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Lubalin night at
St Bride

Sarah Schrauwen 

A well designed word is worth a 1000 pictures 

On Tuesday 4 September the St Bride Foundation and Unit Editions hosted an evening celebrating the life and work of Herb Lubalin. The evening kicked off with a talk by Adrian Shaughnessy entitled '10 things you should know about Herb Lubalin'.

Some highlights from this list included: Herb Lubalin was both ambidextrous and colourblind; he was one of the original Mad Men (but later rejected advertising); a grunt was often his only comment when shown work by designers in his studio; and he was a politically engaged designer who frequently supported liberal causes in 60s and 70s America. For the full list, see our twitter feed.

After Shaughnessy's introduction, the panel discussion began. We were introduced to four designers whose work is influenced by Herb Lubalin or who had met him during his life: David Pocknell, Rick Banks, David Quay and Tony Brook.

Left to right: Tony Brook, David Quay, Rick Banks, David Pocknell and Adrian Shaughnessy

David Pocknell reminisced about how we went to New York in the 1960s to meet Bernie Zlotnick, a long-standing associate of Herb Lubalin's from the world of advertising. Pocknell was introduced to Lubalin and took the opportunity to show him his portfolio. Lubalin grunted his approval, and offered Pocknell a job on the spot. Unfortunately he had to decline the offer, something he regrets to this day. 

Youngest panel member Rick Banks called Lubalin his number one designer and a major influence on his work: 'He had fun with letterforms and type which he always underpinned with a simple and great idea'. Banks first encountered Lubalin when he became obsessed with the typeface Avant Garde and its notorious ligatures. This led him to purchase a copy of the magazine on eBay: Avant Garde #8, an issue featuring Picasso's erotic gravures. Banks recalls: 'I was more interested in the typography and ligatures than Picasso's nude gravures!' 

The original idea to produce a book on Herb Lubalin came from Unit Editions' co-founder Tony Brook. Although Brook found some of Lubalin's work a 'bit hokey and parochial', he always appreciated that Lubalin embodied expressive typography. Lubalin taught us, he said, that 'legibility is overrated'. Brook recalls however that in the 80s and 90s Lubalin was chronically unfashionable. Brook commented that the American designer Paula Scher recently said about Herb Lubalin: American Graphic Designer (1918-81): 'You cheated, you made Herb cool'. Brook also gave one of the more memorable quotes of the evening: 'Herb Lubalin is a bit like jazz: one minute he's Louis Armstrong, and the next he's Miles Davis'.

In the 1970s British designer David Quay, now based in Amsterdam, sent his work to Tony Di Spigna, a one-time partner and close associate of Herb Lubalin's. When Quay got his portfolio back it included a handwritten note saying: 'A well designed word is worth a 1000 pictures' - a phrase that eloquently describes a large part of Lubalin's work.

We're already looking forward to the Lubalin Then and Now symposium in October! 


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