Modern Design

Alexander Girard (1907-1993) was born in the right century to make his mark on mid-century design. As an architect and accomplished textile designer, he worked for such clients as Herman Miller, Braniff Airlines and La Fonda del Sol in New York City. He collaborated with George Nelson, Eero Saarinan and Charles and Ray Eames who became his life-long friends. But it was his work with the Latin restaurant La Fonda del Sol which put him in the spotlight in the early 1960s. He designed and managed every aspect of this restaurant; from the menu, to the logo, to the plates, ceramic tiles, wallpaper and ashtrays. He turned to Charles and Ray Eames to design furniture for the restaurant, asking them to create a chair with a backrest lower than the tabletop, giving the space uninterrupted sightlines. His colorful menu mailer seen here was found on eBay recently. The matchbook was found on Etsy, but has since sold by designopolis.  

Burning Settlers has a great post about Girard's contributions to the La Fonda del Sol restaurant design in 1960 including the two images seen above. His iconic sunshine logos and playful type designs for the restaurant became a game changer in the early 1960s and influenced designers worldwide. He designed over eighty different sun motifs for the La Fonda del Sol restaurant. Today, his work continues to inspire, as House Industries has licensed many new products based upon his delightfully modern illustration work. Below is a 1961 announcement of the opening for the opening of the new Herman Miller collection featuring textiles and housewares designed by Alexander Girard. A lovely poster of this ad is up for auction here.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Story of The Book

"Books are more than the sum of their parts" according to bookseller Jonathan Kearnes who describes the hold books have upon us. He and London bookseller Adrian Harrington each provide a historical context for the significant influence books have had in our lives over several centuries. They also praise the digital eBook for making more texts available to the public. Their professional insights provide a fascinating narrative of the historical book and the future of the publishing industries. I surely hope it ends well. 
::Thank you Book Patrol. ;)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

2012 Student Book Design Scholarship Winners

I am delighted to announce that two of my 2nd year graphic design students have won top honors and awards in the 2012 Publishing Professionals Network invitational book design competition which took place at Chronicle Books in San Francisco this past week. Jeremy Grant received the $1000 first place award for his redesign of the book The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Sean Loomis won $50 for one of the 11 other merit scholarships in recognition of his book The Dark is Rising. Each year PPN (formerly Bookbuilders), awards 5 or more merit scholarships to students enrolled in a college, university or technical school in 13 Western states. This year the non-profit organization awarded $4000 of merit scholarships on the basis of creativity, meeting design objectives, typography etiquette, and presentation of material. With Jeremy's top honors, this now marks our design program's sixth consecutive, first place win. All twelve of the winners are invited to attend a special evening reception hosted by PPN to be held in their honor on June 27th in San Francisco.
One of the great things about teaching the book design class each Fall quarter—aside from teaching the finer points of typographic etiquette—is to see the level of passion the students have for their chosen books. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Czech author Milan Kundera, has always been a particularly special book for Jeremy Grant. His adaptation embraces the very name of the book in the way he chose to express "lightness" in his design by a variety of means: the physical layout and components of the book are spare and uncrowded; the weight of the Sackers Gothic font in the table of contents quietly shifts from medium to light as it progresses; and the floating initial cap at each chapter opening is itself, very simple and understated. The main text, set in Maoila 10/15 point (by Czech type designer, Veronika Burian), pairs nicely with the Sackers Gothic for running heads and chapter numbers. The modern blackletter, Adso, is used sparingly to provide a note of distinguished contrast for some of the main headings. The few ornamental treatments in the frontmatter and sectional transitions add a bit of mystery and personality to the book. To further echo the "lightness" theme, Jeremy had the book bound in white vellum with just a simple inlayed title plate on the spine, by Ars Obscura in Seattle. I would best describe Jeremy's remarkable interpretation of this novel as a study in simplicity and beauty with a measured sensibility of modern typography. This is a difficult balance to achieve for any skilled book designer, but it gives me great pleasure to see the judges for this student competition recognized this in his work as well.  

Sean Loomis chose to adapt Susan Cooper's tale, The Dark is Rising, seen below, for his book design project this year. Instead of the most obvious solutions of folklore and fantasy elements peppered with Celtic display fonts throughout, Sean tamed it down considerably and presented a much more refined and honorable interpretation. He neatly folded in the two forces of dark and light which are consistent threads throughout the book, by combining a lightly-styled text with dark, watercolor and wash illustrations opposite each of the thirteen chapter openings. The sign of the quartered iron circle is also a constant theme and symbol of the novel and he chose to reinforce this by repeating the shape for his illustrations and for the colophon at the end. For the cover, he repeated the symbol once again without being too heavy-handed. The light and dark tone of the wash in the background provides a subtle visual pun for the title. Sean's entire design is a very handsome interpretation of this famed fantasy and indicates a great respect for Cooper's original novel.  

You can view some of the book designs of past student scholarship winners from 2011 here, and from 2010 here.  

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Le Petite Print Shop

Back in March of 2011 I reported on a miniature library and print shop I once stumbled upon in a museum in Lyon, France. Recently I determined there must have been a second miniature print shop there at one time, after I rediscovered a long lost postcard I purchased at the museum. I don't know which came first, but the equipment in each shop appears to be much the same: two small presses, cutters, and type cabinets with galleys of type waiting to be locked up. (Perhaps business was good and they were upgraded to a more desirable address?) In any case, both of these miniature stage sets, each measuring about 2 feet wide at most, are the meticulous work of Dan Ohlmann and crew of the Musée Miniature et Cinéma in Lyon. If you missed it earlier, there are more compelling images, descriptions and links in my previous post. If you actually stare at these images long enough, don't be surprised if you detect the smell of ink and typewash in the air. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Pop-up NYC is the work of designer Daisy Lew who lives and works in New York City. The common theme of her unusual pop-up book structures are tall buildings all engineered and constructed of small paper buildings.
::Thanks to Popularkinetics for the link.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Life From A to Z

From my favorite New Yorker cartoonist, Roz Chast, whose stuff looks curiously like my own. And her book, What I Hate From A to Z with video description below. The alphabet must not be one of the things she hates. 
::A hat tip to my friend Anita! 

Houston, We Have Liftoff

Fifty-some years ago, Merck Sharp & Dohme developed a children's syrup in colorful packaging slider boxes with illustrations of spacemen. This packaging novelty should probably go in some annals of advertising as the world's most successful ploy to sell medicine to young childen. Who wouldn't love this adorable box? When the box was fully expanded it contained an actual bottle of children's cough syrup, but it became a playful interactive container when empty. With a little imagination and your own graphics, this model of an interactive box of any size could easily be repurposed for a fun container to fit a book of any sort. Be bold, and explore new territory where others fear to travel. Many thanks to Neato Coolville for these fine images.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Dutch Treats

1954 menu cover designs for Holland America Line SS Ryndam, from Dutch designer Reyn Dirksen (1924-1999). Until I stumbled onto Tim Canny's Flickrstream, I was unfamiliar with Dirksen's distinctive poster and illustration work. Unfortunately, the Google offered scarce information about him, and even the Dutch Poster Museum had less to reveal. With further sleuthing, it was apparent that Holland America was his steady client in the 1950s and he produced not only these menus, but many striking posters as well. Common to many of them were the playful imagery—often with faces—and spare typography, as in all of these charming Dutch treats featured below.
Poster for Beverol Summer weight motor oil from Chisholm Gallery
From Christie's auction house.
The milk poster above and the Orangeboom beer poster below are from Live Auctioneers.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Alphabetical Bling

Typography has never been more fashionable. Now you can accessorize with these typographic gems found on Etsy. I do love all of these bling characters, but the sterling silver script D and the decorative initial cap C with pearls are particular stand outs. The E and the H rustic twig letters are originally from the Sarah Coventry jewelry line which was popular in the 1950s and 60s. Now there is some metal type I wouldn't mind owning. ;)   

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Support Your Local Sign Painter

Josh Luke of Best Dressed Signs in Boston takes us on an inside look into the world of sign painting in this video. Luke is determined to dress up Boston one sign at a time. This past November he organized an exhibit for The Pre-Vinylite Society of sign artist's work at the Orchard Skate Shop Gallery in Boston. Luke adopted the compelling name of Pre-vinylites from the 19th Century Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, who were a group of rebellious young British artists rejecting current classical conventions of the day in exchange for a more humanizing approach of idealizing beauty, nature and color. This seems entirely fitting for a network of talented young lettering artists intent upon rebelling against the lifeless vinyl signage conventions which have sorrowfully become too familiar. It makes me happy to see many of these sign painters like Josh Luke who are elevating their accomplished skills beyond a commercial scale and into a distinguished fine art tradition. Their lettering skills and materials are many, and their palettes are far more diverse and tactile compared to most digital lettering designers. Maybe this is precisely the humanizing quality which attracts us to their work today. Below are more images from the Pre-Vinylite show. Except where noted, they are the work of Josh Luke. You can find more of his impressive signage work here.

From Damon Styer of New Bohemia Signs in San Francisco.
Colt Bowden of Salt Lake City. He claims he is influenced by his great grandfather who was a printer, linotype operator and type professor.

Joe Nitche of Nitche Signs & Graphics in Burlington, MA.