Design by: Herb Lubalin

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written by: Jaap Proost

IT’S nice to do something so new, that other people invent a word for it. American graphic designer Herb Lubalin gave letters another role in graphic design. Admirers called the procedure ‘typographic’. See some of this work on the bottom of this post.


Lubalin (1918-1981) was a typography-driven graphic designer. Together with Bradbury Thompson he flattened the road for the role of typography in advertising and visual communications. He didn’t saw himself as a typographer. ‘What I do is not really typography (…) It’s designing with letters. Aaron Burns called it ‘typographics’ and since you’ve got to put a name on things to make them memorable, ‘typographics’ is as good a name for what I do as any.’ He also called it ‘expressive typography’.


Lubalin worked twenty years as advertising art director for Sudler & Hennessey before starting his own firm in 1964.  He led from 1969 various partnerships with designers such as Tom Carnase, Tony DiSpigna and Seymour Chwast. Lubalin had a strong vision on his profession. This is what he wrote in 1971 in the book Graphic Designers in the USA I:


‘Designers, too, must understand the changes that are taken place in society today and be able to respond creatively to them. We cannot settle for one font of wisdom just as we can’t settle for one font of type. We must be creatures of the changing times.’

Lubalin Logo’s

A baker doesn’t buy bread and a plumber fixes his own sink. Graphic designer Herb Lubalin made in is his long career six logo’s for him and the various partnerships with other designers he led. A summarized resume of Herb Lubalin would look something like this:


1918 – Born in New York City

1939 – Graduated from Cooper Union School of Art

1945 – Creative director of Sudler & Hennesey, later Sudler Hennesey & Lubalin (logo #1).

1964 – Establishes his own design firm, Herb Lubalin Inc (logo #2).

1967 – Forms a partnership with Ernie Smith and Tom Carnase (logo #3).

1975 –  Alan Peckolick joins the ranks, creating LSC&P logo (#4).

1978 – Creates Herb Lubalin Associates (logo #5).

1980 – Together with Peckolick forms Lubalin Peckolick Associates (logo #6).

1981 – Dies in New York University Hospital.



Involvement in publications

Not only letters, but also the words they formed, captured his interest. In the sixties he created as an editorial designer with publisher Ralph Ginzburg three magazines: Eros, Fact and Avant Garde. From the logo of the last magazine later evolved in the complete typesetting ITC Avant Garde. In the seventies Lubalin founded the magazine U&cl (shorthand for Upper and Lower Case). The publication was a platform for typographic experimentation.



Avant Garde

The typeface Avant Garde is an outgrowth of the masthead logo for Avant Garde magazine. In the late sixties, graphic designers Herb Lubalin and Tom Carnase developed the masthead into a complete alphabet. In the beginning it was only used in the magazine, but in 1970 Avant Garde became commercially available. It is considered as one of the most successful new typefaces of the 20th century. It is famous for the many innovative ligatures. See more from my copy of Avant Garde magazine.



Introduction for Graphis Annual 65/66

For the Graphis Annual 65/66 Lubalin wrote the introduction. His outcry for more individualism in the advertising industry came at the right moment; the following decade is seen by many as the most creative and individualistic period in graphic design. Because his essay is so good, I like to share it with you. An excerpt: ‘Stupidity fosters imitation. Imitation depletes initiative and individuality (…) Trends are not made by innovators. Innovators make prototypes that are imitated in such a great profusion that the imitations become a trend (…) Imitation creates trends and trends hamper creative thinking.

Note the two advertisements I added after the essay. The first one was printed in the Graphis Annual with his introduction. The other one is from Graphis Magazine from 1972…



‘We live in a society, here in the United States, that acknowledges a man’s most priceless possession to be his individuality. Yet American industry and the advertising profession that promotes it (with a few notable exceptions) look with a jaundiced eye upon any attempt at self-expression that attracts as much attention to the creative individual as it does to themselves.

It is unfortunate that the advertising designer and writer, unlike his less commercial counterparts, the novelist and painter, often must remain anonymous for fear of superimposing his own, sometimes stimulating image over his advertising agency’s sometimes stodgy one. To carry this a step further, his agency then finds its expedient not to impose its carefully created and sometimes stodgy image over that of its clients equally carefully created and almost always stodgy one.

Creative individualism is resented by the people who lack it. Like, for instance, creative plans boards. No group of individuals can be individual for the simple reason that they are a group. Plans boards are, if necessity, a ‘team effort’, because there usually isn’t an contributor in the crowd. What emanates from one of these ‘group thinks’ is a little bit of everyone’s opinion, each of which is valueless and adds up to nothing. This is the group of men that takes the chicken fat out of the chopped liver, because it’s too rich for their chronic gastritis, little realizing that without it the ingredients fall apart.

The plans board is the buffer state between client and agency. Its job is to keep him always in great expectation of great things to come which it then keeps from even materializing. It is surprising that how many talented art directors and copywriters are employed by our mammoth agencies. It’s not surprising how little of their excellent work gets out of that room. The prescription for creative plans boards is group therapy.

Here’s another rugged individualism squelcher. The average account executive, which most of them are. He is the interpreter who translates to the client the creative ideas of the copywriter and art directors. But… he doesn’t speak their language. To me, a great salesman is one who is continuously demanding a better product to sell and will go down in flames selling it when he gets it. He must have the ability to recognize the subtle differences between good and great. The average account man is satisfied with mediocrity. He believes everything to be great if he thinks it’s what the client want, and everything stinks if it isn’t. He is a staunch supporter of the creative plans board and is often invited to participate since he rarely has a creative suggestion. He creates himself in the image of his client. If he happens to have more than one client, he becomes schizophrenic. He wears a number of hats and talks out of both sides of his mouth. His aim in life is to become an average account supervisor.

Let’s change the subject. Advertising in the U.S.A. is a fairly stupid business. We have made it that way by underestimating the intelligence of the American people. The bulk of our output is devised to appeal to the sub-teen-age mentality of that great big consuming monster that we have created. Who’s responsible? Those of us that put absolute faith in antiquated, ineffective, stereotyped, outmoded, unreliable, unbelievable, valueless research methods such as copy-testing. Researchers, through an infinitesimal sampling of public opinion, presume to tell creative people how to design and write ads to impress the greatest number of potential costumers. Something’s wrong somewhere.  If recent statistics are any indication of the value of copy-testing, we would all be advised to spend our research money researching successful art-directors and copy-writers, knowledgeable creative people who have made their reputations not by fancy words and pretty designs, but by creating intelligent advertising that appeals to a surprisingly intelligent audience (the American people).

Here are some enlightening facts and figures: 85 % of all advertising prepared in the U.S. is totally ignored. Of the 15 % remaining, 30 % is reacted to negatively. Which leaves 70 % of the remaining 15 % of all advertising, which gets either a non-committal or favorable reaction.


So, who’s stupid now? The people who tell us how to make ads or the people who don’t read them?


For the same reasons that advertising is generally dumb, it is also ugly. And how dumb can we afford to be and not to be beautiful?


If the answer to this were to be confined to statistics, the prognosis for the preponderance of this mishmash we call advertising would not be encouraging. Here is what our unsophisticated, non-aesthetic, non-intellectual, unintelligent audience is doing these days: More people visit art museums than big league baseball games. Twice as many go to concerts. Ballet and opera are flourishing with more than 200 opera workshops for young people. Radio has staged a cultural comeback. New York City with 25 AM stations has no less than 45 FM stations, most catering to intellectual interest. Commercial art galleries in New York have increased in the last 20 years from 20 to 325 and Sears Roebuck, our big mass mail-order outlet, of all people, is marketing fine art in quantity for from $200 to $300 a painting with three years to pay. In spite of TV, Americans are reading more books; 750.000,000 paperbacks have been sold since their introduction 25 years ago, and libraries are accommodating twice as many card carrying readers as 10 years ago. And who ever heard of a suburban housewife who isn’t a painter?

So, how dumb can we afford to be and not to be beautiful? And, for how long?

Stupidity fosters imitation. Imitation depletes initiative and individuality. Let’s talk for a moment about our ‘trendmakers’. Trends are not made by innovators. Innovators make prototypes that are imitated in such a great profusion that the imitations become a trend.

The advertising business, it seems to me, is made of 1% innovation and 99% imitation. The individuality of the innovator, sooner or later, becomes anonymous in this maze of imitation, which is perpetuated by men who find it easier to earn their livings off the success of others than to create something original for themselves. Imitation creates trends and trends hamper creative thinking. They lull the people who follow them into a false sense of security. It is only when the innovator again creates something new that they realize that they’ve got to start all over again.

Now a word to all those board chairman, presidents, executive v.p.’s, management people of our least creative agencies and industrial complexes.

The creative individual functions poorly in an atmosphere of indecisiveness created by indecisive decision makers who straddle a 3000-mile wide fences. This is a  precarious position for a top executive to be in for any length of time. It leads to a split personality. He gives lip service to creativity when talking to creators. Sells them down the river when confronted by market researchers. Defends salesmanship’s at all costs when accosted by account executives and disown them all when chastised by an irate client. His great aim in life is to appeal to every man, woman and child, rich or poor, fat or skinny, Republican or Democrat, white or black, gentile or Jew in the United States with the same ad.

This top executive marches, everlastingly, down the big, broad, white, safe, double line in the middle of the road and gets passed by right and left. His battle cry is ‘To Hell with Doyle Dane & Bernbach’.

The last group of inhibitors are the type casters, a body of men who search for talent, find it, tie it up in a neat little package and stick it in a niche. These niche-pickers do not understand talent. Only experience. Here is my own experience with them over the past 25 years. I find it the easiest way to make my point.

In 1941 I was generally accepted as the outstanding designer in America of classified advertising (real estates ads, 1 column wide by 1 inch deep). So I was classified as a classified advertising designer.

I was confined to this small space until 1945, when a courageous design agency hired me, against tradition, to do double-truck pharmaceutical ads in full color. I then became a full-color double-truck pharmaceutical designer, an image I still retain today.

However, during this period I became more and more involved wit sales promotion. I designed direct mail, point-of-sale material and sales presentation. So I became known as a sales promotion designer with double-truck pharmaceutical overtones.

In 1956 I won a gold medal at the New York Art Directors Club show for the best trade ad of the year. I then became involved up to my ears in trade advertising. So I was now a trade advertising designer with sales promotion overtones.

But in 1958, I received a gold medal for the best consumers newspaper ad. I was now up to my eyeballs on consumer advertising.

While the niche-pickers were trying to find a category for me I was asked to help redesign the Saturday Evening Post. Then Eros, along with various other editorial assignments. In 1963 I was awarded for editorial excellence. My banishment from the ranks of advertising design was now a foregone conclusion. I was now to become a full fledged editorial designer, when lo and behold! a TV commercial I had been instrumental in creating and producing received a ‘Cleo’ award as the best commercial in the hair preparation field in 1963. I have subsequently become involved over my head in film. I love the medium and did everything in my power to influence the categorizers to classify me as a film designer and director. Then they found out that I was spending a good deal of my time on packaging and corporate design. Now they call me a classified, double-truck pharmaceutical, promotionally inclined, trade and consumer advertising, TV and industrial film designer with editorial and corporate overtones.


I call myself Herb Lubalin because that’s who I am.’



The wrapper of bubble gum is the perfect platform for a good round letter. Lubalin knew that when in 1976 he was commissioned to do a job for Bazooka Bubble Gum. The company had developed a new kind of bubble gum that had a smoother taste. Lubalin came up with the name ‘Smooth ‘n Juicy’ and designed the packaging. He made the lettering soft and round and played with the O’s. Pocket Coffee was candy made by the Ferero Corporation. Lubalin designed its package in 1968. The Jug-O-Glug was a Christmas gift from the firm that Lubalin formed with Ernie Smith and Tom Carnase. Note the logo.






Out of Avant Garde evolved the typeface Lubalin Graph. It is a serif version of Avant Garde designed by Tony DiSpigna. Lubalin was involved in the designing of many typefaces.




The first image shows pages from a direct-mail booklet from the sixties. Various artists were invited to do a page incorporating Lubalins logotype. Drawings by, from left to right: Lowell Bodger / Ernie Smith / Ruffins-Taback / Ruffins-Taback / Herb Lubalin / Milton Glaser. Lubalin, Smith and Carnase send invertible New Years card at the end of 1971. The last one is a invitation to an exhibition of the work of Lubalin.




Herb Lubalin is best known for his logotypes, or as he called them ‘expressive typography’. One of his most famous works is the Mother & Child masthead he designed for a Curtis magazine, where the ‘O’ in the word mother is a womb for the word child. The use of the ampersand in this design is pure genius.




Here are some more examples of the greatness of Herb Lubalin.



The last image is from a book that started my fascination with Herb Lubalin. I bought this book over ten years ago. All of the images above are from publications that now share the bookshelf with the AIA guide. You can use the images, but be sure to link back.  If you want to see more Lubalin, be sure to get this monograph by United Editions. The last monograph was published in the eighties, so it’s about time…


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