Have you ever really looked at . . .? A. M. Cassandre

In 1994, Richard Hollis wrote:

‘Cassandre’s “Étoile du Nord” railway poster has become a paradigm of the Good Design to which we all aspire. But do we ever really look at this poster? If designing is about deciding, and good design about good decisions, then critical history can illuminate its exemplary character: the concentrated intelligence in its expression of the north star in word and image; in its mathematical structure; in its use of colour and the construction of its lettering. It is also a work of its time: demonstrably pre-photographic in its cubistic technique, its tonal gradation achieved by splatter and its colour by selected, not process colours.’

Richard Hollis, ‘Have you ever really looked at this poster?’
Eye magazine, vol. 4, no. 13, 1994

The ‘Étoile du Nord’ poster (shown above in a postcard version) is an opportunity to really look at the work of A. M. Cassandre (Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron, 1901–1968), as Hollis encourages us to do. Cassandre’s work repays close study because of its great design intelligence. Really looking at the artefacts themselves, whenever possible, is also important because they demonstrate just how thoroughly Cassandre’s work unifies concept and technical execution. The results have a powerful visual, physical, and imaginative presence.

 

(Upper) ‘Étoile du Nord’, postcard, no date, published by Hachard et Cie (Paris), printed by L. Danel (Lille), gravure in 6 colours. (Lower) Nord magazine, 1930 (May) and 1931 (July), published under the patronage of the Compagnie du Chemin de Fer du Nord, printed by L. Danel (Lille), offset lithography in 2 colours.

Étoile du Nord

This postcard is based on a 1927 poster of the same design. The reverse gives details of the luxury high-speed ‘Étoile du Nord’ Pullman service between Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam. The postcard was printed by L. Danel, which also produced the original poster; it is a good quality rendition of a poster that now sells for tens of thousands of pounds.

Nord magazine

Nord magazine was issued monthly by the Compagnie du Chemin de Fer du Nord and distributed in the first class compartments of its trains. The cover design, created in 1927 and signed ‘A. Mouron-Cassandre’, was used for many years. Each issue was printed in black and a variable second colour, including yellow, orange, light green, light blue, pink, lavender, grey, and buff.

Press advertisements by Cassandre ­sometimes featured inside the magazine. The example shown here, for ‘Dr. Charpy’ health and beauty products, was based on a 1930 poster of the same design. The image makes reference to a study of human facial proportions by the French artist Jean Cousin the younger, illustrated in his book Livre de pourtraicture (c. 1595).

 

(Upper) Acier, 1936, published by the Office Technique pour l’Utilisation de l’Acier, printed by E. Desfossés-Néogravure (Paris), gravure in 3 colours, overprinted by letterpress in 1 colour. (Lower) ‘Triplex’, postcard, no date, published by Alliance Graphique Loupot-Cassandre (Paris), offset lithography in 3 colours.

Triplex

This postcard is based on a 1930 poster of the same design, advertising Triplex laminated (i.e. safety) glass for automobile windscreens and other uses. The rectangular plate of glass, an analogue for a windscreen, offers both clarity of vision and protection. The text of the poster, ‘Le verre Triplex s’étoile mais ne fait pas d’éclats’, reads approximately ‘Triplex glass cracks but does not shatter’. The text has added meaning since ‘étoile’ indicates cracking in a star-like pattern, while ‘éclats’ refers to bursts or fragments (of glass) and sparkles (of a star).

Acier (Steel)

The cover design of this quarterly journal was created in 1932 and thereafter used throughout the 1930s. The metallic surfaces suggested by the graduated tints are superbly conveyed by the luxurious gravure printing. Covers were customised with variable overprinted text.

 

(Upper) Nicolas wine catalogue, November 1935, published by Établissements Nicolas (Charenton-le-Pont, Seine), printed by Draeger Frères (Montrouge), letterpress in 9 colours (gloss and matte) with an additional embossing; interior pages printed letterpress in 7 colours. (Lower) ‘Maison Prunier’, postcard, 1934, published by the restaurant Maison Prunier, letterpress in 6 colours.

Nicolas

This wine catalogue is among the most lavish commissions completed by Cassandre. The cover design is an impressive synthesis of production and visual effect, in which spatial recession is achieved through multiple colour planes, trompe l’oeil perspective, and the contrast of gloss and matte inks and the embossed ‘N’.

Maison Prunier

This postcard is based on a 1934 poster of the same design, whose imagery was additionally used for menus and other printed matter. From a present-day perspective, the image appears vaguely surreal, though the Surrealist work it evokes, Salvador Dalí’s Lobster telephone, was in fact created two years later. The Maison Prunier was (and is still today) a Paris restaurant specialising in seafood. A London branch, which opened in 1933, was in business until the mid 1970s.

 

(Upper) ‘Projects for four posters: a portfolio by A. M. Cassandre’, Fortune magazine, March 1937, published by Time, Inc., letterpress (text) and 4-colour process offset lithography. (Lower) Posters by Cassandre, exhibition catalogue, January 1936, published by the Museum of Modern Art (New York), printed by The Spiral Press (New York), letterpress in 2 colours.

Fortune profile

This profile of Cassandre was published in Fortune magazine during his first visit to the USA in 1936–37, and includes four speculative poster projects commissioned by the magazine. The right-hand column of the text includes a lengthy quotation by Cassandre describing his understanding of how a successful poster functions.

Posters by Cassandre

This catalogue was for a 1936 exhibition of Cassandre’s posters held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Cassandre wrote at around this time that a poster should contain the solution to three problems: an optical problem, a graphic problem, and a poetic problem. The optical clash of the cover’s complementary colours is a physiological equivalent to the arrow’s graphic piercing of the figure’s eye/vision. The poetic effect is a compelling, gripping violence.

The display ‘Have you ever really looked at …? A. M. Cassandre’ was assembled by Eric Kindel, to mark the arrival of two new vitrines in the Department, courtesy of the Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading. With thanks to Darryl Lim, James Lloyd, and Alice Savoie.

 

Part 3s in Ravensburg

Part 3 Typography students en route to Ravensburg

Erasmus-supported Teaching Fellow, Sara Chapman and nine of our Part 3s spent Week 6 in Duale Hochschule Baden-Württemberg (DHBW) in the mediaeval town of Ravensburg, Germany.

Students from both Reading and Ravensburg were working on the same ‘New Blood’ briefs from the D&AD 2017 competition.

Everyone enjoyed a very creative, inspiring and positive week away, during which both students and teachers were able to share skills and approaches.

After an intensive week working together in the shared studio space — sometimes up to ten hours a day — each student made a short presentation to the group about their project.

Students from Reading found that the Ravensburg emphasis on idea generation and conceptual thinking generated some unusual responses. Solutions tended to include a wider variety of multi-media outputs such sculpture, installation, and film making, as well as graphics. In comparison, the Reading approach was more pragmatic and decisive; we have a tendency to identify problems quickly, and use quite tight processes to solve them.

Whilst the Department has enjoyed an individual student exchange relationship with Ravensburg for some years, this was a new development in that a greater number of students could experience a short time in Germany, that complimented their degree studies. We hope to invite German students on a return trip, and also to repeat the collaboration in Spring 2018.

We are grateful for the support from the Ernest Hoch fund for covering the students’ competition entry fees and IMAGINE for covering the students’ travel costs.

Breaking down Barriers wins CIOB award for innovation

Typography students use simulation tools to appraise whether information in everyday contexts are presented in visually inclusive ways

Breaking down Barriers (BdB) – our multidisciplinary inclusive design project – has received a Highly Commended Award for Innovation in Education and Training in the 2016 Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) International Innovation & Research Awards Scheme.

BdB champions a unique cross-disciplinary initiative to embed inclusive design across the University. Our BdB vision is to ensure Reading graduates across all disciplines advocate inclusion in their professional practices and bring real benefits to the everyday lives of all users, particularly people with conditions related to ageing and/or cognitive and physical disabilities. In Typography, we are engaging with inclusive design across a range of professional design contexts, including digital, packaging, print and wayfinding applications.

Typography students say that our BdB workshops have helped them “gain insight as to how thoughtful design can influence other industries and how we as designers must work together with these other industries in order to make the lives of the people that need a helping hand that little bit easier”.

CIOB Innovation and Research Awards highlight the importance of innovation and research in raising performance levels, enhancing best practice and improving the quality of the built environment. The CIOB judges said: “This innovation in education is a practical, engaging and demonstrable way to bring to life a real social challenge with widespread value and application. The innovation shows a genuine commitment to invest in the UK’s building stock and educate the next generation of professionals to ensure the needs of all users of a facility are firmly met.”

BdB began as an exciting collaboration between the School of Built Environment, the Henley Business School and the School of Arts and Communication Design in 2015. Since then we have been joined by staff within the School of Biological Sciences and collaborated with the Centre for Staff Development and, most recently, the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, as well as external partners.

 

Irmi Wachendorff awarded competitive research studentship

Visiting lecturer Irmi Wachendorff

Congratulations to Visiting Lecturer, Irmi Wachendorff who has been awarded a studentship from the German Academic Scholarship Foundation. Irmi’s doctoral research at the University of Duisburg-Essen explores social positioning through typographic variation in linguistic landscapes.

Irmi has joined the Department for the spring term as a visiting lecturer from Folkwang University of Arts. Drawing on her extensive professional experience working in Germany, Switzerland and Australia, she is primarily working with our Part 2 students on practical projects while she is in Reading. She is also leading a new theme in the Design Thinking module: “Graphic design theory: Reflecting practice”.

Staff exchanges play a key role in knowledge exchange and we are pleased to have Irmi with us to share her cross-disciplinary expertise and professional experience. Welcome to the Deparment, Irmi, and congratulations on your achievement!

MA/MA Res Open Day: Thursday 9 March 2017

Masters students

We will be holding a Postgraduate Open Day at the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication on Thursday 9 March 2017. The day is primarily aimed at students who are interested in pursuing a Masters degree with us. See our Departmental pages for our portfolio of courses.

On the day we will assemble after 10:00, and follow this schedule:
• 10.00 Coffee and sign-in
• 10.30 Introduction to the Department
• 11.00 Information sessions on MA programmes
• 13:00 Opportunity to sit in on a postgraduate seminar

Please email us if you are interested in attending, directions, or if you have any questions.

A Partnership for Ephemera Studies

Typography is very pleased to announce an exciting new Goodwill Partnership between the Centre for Ephemera Studies (one of our research centres) and the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library (University of Oxford). Commenting on this new initiative, Julie Anne Lambert, Librarian of the John Johnson Collection said:

The John Johnson Collection is delighted to partner the Centre for Ephemera Studies at the University of Reading. Our joint aim is to further the academic and popular potential of ephemera to cast light on the everyday lives of our forebears through the documents they themselves saw and handled. We are particularly excited to work with the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication in exploring the materiality of ephemera in their (often innovative) design and printing.

The Partnership will include working together on exhibitions, symposia, funding applications, projects with postgraduate and undergraduate students, and sharing of expertise on cataloguing, conservation, and print identification and conservation. It will reinforce the potential of ephemera to engage academics from a wide range of disciplines as well as the public.

Professor Roberta Gilchrist, Research Dean for Heritage and Creativity at Reading supports the collaboration:

The University of Reading warmly welcomes the new partnership between the Centre for Ephemera Studies and the Bodleian Library, John Johnson Collection. The collaboration will highlight the rich potential of ephemera to illuminate the history of everyday life and to inspire new approaches to  printing and design.

The examples below are from the Rickards Collection and the John Johnson Collection.

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Isotype at the Science Museum

Loans from the Isotype Collection on display in the Mathematics gallery. From left: chart from the British Council Study Box on the National Health Service (‘Estimated cost and personnel, 1949–50’); Women and a new society (1946), opened to the chart ‘…’; original exhibition chart, ‘Infant death rate and income’ (1933).

Loans from the Isotype Collection on display in the new Mathematics gallery at the Science Museum, London. From left: chart from the British Council Study Box on the National Health Service (‘Estimated cost and personnel, 1949–50’); Women and a new society (1946), opened to chart 9, ‘Literacy in England and Wales’; original exhibition chart, ‘Infant death rate and income’ (1933).

The Department has made a long-term loan of Isotype work to the Science Museum, London. The loans are featured in the museum’s new Mathematics gallery, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, which opened to the public today (8 December). Following a visit to the Isotype Collection, Science Museum curator David Rooney chose examples of Isotype that convey simply and directly the underlying application of mathematics to the production of pictorial statistics. Captions written for the items note Marie Neurath’s early training as a mathematician.

Have you thought about doing a PhD in Typography?

DS ind JB ws thinking TK DB LH

Our experienced supervisors welcome applications in the history, theory and practice of design for reading. Here are some of our recent and current PhD topics

If you have any ideas do get in touch with Sue Walker for an informal chat, and to discuss funding opportunities.

Why not join us as an AHRC-funded Design Star student?

Our Graduate School at Reading is excellent, and provides a stimulating environment.

And the experience we provide in Typography is world leading, not least because much of our PhD work is supported by our outstanding collections and archives, and the research training we provide.

Gold and silver placements at Design Portfolio

 

One of the digital projects Typography students Louise Lee and Sophie Rahier worked on during their placement at Design Portfolio.

One of the digital projects Typography students Louise Lee and Sophie Rahier worked on during their placement at Design Portfolio. (image used with permission from Design Portfolio).

Part 3 students Louise Lee and Sophie Rahier completed an exciting placement at Design Portfolio’s Canary Wharf office during the summer vacation. Louise, Sophie and Anna Scully were the gold, silver and bronze winners of the 2016 Vince Ma Prize, which is awarded to the best performing students in Part 2, and includes a placement for gold and silver winners.

Louise and Sophie said the experience was “a real insight and great lesson on how projects are managed within a design agency”. They agreed it was an “enriching” experience for student designers.

During their placements, Louise and Sophie jobs undertook a range of design tasks, ranging from simple photo editing to website redesigns. The projects they worked on included branding, designing icons, and working with a range of material and deliverables. They also had an opportunity to apply their production knowledge since they were able to oversee a full design project being sent to print.

Louise and Sophie said: “The Design Portfolio team were very keen to have us involved, asking for our opinions as well as giving us the opportunity to attend client meetings. At these we presented our own work and had the chance to explain the rationale behind it. We were also given permission to share the work we were involved in and present them in our portfolios, as well as finishing off other briefs that we did not get to see through to the end.”

“Communicating with the rest of the Design Portfolio team (not just the designers) was highly important and added a new dimension to the design work. Whether it was with clients, marketing, or production, it was great to collaborate while still maintaining a certain freedom as designer, which is something that can’t easily be experienced through coursework.”

“Overall, working at Design Portfolio was invaluable experience, and taught us a lot. We’ve realised that even within a corporate design agency, the diversity in their jobs and clients provides an abundance of new and interesting challenges to a designer, which definitely builds versatility. Although we did not imagine a placement to be so enriching, we can now see why they are encouraged since the end of first year, and would in turn definitely recommend applying for one even if you are not 100% sure of what area of design you would like to pursue.”

They added: “It was also great to learn new life-saving keyboard shortcuts in which we cannot wait to share with our fellow coursemates!”

Material histories: Centennial Exhibition stencil

In the last in a series of posts about artefacts in the exhibition ‘Material histories’ (now on in the Department), Eric Kindel tells the story of a stencil cut to commemorate the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.

 

Centennial Exhibition stencil (at right), alongside (from left) Lettering art in modern use (1952) by Raymond A. Ballinger; portrait of Silas H. Quint (no date); and back cover of the catalogue Quint’s stencil, stamp, and letter works (c. 1887–1895) showing a representation of the 
Centennial Exhibition medal.

 

Centennial Exhibition stencil

This stencil (shown above, at right) was made in 1876, or shortly after, by S. H. Quint & Sons of Philadelphia, a company started in 1849 specialising in stencil cutting and the manufacture of pattern letters, steel stamps, seal presses, burning irons, and so on. In 1876, the company displayed samples of its work at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia and was awarded a ‘first premium’ and a medal. Apparently to commemorate the award, two elaborate stencils were cut, based on the two sides of the medal. The stencil displayed here, translating the obverse of the medal, depicts the ‘Genius of America’ holding a crown of laurels above the emblems of industry lying at her feet. The four roundels at the cardinal points typify America, Europe, Asia, and Africa, accompanied 
by appropriate symbols.

In 2005, this stencil was offered for auction on eBay, illustrated by several indifferent photographs. Not knowing its identity, provenance, or significance, I put in an early bid of $70, hoping for the best since I was not able to follow the auction to its end. In the event, I won the auction, but only just: a rival bidder had bid up to $69 and then quit. I became increasingly grateful for this fortunate outcome as I later assembled the stencil’s story from Centennial Exhibition records, a Quint catalogue, Frank Leslie’s historical register of the United States Centennial Exposition, 1876, and ­correspondence with Gladys Quint Wigfield, the great grand-daughter of the company’s founder, Silas H. Quint (1821–1897).

In 1952, the Philadelphia-based designer Raymond A. Ballinger published Lettering art in modern use. The book features the partner stencil to the one displayed here; it translates the reverse of the Centennial Exhibition medal. Ballinger encountered the stencil at the Quint company and clearly felt it would make a striking addition to his book. The partner stencil and the medal are still in the possession of the Quint company, which continues in business in Philadelphia, now specialising in the manufacture of photopolymer flexographic printing plates for pharmaceutical packaging.

 

On display

Stencil plate, S. H. Quint & Sons, Philadelpia, 1876 (or shortly 
after), brass
Quint’s stencil, stamp, and letter works, catalogue, Philadelphia, 
c. 1887–1895, back cover showing a representation of the 
Centennial Exhibition medal
Portrait of Silas H. Quint, no date
Lettering art in modern use, Raymond A. Ballinger, New York: 
Reinhold, 1952

 

‘Material histories’ presents graphic communication artefacts with a story to tell. The stories – the material histories – describe the artefacts in particular: what they are about, where they came from, their material qualities, their circumstances of production, how they were acquired, and crucially how they link to other artefacts, narratives and representations.

The exhibition continues until 11 November.