News

Jan 20, 2020

Processing Paul Rand

In the first of our new series of volunteer journals, Bethany Qualls recounts her experience sorting and listing the Paul Rand collection and how it changed the way she sees design.

Paul Rand’s Westinghouse logo on the escalator landing at a Bay Area Rapid Transit station. Photo: Bethany Qualls.
Jan 8, 2020

Charter Member Keepsake

Here’s a peek at what our charter members should expect in their mailboxes in a few weeks — and how the design came together, thanks to Design is Play and Dependable Letterpress.

Dec 12, 2019

Coming Soon to the Online Archive: Tables

For every Letterform Archive tour we set a table — a visual feast of objects that respond to the interests of each guest. Soon, you can get a taste of this experience from anywhere.

Photo of Letterform Archive reading room.
This table is set for “1960s–70s Independent Publishing”, a section of last year’s California College of the Arts MFA course on the history of typography.
Dec 4, 2019

An Update on Our New Home

Thanks to you, our new space is taking shape. Here’s a peek at what we’re building together.

photo of Letterform Archive reading room under construction
The new Letterform Archive reading room under construction.

In July, we announced the surprising — but ultimately opportune — news that Letterform Archive needs a new home. We asked for your help, and you delivered. Over 300 donors from at least 15 countries supported our move campaign. With matching pledges from Emigre and an anonymous donor, we crossed the midway mark of our $200,000 goal.

Nov 25, 2019

Thank you, Amelia

After over four years as our librarian, Amelia Grounds is turning the page for a new role at UC Berkeley’s Bancroft Library. Here are a few of her proudest accomplishments and favorite things from the Archive.

Nov 12, 2019

Designing Only on Saturday

There may be no task more daunting than designing a book about a designer — especially when that designer was your friend of 30 years. That was the case with Chuck Byrne, who wrote and designed our book on the work of Jack Stauffacher.

Cover and artwork for Only on Saturday: The Wood Type Prints of Jack Stauffacher
Nov 7, 2019

Jack Stauffacher on Working with Type

For the printer and designer whose wood type prints are the subject of Only on Saturday, crafting a perfect page meant getting a feel for the written word, its history — and what it means to be human.

Text from Vico’s The New Science, handset in 7-point Kis-Janson type by Jack Stauffacher. Photo (detail) by Dennis Letbetter, Vico photographs portfolio, 2003.
Oct 24, 2019

Type as Modern Art: The Influences Behind Stauffacher’s Wood Type Prints

Jack Stauffacher, Process work (detail) for The Rebel Albert Camus portfolio, 1969. Collection of Letterform Archive.
Only on Saturday. Hardcover, 10 x 14 inches, 208 pages. Regular: Scuff-free velvet-touch matte laminate case wrapped with a jacket. Deluxe: Hardcover with a portfolio of 10 facsimile reproductions and 10 impressions made with Stauffacher’s own wood type, bound and slipcased in dark green silk.
Reserve your copy

Long before Jack Stauffacher picked up a piece of wood type and used it to create one of his remarkable typographic abstractions, the printer and designer had collected lessons in his craft from across time — and from across the globe. Read on to learn about just a few of the many influences that informed his wood type work, which is the subject of our third book, Only on Saturday: The Wood Type Prints of Jack Stauffacher, now live on Kickstarter.

Early Experiments in Printing

At an early age, Jack Stauffacher was practically anointed as a printer. Paging through an issue of Popular Mechanics when he was fourteen, his eye fell on a mail-order advertisement for a 3-by-5-inch letterpress, and his curiosity was permanently piqued. By the time he graduated from high school, he and his father had built a modest studio in the backyard of their home in San Mateo, California, and the tiny mail-order press had given way to a more stately Chandler & Price model. Named the Greenwood Press after the street adjacent to their home, young Stauffacher’s enterprise began to take on small commercial jobs.

Sep 18, 2019

This Just In: Jack Stauffacher’s Studio

For over 50 years, Stauffacher lived a singular life at the heart of San Francisco’s creative community. Now, his legacy lives on at the Archive, and his wood type prints are the subject of our third book.

panoramic photo of Jack Stauffacher at his studio, Greenwood Press, 300 Broadway in San Francisco. Photo: Dennis Letbetter, 1991
panoramic photo of Jack Stauffacher at his studio, Greenwood Press, 300 Broadway in San Francisco. Photos: Dennis Letbetter, 1991
Jack Stauffacher in his studio, Greenwood Press, at 300 Broadway in San Francisco. Photo: Dennis Letbetter, 1991.

Some rooms convey history all by themselves. They tell stories about the people who live in them before those occupants even utter a word. Jack Stauffacher’s studio in San Francisco was such a place.

Sep 10, 2019

From the Collection: The Complete Commercial Artist (現代商業美術全集)

A rare set of Japanese trade publications serves a visual feast of modern graphics and lettering, as well as a study of early-20th-century interactions between Japan and the West.

A few covers from The Complete Commercial Artist

The early 20th century in Japan witnessed a collision of emerging and residual forces. Tensions between past, present, and future shaped typography, lettering, and other areas of design. Leading up to the Shōwa period (1926–89), as a result of the nation’s modernization and growth of commerce, businesses recognized the value of advertising to consumers in a visually appealing way.

The budding interest in creative advertising and the rise of commercial retail led to a 1920s–30s boom in design trade publishing to satisfy the growing demand for rich reference materials. In 1926, Hamada Masuji (濱田 増治) and a group of colleagues, including Sugiura Hisui, Watanabe Soshu, Nakada Sadanouke, and Miyashita Takao formed the Association of Commercial Artists. Together, with Hamada serving as the Editor-in-Chief, they published The Complete Commercial Artist, a 24-volume collection of trade publications on commercial design.

Sep 4, 2019

Lautsprecher Gets Its Voice Back

Jakob Erbar’s least known typeface went silent in World War II. David Jonathan Ross used a specimen at the Archive to bring it back to life.

One look at the web or our phones these days and it’s obvious that a certain style of typeface dominates contemporary design: the geometric sans serif. It feels like nearly every company, from tech startup to multinational corporation, is finding safety and clarity in the genre’s circular rounds, sharp corners, and clean finish. Meanwhile, there’s also a growing hunger for things that are handmade and handwritten, authentic and imperfect. These universal desires for mechanical order and human warmth are pulling in opposite directions.

Lautsprecher (German for “loudspeaker”) is a virtually unknown metal typeface from 1931 that somehow hits tones both geometric and calligraphic, right at a time when we’re tuned into those very frequencies.

Jul 23, 2019

This Just In: Michael Doret’s Disney and Pixar Title Treatments

Dozens of title treatment sketches by the renowned lettering artist and designer have found a home at the Archive.

Process material for Moana, 2011.

There are designers who choose to master their craft for a specific industry. And then there are designers, like Michael Doret, who refuse to stay in one lane. Doret brings his lettering talent to a range of clients: designing logos for sports teams, fast food chains, titles for comic books, children’s animations, drama movies, and typefaces. He sees each project as a unique design challenge: embracing the differences and running with them to come up with the most exciting solution possible. To put it simply, nothing is out of Doret’s reach. In 2018, Doret donated half of his working archive to Letterform Archive and the other half to the Herb Lubalin Center in New York. We are honored that Doret’s final proofs for early movies, as well as developmental sketches and inked comps for Disney and Pixar animated features, have found a home in our growing collection of process material.

Jul 3, 2019

A New Home for Letterform Archive

We urgently need a new home. Luckily, we found the one we always imagined. Now you can make it a reality.

A few months ago our landlord informed us that they wanted Letterform Archive out of the building.

The shock of this news soon faded as we recognized the drawbacks of our current location. In so many ways, we are near or beyond capacity.

When we imagine the Archive of the future, we imagine a place worthy of the history we hold. We see a purpose-built, contiguous space for classes, tours, collections, and staff. We dream of a larger venue for events, where more of our community can gather. We picture a dedicated gallery for exhibits. We long for accessibility to public transit. Most of all, we need room to grow.

When we imagine the Archive of the future we picture something like this:

Jun 24, 2019

From the Collection: Design in the ’90s

For the second year in a row, we’re collaborating with Astro Studios on a San Francisco Design Week exhibition. This time, we’re taking you back to the 1990s.

WIRED magazine, premiere issue, 1993. The front of book includes a quote from Marshall McCluhan’s The Medium is the Massage (1964).

The Archive is excited to partner up with Astro Studios for our second SF Design Week exhibition on Thursday, June 27. Digital Revolution: Designing in the ’90s explores the impact of technologies on design created in this transformative period — the decade when Astro Studios got their start. To celebrate Design Week and Astro’s 25th anniversary, we’re doing a special collaboration, featuring some of Astro’s most notable projects from their early years alongside posters, type specimens, magazines, and ephemera from the Archive’s collection.

Jun 6, 2019

From the Collection: The Art of Lettering Instruction, 1716–2016

The diagrams, illustrations, models, and methods used to teach people how to make letters can be as engaging as the resulting letters themselves.

Letterform Archive at LetterWest
Lettering artists play with our instructional diagram cubes at LetterWest on June 7, 2019. Photo by Matt McDowell of So Mighty.

Earlier this month we participated in the LetterWest Conference with a mini exhibition using hi-fi captures from objects in our collection. Historical instructional material can be found throughout the Archive, from the regal copybooks of Baroque writing masters, to informal lettering manuals for mid-century modern advertising. Here are a few highlights spanning the last three centuries.

May 13, 2019

This Just In: Paul Rand

Hundreds of items from Rand’s archive, including process material and personal copies of his work, encapsulate a radiant career.

Sketches and final cover for The American Democrat, Vintage Books, 1956.

When visitors make requests for Letterform Archive tours and research visits, we hear one name more than any other: Paul Rand. We’ve always had a few special things to show them: brand guides for IBM and NeXT, packaging for Selectric font elements and Producto cigars, and some key poster and book designs. The latest addition, however, brings us a significant collection from his own archive, giving visitors unprecedented access to his work.

May 1, 2019

From the Collection: Ahn Sang Soo and AG Typography Institute

Dating back to 1985, specimens of Ahn’s digital type represent the origins of exploration and play found in Hangul design today.

Specimens covers for Ahnsangsoo, Leesang, Mano, and Myrrh, AG Typography Institiute.

Ahn Sang Soo is often recognized as the father of contemporary Korean type design, and for good reason. His first typeface designed in 1985 broke the molds of Hangul’s traditional design and paved a path of experimentation for the young script. An alumnus and now a professor and Head of the Graphic Design department of Seoul Hongik University, he’s made major typographic contributions in both design and discourse. In 2012, he founded the Paju Typography Institute (PaTI), an alternative design school, as well as AG Typography Institute, an organization that’s dedicated to not only the design of new typefaces, but research, writing, exhibitions, and book design. He’s also published several design books and translated seminal works on typography by Jan Tschichold and Emil Ruder into Korean. Since AG’s founding, Ahn’s original designs have expanded and new faces have been developed. Throughout his career, his typographic lens has also been applied to print magazines, visual arts, photography, poetry, architecture, and more — altogether representing Ahn’s legacy, and his emphasis on the importance of design, research, and play.

Apr 16, 2019

Periodicals as Collections, No. 3: Information and ulm

Our survey of avant-garde periodicals continues with two magazines that represent the enduring influence of the Bauhaus through the 20th century.

Detail from the cover of ulm 8/9, 1963.

Two weeks ago, our “Periodicals as Collections” series featured bauhaus magazine, the quarterly journal of the German art school that was founded 100 years ago this month. Today, we will explore two more magazines that together weave a narrative about the enduring influence of the Bauhaus through the 20th century. It is also the story of how a particular Bauhaus student would have a hand in continuing the school’s legacy.

Apr 1, 2019

Periodicals as Collections, No. 2: bauhaus

Our survey of avant-garde periodicals continues with a closer look at the Bauhaus’s magazine on the school’s 100th birthday.

Title page from bauhaus, year 2, no. 1, 1928.

The second installment of Letterform Archive’s survey of avant-garde periodicals recognizes an auspicious occasion. This month marks the 100-year anniversary of the founding of the Bauhaus, one of the most significant and influential institutions in 20th-century design history.

Mar 19, 2019

From the Collection: Laini (Sylvia Abernathy)

The Chicago-based activist’s dynamic album covers of the 1960s expand our sense of design history.

Roscoe Mitchell Sextet album cover (detail), Delmark, 1966. Design by Sylvia Abernathy, photograph by Billy Abernathy.

In late 1960s Chicago, Sylvia Abernathy was all at once a college student, activist, and graphic designer. Having later changed her name to “Laini”, Abernathy is best known for working on the Wall of Respect, a community mural in the South Side on 43rd and Hayward Streets. The effort was collaborative, a creative orchestration by the Visual Arts Workshop arm of the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC). During these years, Abernathy was also designing album covers for jazz musicians under Delmark Records. Four of Abernathy’s albums live at the Archive and hold a special place in our collection. They represent a part of her work that has yet to be researched extensively, and they demonstrate a way of combining type, image, and color that sets her apart from her contemporaries.

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