Herb Lubalin

The typographer’s typographer

Cover of the special edition of Idea magazine (Japan) focusing on Herb Lubalin, 1969.

Herb Lubalin was born in New York City in 1918, and graduated from The Cooper Union School of Art in 1939. After a series of design jobs in book and magazine publishing he joined the studio of Sudler & Hennessey in 1946, before opening his own studio in 1964. It is at S&H that he made his reputation as a virtuoso of typography, although he wouldn’t call it that. “What I do is not really typography,” he said. “I think of typography as an essentially mechanical means of putting characters down on a page. I design with letters. Aaron Burns calls it ‘typographics’ and since you’ve got to put a name on things to make them memorable, ‘typographics’ is as good a name as any for what I do.”

Herb Lubalin’s four-decades-long career revolutionized American advertising and editorial design. His ideas were instrumental in changing designers’ attitudes and approach towards typography. Lubalin said, “nobody was bothering to fool around with the way you form the letters themselves.” That is exactly what he did. Letters became objects, objects were transformed into letters. He was a proponent of tight spacing, saying, “We read words, not characters, and pushing letters closer or tightening space between lines doesn’t destroy legibility; it merely changes reading habits.” His pioneering work for Eros, Fact, Avant Garde, and U&lc magazines made designers look at the page and letterforms in a completely new way.

Here is a nice reminder from Herb: “It is our responsibility as designers not only to make order out of the printed word, but to make it memorable as well, and thus better understood. This will help people to communicate. The better people communicate, the greater will be the need for better typographics—expressive typography.”

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