Last year we were honored to host a Live at the Archive event with Abram’s daughter, Naomi Games. There’s no better time than now to present a recording of her talk, which focuses on the designer’s unique ability to promote health and safety, raise awareness, and unite people under a common cause.
The lifeless, rectangular slabs of metal we type on these days were preceded by tools with personality. Sculptural, colorful, and often weighty, typewriters were transformative machines that shaped modern industry and communication in the 20th century. The Italian brand Olivetti, founded in 1908, was among the many key players in the market and was unique in the way they saw approachable design as core to their identity. Part of Olivetti’s success is owed to Giovanni Pintori, who was the company’s art director from 1950 to 1967. Pintori’s color palettes, shapely abstraction, and smart use of the grid conveyed both the mechanic power of an Olivetti device and the joyful ease one should feel when using it.
Hey, can we borrow your truck?
We’re so excited to move into our new home, because once we’re all settled in, we’ll be able to better serve our community — you! When most people think about moving, cardboard boxes and packing tape dance in their heads. But to move an archive, we’ll need more than bubble wrap, Sharpies, and trash bags.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.