Lorraine Wild | Essays

A Design Annual Captures 1968

The images above are taken from one of the oddest artifacts of the design profession created during the sixties: a booklet documenting the work chosen for the 14th Annual Type Director's Club Show of 1968 (not to be confused with Typography 14, which is the fourteenth annual book published by the same organization after they started numbering them differently in the 80s). I am indebted here to Somi Kim for lending me her copy, the only one I have ever seen. She found it years ago at Dawson's Bookstore on Larchmont in Los Angeles: they had received a cache of books from the collection of a retiring illustrator and designer, and when we heard about this we swooped into the store and bought so much so fast that we barely knew what we were buying. When we sat down later to inspect the acquisitions, it was clear that she had scored a most remarkable item (for $5), and this document has stuck in my head ever since.

Forty-eight pages, 8 1/2 x 11, paperback, saddle-stitched, all half-tones (and not very nice ones at that) black and white only: low production values that are surprising only if you have never looked at how modestly annuals were produced "back in the day" when the entire American design profession could not have filled the hall at a current American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) conference. The list of all 149 members of the Type Director's Club that year appears on the back cover.

The jury for the show that year chose about 200 items for the exhibition, many terrific pieces by a stellar group including Peter Bradford, Ivan Chermayeff, Jacqueline Casey, Seymour Chwast, Lou Dorfsman, Milton Glaser, Herb Lubalin, Bradbury Thompson, among others. The work is a pretty comprehensive showing of the world of typography circa 1968 (skewed to the New York-centric world of the TDC then) with corporate, institutional, publishing, and advertising work all well represented. Stylistically, it's eclectic, with only the tiniest hints of the influence of psychedelia.

The title on the cover of the booklet is "Business as Usual" subtitled "Fourteenth Annual Type Directors Show—Typography Wherever It Exists" with a one by one inch image of what looks like a police or fireman leaning over an injured person lying on pavement. And this is the entire text on page 3: "Think of your work and think of what's going on around you. The theme of the 14th Annual Type Directors show is 'Typography Wherever It Exists.' It's still the theme. We've just expanded the theme. Added a larger context. Look at the winners for their excellence in type direction. That's how they were judged. If the news photos seem to overshadow the show's winners, think of how it is in real life."

Once you get inside the annual, the spreads are arranged with five or six winning designs on one side (with their captions, so they are pretty small) opposite a full-page, full bleed uncaptioned image of the following things: piles of dead soldiers in Vietnam; a campus demonstration (at Columbia?); several images of the Newark riot, particularly of what looks like police brutality; the Black Panthers; suffering children in Vietnam, starvation somewhere; Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, and Lyndon Baines Johnson. On every spread of the book there are lovely pieces of typography, things most any of us would have been proud to have created, and then an image as brutal as a slap on the face.

It becomes apparent that the unspoken theme of that year's annual was suffering. Obviously, the participants of the TDC show committee were disturbed enough by the horrendous events of 1967-68—war, assassination and civil strife—to feel that they overwhelmed the possibility to celebrate their own accomplishments. And while every annual provides future generations with a record of the designs that were deemed worthy by their contemporaries, in 1968 the TDC designers felt that it would be more important to bear witness to what was going on while the work was made. In pure visual terms, the weight of the news photos implies that the creative, cultural and social aspects of "Business as Usual" could not be maintained. But in verbal terms, the irony of the phrase "Business as Usual" also implies that the mercantile interests of design are going to go on making their demands, no matter what god-awful events occur in the background. There is definitely a touch of black humor and bravado in the "I-survived-1968-and-still-got-my-design-award" spin in this otherwise mournful document.

After inspecting "Business as Usual" years ago, I contacted Ed Benguiat, whose name was the only one I recognized on the roster of committee members on the inside front cover of the annual. I tried to ask him how the decision was made to produce the annual that way, what the discussions were like: he was not really willing to go into it at all, and I'm pretty sure he referred to the entire thing as a "dumb joke."

Of course there are other interesting aspects of "Business as Usual" as well. The annual falls into the category of social protest without bearing any of the visual marks of the youth culture that we now associate with the late sixties: it appears to be the work of adults, though its sponsoring organization was clearly in its adolescence. Also, "Business as Usual" is an artifact of a time when the design organizations, though they imagined themselves to be national, were really local, East Coast clubs. Today the membership of these groups is simply too large to ever imagine them making any overt political statements: after all, the AIGA has chapters in both red and blue states, and corporate membership, (which, for the TDC in 1968, consisted mainly of typesetting houses) is now comprised of multinational corporations. So this document is a souvenir of days gone by: and although my daily reading of the newspaper increasingly becomes an exercise in pain management, I can't imagine connecting an expression of that suffering through any activity involving my membership in a national design organization. Though not impossible: maybe things just aren't bad enough! Guess I will now go turn on "The Daily Show..."

Posted in: History, Media, Politics

Comments [8]

One chord that struck me is how much the visual direction predates the work of Toscani/Benetton.

Having taught an advertising theory course this past semester, I was struck by the cynicism of the students. Political involvement is design amounted to an impossibility: "Proper design is a sevice industry"; or the passive subscription to external options: "Sensitive design occurs after signing a petition and/or using environmentally sensitive materials."

What the students lacked was a belief in their own conscious involvement in editorial direction, that somehow they could affect opinion via design--image and text--choices.
David Cabianca

Any chance of this rare document being scanned and placed online as a pdf? Or at least a couple larger images? Would be wonderful (important?) to see.

For more on the (sometimes awkward, if not exploitive) relationship of the "creative" side of the communications industry with the cultural tumult of the sixties, see Thomas Frank's wonderful The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism. In it, Frank quotes adman David Oglivy: "Our business needs massive transfusions of talent. And talent, I believe, is most likely to be found among nonconformists, dissenters, and rebels."

This idea — that the most creative people are rebels, and need to identify with rebellion — still prevails today, as are the complications involved in reconciling our profession's immediate commercial function with our fears that we're somehow irrelevant.

A more recent example is one of the last catalogs for the American Center for Design 100 Show, dating from the late nineties. Designed (I think) by 2x4, it surrounded the winning work with a wide border that was crammed with images from the news of the year. It was more subtle and nuanced to be sure, but it was essentially a remix of the TDC's idea from 1968.
Michael Bierut

I'm fortunate enough to have among my archives some of the early AIGA Design Annuals. Before the Lifetime Achievement Award and Design Leadership Award. Needless to say I cheerish them.

As with TDC's 1968 Annual the work was revolutionary, lithe and charming. Most important free of the bonds of a dominating style. It seems after 1975 Design and Advertising became redundant. Much like it is
today. Very little individualism and original thought.

Seems much of our Identity Design and Advertising today are a throwback to the sixties. One only has to look at and listen to the current fad of jingles for car commercials and media retail product advertisement. They're all 1960s top forty, light rock, r & b and jazz tunes. I can sing along with every last jingle word for word.

The 1960s were turbulent years. If anything the TDC Annual is reflective of that restlessness.

Amazing how Herb Lubalin's New York, New York, Identity is as timeless and magnificent in all its glory today. As it were when he created it in the 1960s. Perhaps, Lubalin's NY, NY Identity is more omnipotent and more meaningful that ever. That's pure Genius.

...avin sighting.


A couple brief points (about this wonderful reminder and smart, articulate post):

First and foremost, THESE are turbulent times. The American "ampeere" terminus. And China all the rage, in some quarters for its design, for its "parody" (?) of capitalism, in others for the terrors of its free trade zones.

Second, David, you might think about restructuring your course. I taught the same thing this semester and it had the opposite effect. I was in fact more than a little surprised at the degree to which the students seemed, and claimed to feel, empowered and validated. (My suggestion: start with the first half of No Logo, end with the second half of it; in the middle, cover the design issues, with interdisciplinary attention to Rem Koolhaas, etc.).

Thank you so much for this Lorraine. Ed Benguiat gave a presentation almost a year ago at TypeCon2004 titled Typography, Wherever It Exists and reading your post makes me wonder what affect your questions may have had on him, exactly. Your post mentioned only hints of psychedelic influences included in 1968's annual so it would be interesting to see what the TDC did in 1969 and the early 70's with the annual. On the thread here by Momus about album covers I posted a recollection I had of an illustration that had left me wondering. Because of further investigation, I found an old book and reread it, in part to escape reading the newspaper each day as well as to revisit the character of Oedipa Maas, a creation of Thomas Pynchon.
I could double post back at the fresh fruit in foreign places thread, this quest for the identity of the illustrators, but it doesn't really matter compared to what does really matter. If I did want to post 'as follow up' it would go like this:

On again with the search I finally found Bar-Kays' album cover I'd looked at briefly, as a child, first at a place called www.cdandlp.com in France, then at mp3.com and at the vh1 site. Since it wasn't exactly what I described here (there) upthread (sidethread) I knew my memory was unclear and went looking for the source of the more vivid recollection that was somehow related. It happened to be a Bantam book cover (online at at www.hyperarts.com) of The Crying of Lot 49.
The connection between the two images is the lone dancer in brightly colored unitard and miniskirt — the mass of ringlets I had in mind? ... probably 're-cognition' of the live-motion sequence and song of Ren Woods in the musical Hair.
Does anyone know the artist of either illustration; album or book?

Since you could say it's a prune I'm looking for I'll only post here, near San Narciso. Those who read closely and do want to go into it may respond. Earnestly the music, the books, TV / 'the Daily Show', this forum, they all distract us from what is real. The debates possible between Baudrillard, Derrida, Foucault, Jameson and Spivak are real, yet I find myself tangentially in search of a graphic design History.
Rick's new entry on album covers could be another place for this commentary, but on that thread there is no tie-in to the discovery, through mitochondrial DNA, that we are all descendants of African Eve.

Coincidentally I referenced the 1968 piece in my juror's statement in the very same 100 Show catalog mentioned by Michael (yes, designed by 2x4). Thanks, Lorraine, for bringing Business as Usual to light and life.
Somi Kim

Very nice cool discovery! Amazing to see all of those incredible designer's listed. I love looking at and learning from design history. I have a collection of magazines that date every month back to 1980. It's a rich treasure. Everytime I move, I am reminded of how I need to hang onto it.
Deborah Kehoe

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