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.
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.
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.
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.
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.