Emigre magazine: design, discourse and authorship

Emigre 11 cover, ‘Ambition/fear’, 1989

 

An exhibition in the Department
12 June – 14 July 2017

Emigre magazine, co-founded in California in 1984 by Rudy VanderLans, was a provocative and highly adventurous fusion of self-publishing, critical writing and experimental typography. This exhibition investigates a key period in the development of graphic design as a form of authorship and shows how Emigre’s page designs and typefaces embodied new thinking about the designer’s role in communication.

Interviews with April Greiman and Glenn Suokko in Emigre 11, ‘Ambition/fear’, 1989. The early issues of Emigre coincided with the adoption of Macintosh computers by graphic designers. Emigre 11 is devoted to a series of interviews with designers about the new tool. The magazine’s pages often offered multiple reading paths.

With an initial print run of 3,000–5,000 copies, the magazine was supported by a design studio, Emigre Graphics, and by a digital type foundry led by VanderLans’ partner Zuzana Licko. Emigre published 69 issues in a range of formats, from tabloid to paperback book, before closing in 2005, and it was probably the most admired, influential and criticised design magazine of its era.

Emigre 15 cover, ‘Do you read me?’, 1990. This issue, focused on new typefaces and legibility, features typeface designs and interviews with Peter Mertens, Zuzana Licko, John Downer, Jeffery Keedy and Barry Deck, among others.

In the 1990s, the idea that graphic design could be a form of authorship was the focus of intense debate among designers. VanderLans created a vital forum for discussion during a period of rapid change and Emigre’s design and content inspired an international network of visual communicators. The magazine was an era-defining example of entrepreneurial design authorship, which still has lessons for self-publishers today, and a platform where designers could explore the relationship of writing and design.

The exhibition, co-curated by MA Book Design student Francisca Monteiro and Prof. Rick Poynor, draws from the University of Reading’s Special Collections and Rick’s personal collection. The display is divided into sections that reflect the range of Emigre’s activities:

Rudy VanderLans as editor
The Emigre type foundry led by Zuzana Licko
VanderLans as a graphic author
The Emigre Music record label
Emigre as a space for collaborative authorship for designers and writers
Emigre considered in context

 

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.

 

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.

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.

 

Material histories: Tschichold & ampersands

In the third in a series of posts about artefacts in the exhibition ‘Material histories’ (now on in the Department), Rob Banham tells the story of Jan Tschichold’s history of the ampersand.

 

Formenwandlungen der et-zeichen (Forms of the ampersand) (1953) by Jan Tschichold (at upper right); letter from Sarasin to Tschichold (centre); reprint of Formenwandlungen der et-zeichen (2004).

Formenwandlungen der et-zeichen (Forms of the ampersand) (1953) by Jan Tschichold (at upper right); letter from Georges Sarasin to Tschichold (centre); reprint of Formenwandlungen der et-zeichen (2004).

 

Jan Tschichold and the ampersand

This 28-page booklet (above, displayed open at upper right) is about the history of the ampersand. Published in 1953, it contains a short text by Jan Tschichold and 288 examples of different forms of the ampersand character. The examples range in date from 346 BC to the end of the nineteenth century. This particular copy, purchased on eBay in about 2004, came with a folded letter inside, dated 20 November 1954, written by Georges Sarasin to Tschichold. When I bought the booklet, the eBay listing mentioned the letter but not that the booklet had been inscribed to Sarasin by Tschichold. Nor did it say that on page 16 several errors in the caption numbering had been carefully corrected in pencil, presumably by Tschichold himself.

In the letter, Sarasin thanks Tschichold for sending him the booklet, and remarks on the amount of material collected and the effort this must have involved. He goes on to say, ‘It seems to me that such a publication is of particular importance, apart from the aesthetic pleasure, because it makes it quite obvious what we would lose if we banished capital letters when such a disposable character [i.e. the ampersand] has inspired such artistic achievements.’ Sarasin’s reference is to a debate that had begun in the 1920s when modernist typographers first proposed abolishing capital (or uppercase) letters in favour of only lowercase. This was something Tschichold had supported at the time: in 1930 he put forward ideas for a new script based on existing lowercase forms, and for a new orthography. But he later rejected the proposal to abolish capitals as unworkable.

Also on display are two earlier articles on the ampersand by Frederick W. Goudy and Paul Standard. Tschichold acknowledges both as the source of many of his examples: numerous entries in his list are followed by a ‘G’ for Goudy or an ‘S’ for Standard; those with a ‘T’ are items he sourced himself. Goudy’s article also appears to have provided a model for Tschichold, who reproduced his ampersands at the same size.

While Tschichold’s booklet is an example of his longstanding interest in the history of letterforms, it also demonstrates his mastery of understated typography, and the nuanced use of paper and binding in book design. The Japanese reprint, issued in 2004, is a pale imitation.

 

On display

Jan Tschichold, Formenwandlungen der et-zeichen (Forms of the ampersand), Frankfurt: Stempel, 1953
Copy of a letter sent by Georges S. Sarasin to Jan Tschichold, dated 20 November 1954
Formenwandlungen der et-zeichen, reprint with Japanese text, issued to accompany a Tschichold special issue of Idea magazine, 2004
Frederick William Goudy, ‘Ands & ampersands’, Typography, no. 3, 1937, pp. 11–18
Paul Standard, ‘The ampersand – sign of continuity’, Signature, no. 8, 1938, pp. 44–51

 

‘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.

 

Material histories: crossed letters

In the second in a series of posts about artefacts in the exhibition ‘Material histories’ (now on in the Department), Sue Walker tells the story of ‘crossed letters’.

 

Crossed letters, c. 1880s–1910s, from the collection of Sue Walker.

Crossed letters, 1880s–1910s, from the collection of Sue Walker.

 

Crossed letters

‘Crossing’ a letter was a widely-adopted letter-writing practice. The aim was to save paper and postal charges when – before the introduction of the Penny Post in 1840 – the cost of sending a letter was determined by the number of pages it contained and the distance it was sent. After 1840, letters with more than one sheet of paper could be sent cheaply throughout Britain. By the end of the nineteenth century letter-writing manuals and etiquette books cautioned against crossing, as the following quotations confirm:

‘Another practice of the past, now happily discontinued, was that of crossing letters; and two sheets of paper are used if one sheet will not contain all that is to be said. If half the second sheet of paper is left blank it is not torn off, a whole sheet being more convenient to hold and to fold than is half a sheet of paper, and if the last few words are necessary for the completion of a letter they are written on the margin and not across the writing on the face of the pages.’ 
(The correct guide to letter writing, by a member of the aristocracy, 1892)

‘Another almost entirely feminine fault is that of ‘crossing’ a letter. As one of the first requisites of a letter is that it should be distinctly written there cannot possibly be any valid excuse for “crossing”.’ 
(E. M. Busbridge, Letter writing and etiquette, 1909)

Some examples of crossing suggest that people did so to avoid starting a second sheet of paper, as they contain just a few lines written at 90 degrees to the rest. Crossing is also found in letters of a personal or intimate nature, as indicated by salutations such as ‘My own true Ernest’, ‘My dearest Ernest’ and ‘My very dear Ernest’ (see row of three letters, at lower right). Both sides of a sheet fully crossed suggest that in certain instances crossing was a deliberate ploy to disguise the messages within. Some crossed letters, especially those with generous space between the lines, are relatively easy to read. Others are more challenging, though one can imagine the unfolding delight of the recipient as they slowly deciphered a densely crossed text.

The crossed letters shown here are from a collection of family letters given to me by Vivian Wright, a librarian and friend of the Department. The collection is remarkable in its breadth, containing letters sent and received by children in the late nineteenth century, love letters, letters sent and received during the First World War, and day-to-day correspondence from the late nineteenth century to the 1960s.

 

On display

Crossed letters, 1880s–1910s
Etiquette books: The correct guide to letter writing, by a member of the aristocracy (published in many editions, usually undated; on display are editions from 1892 and the early 20th century); E. M. Busbridge, Letter writing and etiquette, 1909

 

‘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.

 

Material histories: Emil Hübner

‘Material histories’ is a small exhibition now on display in the Department. It 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.

In the first in a series of posts about artefacts in the exhibition, James Mosley tells the story of Emil Hübner’s Exempla scripturae epigraphicae Latinae.

 

Exempla scripturae epigraphicae Latinae

Emil Hübner’s collection of Latin inscriptions, Exempla scripturae epigraphicae Latinae, is a big book. It is not easy for the ordinary reader to approach. All the text – and there is a lot of it – is in Latin. But every inscription that is listed is shown in a line illustration. Many of the original inscriptions are routine jobs, while others delightfully capture calligraphic qualities. The inscriptions, as presented in the book, are well drawn, often (according to the captions) from photographs of the originals. They are printed from ‘zincographs’, which are relief etchings made directly from the drawings. Zincography was a relatively new process at the time, whose early history needs recording.

Emil Hübner, Exempla scripturae epigraphicae Latinae, entry 265 showing a sample of letters from the inscription at the base of Trajan's column, Rome.

Emil Hübner, Exempla scripturae epigraphicae Latinae, opened to item 265, a sample of letters from the inscription at the base of Trajan’s column, Rome.

Edward Johnston was rightly impressed with what he called these ‘fine outline drawings’, and he included samples of them in his little handbook, Writing & illuminating, & lettering (1906). In her book, Lettering on buildings (1960), Nicolete Gray complained that the scale of the originals was difficult to judge, which is true. But over a thousand inscriptions are shown and the size of each line is given.

So Hübner’s book is on many people’s list of things to look at. In 1979, I received a prospectus from a publisher in Berlin offering a reprint, which I ordered for the St Bride Library. What I got was a surprise: a copy of the original book, printed in 1885, and not bound, but sewn and ready to use. I imagine that before the reprint was put in hand someone must have come across copies of the original book that had somehow survived in a warehouse, perhaps in Berlin, for nearly a century. I tipped off the ‘Typography Department’ at Reading, which ordered its own copy of the 1885 printing. This is the copy displayed here.

At Reading, Hübner’s book served a serious purpose. Study tours of Rome and Florence to see inscriptions on the spot and in context had become a distinctive part of the teaching undertaken by the newly created department. My own contribution was to offer images of some of the originals that I had made during my own research trips, and which I used in my teaching. Two of these are on display.

Edward Johnston's Writing & illuminating, & lettering; photographs of the Inscription at the base of Trajan’s column, Rome, by James Mosley, 1963

Edward Johnston, Writing & illuminating, & lettering, showing reproductions from Hübner; photographs of the inscription at the base of Trajan’s column, made by James Mosley in 1963.

 

On display

Emil Hübner, Exempla scripturae epigraphicae Latinae, Berlin: George Reimer, 1885
Edward Johnston, Writing & illuminating, & lettering, London: John Hogg, 1906 (2nd edition, 1908)
Inscription at the base of Trajan’s column, Rome, photographs by James Mosley, 1963

 

‘Material histories’ continues until 11 November.

 

Rick Poynor joins Typography

Rick_Poynor

We are very pleased to announce that Rick Poynor has been appointed Professor of Design and Visual Culture by the University of Reading, and will join the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication on 10 October.

As author, editor, curator and commentator, Rick’s longstanding and wide-ranging critical engagement with design, design history and many dimensions of visual culture is well known. We look forward with great anticipation to his contributions to Reading’s own longstanding excellence in teaching and research.

Welcome, Rick!

‘Time(less) signs’ at Austrian Cultural Forum London

Showcase_1

The exhibition ‘Time(less) signs: Otto Neurath and reflections in Austrian Contemporary Art’ runs from 30 September 2014 to 9 January 2015, at the Austrian Cultural Forum London. It features a selection by curator Maria C. Holter from the ‘Zeit(lose) Zeichen’ exhibition first staged at Vienna’s Künstlerhaus in 2012, supplemented by original material from the Department’s Otto and Marie Neurath Isotype Collection (see image above). As part of the public programme accompanying the exhibition, co-curator Christopher Burke will give a talk on Isotype at the Austrian Cultural Forum on Tuesday 14 October 2014.

See also:

Interview with Maria Holter, exhibition curator

Zeit(lose) Zeichen

Isotype: design and contexts, 1925–1971