Herb Lubalin: Master of the Typographic Logo

Excerpted from Graphic Icons: Visionaries Who Shaped Modern Graphic Design by John Clifford. Copyright © 2014. Used with permission of Pearson Education, Inc. and Peachpit Press.


Although he is celebrated for his lively type, Herb Lubalin didn’t consider himself a typographer; the term felt too mechanical. Instead, he said, he designed with letters. He rejected the rules of traditional typography and the rigors of modernism to create type that was more expressive. He manipulated letterforms, incorporated flourishes, and added a dose of humor. Type became more than a medium for setting text; type became image.

Changes in technology helped. Phototypesetting, a process of projecting type onto film for printing, gave designers in the 1960s much more freedom than setting metal type. This enabled Lubalin to experiment with big changes in scale and unusual letterspacing. He co-founded International Typeface Corporation (ITC) in 1970 to produce typefaces for the new technology, and sought to compensate type designers fairly with royalties and copyright protection. To promote ITC’s products, Lubalin edited and designed the journal U&lc, which became a respected source for inspiration and information.

Lubalin began his career in advertising, spending 20 years at the agency Sudler & Hennessey, Inc. He established his own studio in 1964 and worked with different partners over the years. Throughout the 1960s, Lubalin collaborated with publisher Ralph Ginzburg on three progressive magazines that reflected the changing sexual and political culture of the era: Eros, Fact, and Avant Garde (whose logo later became a typeface). Accordingly, Lubalin’s designs were looser and more experimental than traditional periodicals.

Lubalin died in 1981, but there has been a renewed interest in his work as designers move beyond simple and clean in a search for new means of expression.