The Meticulous Bruce Rogers

It was 1986. I graduated from college and started my career as a designer at The New York Public Library. My typographic education over the previous four years was rooted in Bauhaus asymmetry and experimentation. The Library, however, maintained a strong preference for classical symmetrical layouts and a predilection for serif typefaces. Learning how to design within these constraints felt as if I had been restricted to speak only Ancient Phoenician. However, I soon came across a book plate (and designer) that taught me otherwise. 

Bruce Rogers (1870–1957) is one of the most celebrated book designers of the 20th century. He was not hip or edgy, but urbane, scholarly, and meticulous. He revered classical structure and beauty and disdained modernism. During the second half of the 20th century, at the height of the international design movement, the design establishment disregarded him and deemed his work antique and irrelevant as modern design and sans serif typefaces moved to the forefront.  Read More

Title Page, Songs and Sonnets of Pierre De Ronsard, 1903

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/Lynda.com He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Byron the Continent, The Carl H. Pforzheimer Library

I spend too much time asking someone what typeface they used on a project. I thought I was losing my knack for identifying fonts due to dementia. I'll look closely at the page, and desperately try to find the element that will help me identify the typeface as Caslon, Baskerville, Bembo, or any of the classical serifs I know. After I give up I ask, "Ok, what is that typeface? There's something wrong with it." The answer is typically, "Oh, that's Gobbledygook (insert strange band name here)." They're odd faces found online free. That's not good. You wouldn't wear ugly clothes found online free, why would you use the sad free type?

Colophon

Monotype Bell, the way it should look

I have a book with the longest colophon ever made. If you've wondered if it's ok to list a typeface on the book credits, check this out. It's a thorough history of Bell (the serif one, not Matthew Carter's magnificent Bell Centennial). I even love the low-fi binding with stitching and a dust jacket glued to the cover.

Herbert Johnson designed this edition, Byron on the Continent for the Carl H. Pfrorzheimer Foundation and The New York Public Library. It's set in metal in the most beautiful cut of Monotype Bell on Mohawk Superfine. The detail to typography is incredible. It reminds me of the rules I learned when I started out as a designer at The New York Public Library:

true small caps (not just smaller capitals)

slightly spaced small caps to aid in reading

italics 1/2 point size larger to read optically the same as roman text

aligning figures with capital letters

old style figures with upper and lower case text

perfectly kerned initial caps

the most elegant brackets around the folios

acorns to separate content

and especially wonderful, the small cap Scilicet ( SC 561) to designate the numbers in another edition)

Don't try these without parental supervision.

Cover: Byron the Continent, The Carl H. Pforzheimer Library

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/Lynda.com He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

First Things First

Donna Moll, 1987

I received an email from a designer last week who was thinking of moving to San Francisco. Coming from the east coast, he mistakenly thought it was just over the hill from Los Angeles. "I looked at their office online," he said about one firm, "but they had bad lighting." WTF? Bad lighting? That's even a consideration point. oy!

My first job was at The New York Public Library. Granted, we had wonderful light and I worked in one of the most beautiful buildings in New York. But I would have worked in the basement, which still had the rock walls of the 19th century reservoir preceding the Library. 

Donna Moll designed a publication I still keep on my desk, Know These Lines, a collection of first lines. I admit I could never match the delicacy of this design. The Mohawk Superfine slightly creamy paper paired with the softest rose color ink. Even the black is considered. It's not process black, but PMS Black which is slightly warmer. The Library was type boot camp and this piece by Donna proves that. It was a different time, when one spent days refining typography and methodically creating mechanicals with precision. I know that sounds old.

And to add to these, some of my favorite first lines:

Toni Morrison
Beloved (1987)
124 was spiteful. 

Toni Morrison
Paradise (1997)
They shoot the white girl first.

Joan Didion
The Last Thing He Wanted (1996)
Some real things have happened lately.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Balthazar’s Marvelous Afternoon (2007)
The cage was finished.

A.M. Homes
The Safety of Objects (1999)
Elaine takes the boys to Florida and drops them off like they’re dry cleaning.

Raymond Carver
Why Don't You Dance? (1977)
In the kitchen, he poured another drink and looked at the bedroom suite in his front yard.

David Sedaris
Santaland Diaries (1994)
I wear green velvet knickers, a forest green velvet smock and a perky little hat decorated with spangles.

Mona Simpson
Anywhere But Here (1986)
We fought.

Claire Vaye Watkins
Battleborn (2014)
The day my mom checked out, Razor Blade Baby moved in.

Margaret Mitchell
Gone With the Wind (1936)
Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.

Mark Twain
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)
You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by a Mr Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.

PG Wodehouse
The Luck of the Bodkins (1935)
Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.

Alice Walker
The Color Purple (1982)
You better not never tell nobody but God.

Dodie Smith
I Capture the Castle (1948)
I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.

Sylvia Plath
The Bell Jar (1963)
It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.

 

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/Lynda.com He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

Forbidden Love

Call me out of touch, but I love books. I recall being told in college to "spend money on books, not pot." Unfortunately, I was spending money on Top Ramen, not books nor pot. I'm not a book snob. I'm thrilled to find a copy of Tidewater Virginia as well as a first edition of To Kill a Mockingbird. While I spend many hours showing Paul Rand and Alvin Lustig jackets, I have a secret love for the jackets of the unknown. With titles such as Saphira and the Slave Girl, which sounds faintly lesbian-esque, how can you go wrong?

The New York Public Library has a remarkable digital collection of book jackets from 1926-1947. These aren't chosen by a select group of designers for high design aesthetic value. Research Libraries typically remove dust jackets and discard them before shelving the books. From 1926-1947 anonymous librarians collected and saved jackets they found interesting. They range from unbelievably wonderful, Greatest Show on Earth, to the odd, Less Eminent Victorians. As a collection, the design trends and resources become clear. The lack of color during the World War II period is obvious. The minimal usage of photography shows, not a preference for illustration, but the issues with printing technologies at the time. As it was common for an illustrator to be hired to draw the cover jacket, much of the typography is hand-lettered in wonderful ways.

The books here have a subtext of personal care. Someone handled this artifact, chose the cover, and carefully stored it in a scrapbook. Perhaps it's because my grandfather had a wonderful library, and my grandmother was never without a book, but these books all seem to have been loved.

Shown here is the first of a series on this subject. The book jackets images include the spine.

Begin at the Beginning

There are a few projects that I regret not doing. The first was the Avalon Hotel, here in Beverly Hills. It was a perfect job for us: mid-century Alvin Lustig tiles, incredible building, beautiful redesign by Koning Eizenberg, and just a few blocks from the office. But, alas, it was not to be. The project went elsewhere, and as is typical, the final result was pretty darned good. I also was desperate to design a little book on “first lines,” when I was working at The New York Public Library. Again, the project was designed by my friend Donna Moll, who did a far better job than I would have. So the lesson here is to be glad that some projects get away, as long as they go to someone good. Or, if you don’t like the choice of a different designer, well accidents happen everyday.

The Know These Lines booklet that Donna designed is a gem. The design is subtle and incredibly crafted, and fits the subject matter flawlessly. The content is fantastic. The idea is to read the first sentence of a famous book, and answer its origin. For example, “Call me Ishmael.” is the first line in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. However, like the New York Times crossword, the choices become more difficult. If you have the kind of parties where people in worn out, but well made suits (men and women) get angry over a discussion about modernism and Virginia Woolf this is a perfect game for you. One caveat, however, like most things in life this game is better after cocktails.

Books and Borg

In 1986, I moved to New York and started my first job as a designer for The New York Public Library. This was a perfect fit. Book design was my first love. I was fortunate to work with two people who were masters of fine typography, Marilan Lund and William Coakley. In 1987, the Library held an exhibition on Bert (Bertram) Clarke. I knew Clarke as the designer at A. Colish in Mount Vernon, New York. There is nothing flashy in his books. The beauty is in the fine detail.

Centered typography can easily end up looking like a thermometer. I recall Marilan Lund telling me that a good symmetrical composition should be like a delicate but strong crystal chandelier. Clarke’s typeface choices are relevant to the material and always surprising. The typography on the title page for The Thistle Golf Club is not only regal, but echoes the form of a thistle. The heart dingbats for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland are delightful and subtle. I love the treatment for the wonderful title, “A Few Rambling Remarks on Golf.” If you look closely, you can see the shape of a chandelier in all of these compositions.

There is a beautiful sense of accomplishment to groom text and focus on the most minute of typographic issues. On Star Trek Voyager, the Borg’s religion was perfection, and creating order from chaos. If only they had found Clarke’s books, they could have stopped their relentless path of galactic destruction. Hey, this might be nerdy, but you’ve got to give me props for mixing classical typography with the Borg.