A new digital platform for documentation and research is set to reveal a more inclusive history, and the ideal complement to Letterform Archive’s physical collection.
The story of graphic design is traditionally written by award winners, major brands, and big names. Their work is heralded in trade journals and design annuals, established as canon in college text books, and archived in museums and special collections. Meanwhile, the wider world of design — which can have as much impact on its audience — goes unrecorded. This includes objects that are widely seen but under-appreciated, or hyper-local and lesser-known, but no less remarkable. And that work is often designed by underrepresented or marginalized people.
Letterform Archive seeks a talented fundraiser to support its membership and development programs.
Reporting to the Chief Financial & Operating Officer (CFO/COO), the Membership & Development Manager works primarily to be the friendly face of the Archive’s membership program and build sustainable funding through fundraising
Our correspondent Tanya George dives into the Archive’s type specimen collection to explore the many ways typeface designs changed hands in the metal era.
Archives can be intimidating spaces. They’re usually filled with objects and materials that are valuable and relevant to building knowledge but require someone to know what they're looking for and ask the right questions to the right people. So here is a small gateway into the type specimen collection at Letterform Archive. I ask a question — “Why does the same typeface design reappear in specimens from other foundries?” — and try to answer it by using objects found at the Archive and other accessible resources.
Vivian Sming, our new curatorial fellow, pulls on threads within the collection, tying together concepts of weaving and language.
We are proud to announce the Letterform Archive Curatorial Fellowship, a new program designed to strengthen and diversify the collection. Rotating annually, the fellow works with our curatorial team to interpret and share material from the Archive, as well as expand the collection through new acquisitions and connections to artists and designers.
The 2022 fellow is Vivian Sming, an artist-publisher based in the Bay Area, who produces a wide range of artists’ books through their publishing studio Sming Sming Books. Sming’s first contribution to our blog highlights four books that combine weaving and language.
In collaboration with Polymode, we’re excited to announce Strikethrough: Typographic Messages of Protest, a new exhibition on view beginning July 23, 2022. Curated by Silas Munro of the design studio Polymode with Stephen Coles of Letterform Archive, the exhibition will feature more than 100 objects, including broadsides, buttons, signs, t-shirts, posters, and ephemera spanning the 1800s to today.
In sections exploring the many ways to voice dissent (VOTE!, RESIST!, LOVE!, TEACH!, and STRIKE!), the show will chart a typographic chant of resistance across more than a century of protest graphics.
Vanessa Zúñiga Tinizaray refocuses geometric and systematic design principles on a culture far from 20th-century Europe.
This article supplements a Bauhaus Typography at 100 interview
with Vanessa Alexandra Zúñiga Tinizaray.See the interview
Letterform Archive’s current exhibition celebrates, among many things, the centenary of the Bauhaus. Such recognition indicates the significant impact of the school in modern culture. The Bauhaus has become synonymous with minimal and geometric systems of design. This makes it convenient to attribute this school of thought as a source for any graphic work that shares these characteristics, but similar ideas have been around long before the Bauhaus. The Ecuador, the Land of the Shuar poster that is part of the “Beyond the Bauhaus” section of the show is an example of contemporary designers practicing some of the principles associated with the school, and, in this case, principles rooted in a marginalized history.
From Futura to ITC Bauhaus, our survey of Bauhaus type continues with a look at typefaces that adopted the school’s simplified, geometric ideals.
This article supplements Archive Salon Series 29: Bauhaus Typefaces. Members can access the recording.
Watch the Video
Our first installment of this two-part series showcased the various typefaces found in official publications and other objects by Bauhaus instructors and students. We learned that the type used at the school was primarily utilitarian, readily available to printers at the time. But what about the radical geometric letterforms we connect to Bauhaus principles? Let’s look at minimalist typefaces inspired by the school, many of which live on as commercial successes long after the institution was forced to close down.
The school’s main typographic story is not about inventing radical typefaces, but using existing typefaces in a radical way.
Letterform Archive’s inaugural exhibition, Bauhaus Typography at 100, displays nearly 200 objects representing the school’s influence on printed design. From its start in 1919, the Bauhaus incorporated mass production techniques in the creation of artworks across various programs offered on campus, from architecture and product design to textiles and graphics. While the school has come to be known for a simplified, geometric approach across all these disciplines, the exhibition narrates an evolution of letterform styles and illuminates the many people who developed what we now recognize as Bauhaus typography. As a companion to December’s Archive Salon, this two-part article series focuses on the core material that shaped Bauhaus typography: the typefaces.
A new website showcases the results of Letterform Archive’s yearlong program in type design.
The Class of 2021 was the first Type West cohort to meet entirely online. The program brought together a group of 19 students from across the globe who logged into sessions multiple times a week. It was not only a space for learning the tools and techniques necessary to make fonts, but an international gathering place of shared interests and goals.
In the 1930s–60s, Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Company offered trolley and bus riders a weekly burst of color and hand lettering. About 300 of these tickets are now in our collection.
Milwaukee claims to be the inventor of the weekly transit pass, and for several decades they could also boast to have some of the most beautiful ones. On August 18, 1919, Milwaukee Electric Railway & Light Company (TMER&L) launched a weekly pass experiment for its extensive streetcar service. It was an overnight success and went into full operation in 1921. The design of the passes was utilitarian and banal until the 1930s when they brought the production in-house and added color, public-service announcements, information about local events, and illustrated depictions of civic history.
For design and letterform lovers, the passes issued between 1937 and 1972 stand out as particularly colorful and cohesive. They follow a fairly consistent design program of large hand-drawn numbers for the week of the year, lettering for the valid range of dates, and small-print information set in type, all functionally decorated with jaunty banners, frames, and rules. Thanks in part to a donation from type designer Tobias Frere-Jones, the Archive now holds about 300 tickets between 1932 and 1969.
Original artwork from an Austrian student’s portfolio reveals the process of mid-century fashion advertising and illustration.
Selected spreads from a fashion catalog dummy created by Ludmila Kavalla as a student. (All images on this page are displayed at high resolution. Pinch or zoom to enlarge.)
Ludmila Hellmann-Kavalla, also known as Mila Kavalla, was an Austrian illustrator and graphic designer. Born in Baden, Lower Austria in 1924, she graduated from Vienna Academy of Applied Arts in 1950 where she trained under E. J. Wimmer-Wisgrill in the master class for fashion. While at the training academy, she met her future husband and business partner Roman Hellmann with whom she set up the “Hellmann-Kavalla” design office where she worked until about 1955.
A 1970 rubbing by Father Edward Catich and a 2021 recutting by Paul Herrera bring the classical Roman capitals to life at the Archive.
The letters found at the base of Trajan’s Column, a second-century celebration of the Roman emperor, are widely considered the archetype of Roman capitals. Their shapes and proportions have inspired calligraphy, lettering, and type design for centuries. While we can’t transport the 100-foot, 700-ton marble monument to San Francisco, two recently acquired works offer some of the most true-to-life representations of the inscription.
Based in Düsseldorf, Jens Müller has authored, edited, and published dozens of books on design. The A5 series — under his own Optik Books imprint — offers affordable and beautifully documented snapshots of design history at a digestible length and (you guessed it) A5 size. The 10th volume in this series, Collecting Graphic Design, calls attention to the few institutions and private collectors who concentrate on preserving and sharing objects of graphic design, such as posters, logos, book covers, design manuals, and ephemera.
Watch 12 presentations that showcased diverse approaches to letterform history and creation across the globe.
The letterform lecture series continued to be held virtually this past year. It has become an opportunity to practice the radical accessibility Letterform Archive strives for while also fortifying the virtual Type West program. While we look forward to a future where we can also have free and open sessions at the San Francisco Public Library, the nature of these online sessions allowed us to host speakers from across the country as well as other parts of the world. Thanks to support from Adobe Fonts, recordings of these lectures are available to all within a few weeks after each event. We bring to you a roundup of all the talks the Archive hosted in the past year and quick access to the ones you might have missed or wish to revisit.
Reporting from India, Tanya George offers a glimpse into one of the country’s most extensive catalogs of locally produced metal type.
Based in Bombay for most of the twentieth century, the Gujarati Type Foundry was one of India’s leading metal type manufacturers. Tanya George, our new regular correspondent, makes her Letterform Archive News debut with an in-depth look at the Indian scripts shown in the company’s catalog, a highlight of the Tholenaar Collection.
Rediscover Archive gems in a continuing series showcasing our most popular posts from Instagram and Twitter.
Welcome to our second installment of highlights from the Archive’s collection through the lens of social media. Joining our earlier post, these are some of the most loved and shared images from the last year or so.
At least twice a day we share items from the Letterform Archive collection on social media. Connecting with our community on these platforms has always been a big part of what we do, even before the physical library was open to the public. That said, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and there are plenty of Archive members, newsletter subscribers, and website visitors who don’t see all that good stuff we post there. Meanwhile, the limited canvas of social media doesn’t always do justice to a rare printed book or detailed piece of calligraphy. With that in mind, here’s the first in an ongoing series showcasing your favorite posts, reprised in expanded form on the blog.
BIPOC designers are still underrepresented and undervalued in every part of the field. Dr. Dori Tunstall offers six ways to turn the tide.
Last summer, amid a long overdue racial reckoning in the United States, we republished a landmark 1968 article by Dorothy Jackson on “The Black Experience Graphic Design”, and asked 16 current design leaders to compare it to their own experience. Their stories spanned the gamut from exhaustion to hope. They shed light on the progress and stagnation of the design world, both academic and professional, and offered advice to organizations and individuals within and outside the BIPOC community. One thing we heard over and over again in their responses was the name Dr. Dori Tunstall.
Dr. Elizabeth (Dori) Tunstall is a design anthropologist, researcher, and educator. She is the first Black dean of a faculty of design anywhere in the world, a position she has held at Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD U) in Toronto since 2016. From the moment she took the role she led a transformation of OCAD U’s equity practices that have become a model for many other organizations. In our interview she lays out six ideas from her own experience that other institutions can put into practice if they are serious about equity and liberation for BIPOC designers.
Web and print specimens showcase 14 original typefaces produced by recent graduates of our yearlong program in type design.
The Type West Class of 2020 dedicated a year to learning type design and history through hands-on workshops and in-depth instruction. Students trained with the best in the industry, including Grendl Löfkvist, James Edmondson, Graham Bradley, Kel Troughton, Maria Doreuli, and many guest instructors. The finale: creating an original typeface, from sketch to font.
At Letterform Archive, Type West students have access to an unparalleled typographic library as they research and create their own original typefaces. Librarians, curators, and other members of the Archive's knowledgeable staff guide students through thousands of type specimens, reference books, and original examples of lettering and graphic design.