Herb Lubalin

I first came across the work of Herb Lubalin while I was at university through the same way as I’m sure a lot of designers do, the typeface Avant Garde Gothic. I remember seeing the closely spaced uppercase letterforms used on posters and album artwork that was out at the time and just thinking wow, that looks great! What is that typeface! Avant Garde seemed to be one of those typefaces that could work on anything and gave everything it was used on a unique and timeless elegance.

After researching a bit more into Lubalin a few years later on, I found out that he was involved in ITC (International Typeface Corporation) and was responsible for a whole range of other typefaces that I had used before but knew next to nothing about. So when I saw that there was a new book out about him by Unit Editions I decided to treat myself to it. The book is a compact version of ‘Herb Lubalin American Graphic Designer 1918—81′ that Unit Editions released back in August 2012  and as well as being jam packed full of his great work, it includes a written history of Lubalin by Adrian Shaughnessy. The design of the book has been expertly taken care of by Tony Brook of Spin.

It proves to be a really interesting read and follows Lubalin’s life and expansive career, going from an ambidextrous kid who struggled at school, to joining The Cooper Union (a New York based art and design school that offered a free education to working class kids) where he learnt the art of turning his ideas into highly polished design and also met friends who would turn out to be lifelong collaborators.

After The Cooper Union he then went on to work in advertising as one of the original ‘Mad Men’ of  New York in the 50’s and 60’s during the period when advertising was fast establishing itself as a key practice in business. In 1964 he set up Lubalin Inc. with Ernie Smith and Tom Carnase who helped him to create some of the most iconic pieces of graphic design seen in the past 50 years. His story wasn’t to end there, not content with just being a key player in the New York design scene he was also a founding member of  ITC (International Typeface Corporation) in 1970 with Aaron Burns and Edward Rondthaler. Together they created a set of typefaces that are still a big part of any designers toolkit today, and in the process revolutionised the way people bought and distributed typefaces. Not bad eh!

What really caught my attention in the book though, were the stories added by Lubalin’s friends and associates, one story involving Ralph Ginzberg (Publisher of Avant Garde magazine) tells of how Lubalin submitted over 10 designs for the Avant Garde masthead to him (the masthead design later became the typeface Avant Garde Gothic) which were all rejected. Ginzberg then sent his wife to see Lubalin in an effort to try and explain what they were looking for more clearly before Lubalin had the eureka moment that led to one of the most iconic pieces of design in history. This shows that even the best designers don’t always get it right straight away and that persistence and working through a process of ideas is the way to get great results in design. So there’s hope for us all!

Check out Unit Editions to get yourself a copy of the book.

And here’s a tribute to Herb Lubalin.



Robert Lomas