Herb Lubalin didn’t consider himself a typographer; the term felt too mechanical. Instead, he said, he designed with letters.
Lubalin had an immaculate sense of craft, and an ability to make lettering “talk”.
Lubalin rejected the rules of traditional typography and the rigors of modernism to create type that was more expressive. He manipulated letterforms, incorporated flourishes, and added a dose of humor. Type became more than a medium for setting text; type became image.
Lubalin began his career in advertising, spending 20 years at the agency Sudler & Hennessey, Inc. He established his own studio in 1964 and worked with different partners over the years. Throughout the 1960s, Lubalin collaborated with publisher Ralph Ginzburg on three progressive magazines that reflected the changing sexual and political culture of the era: Eros, Fact, and Avant Garde (whose logo later became a typeface). Accordingly, Lubalin’s designs were looser and more experimental than traditional periodicals.
As an agency art director, he pushed beyond the established norm of copy-driven advertising and added a new dimension. As a publication designer, he pushed beyond the boundaries that constrained existing magazines—both in form and content. In fact, some said he had pushed beyond the boundaries of “good taste,” though in retrospect that work is more notable today for its graphic excellence than for its purported prurience.
In the eyes of many designers, he offers a way of designing—and of communicating—that doesn’t require expensive art direction, over-manicured photography, or grandiose presentation. Lubalin proved that to be effective, all you need is a typeface and a good idea. In other words, he is a designer for the age of austerity.
Lubalin helped push back the boundaries of the impact and perception of design—from an ill-defined, narrowly recognized craft to a powerful communication medium that could put big, important ideas smack in the public eye.
Lubalin was one of the most successful Art Directors of the 20th Century.