Sex, prison and lost ligatures: The story of Avant Garde

I needed to clear this up for myself, the truth behind this great and mysterious typeface we know as Avant Garde. So for the benefit of those interested, here is the story…

I needed to clear this up for myself, the truth behind this great and mysterious typeface we know as Avant Garde. So for the benefit of those interested, here is the story:

Herb Lubalin (1918 – 1981) was a prominent American graphic designer. In 1962 he teamed up with a journalist called Ralph Ginzburg (1929 – 2006) and together they published a controversial erotic magazine called Eros. By the fourth issue the magazine got shut down for violating federal obscenity laws in the USA. They followed with a magazine called Fact, but this one also came to a premature end due to legal troubles.

Avant Garde

Six months later Lubalin and Ginzberg released the first issue of Avant Garde, an attractive hard-bound periodical which would run for 14 issues between January 1968 and July 1971. Following in the footsteps of its predecessors, Avant Garde pushed the boundaries of censorship and ceased when Ginzberg went to prison for featuring nude models depicting the alphabet!

Avant Garde magazine’s most notable legacy is arguably its instantly recognisable logo designed by Lubalin:

Avant Garde

Lubalin expanded the logo design into an extensive range of characters and ligatures intended solely for use in the identity and headlines of the magazine.

Avant Garde

Avant Garde

Demand from the design community for an Avant Garde typeface became such that Lubalin employed the help of his partner Tom Carnase and together they transformed the Avant Garde lettering into a full-fledged typeface. ITC Avant Garde was first released in 1970 by the International Typeface Corporation, a company formed by Lubalin that same year.

Avant Garde

Avant Garde

Avant Garde

The original release comprised five weights, including one version for headlines and one for body copy. Sadly the modern digitized releases did not include the vast amount of ligatures and alternate characters. For a while they were considered lost, but fortunately the advent of OpenType technology has allowed ITC to release a complete digital version of Avant Garde Gothic offering all the original alternate characters and ligatures.

Avant Garde

Despite its pure geometric shapes, the typeface is a deceptively tricky one to use well and many designers lacked the necessary understanding of Lubalin’s letterforms. After being released commercially, the font quickly became overused and is commonly found in poor design solutions. Avant Garde remains extremely popular to this day and the most successful examples of use are where restraint is exercised such as this identity for Music Balloon by Golden:

Avant Garde

Avant Garde

Sources:

* Note: A ligature in typography is a special character consisting of two or more joined letters.

Jason Santa Maria rethinks his website

Who would launch the tenth anniversary redesign of their website on a Friday afternoon? Well, probably only Jason Santa Maria. His twitter bio sums up his unfortunate predicament: “Designer by day, designer by night.”

Who would launch the tenth anniversary redesign of their website on a Friday afternoon? Well, probably only Jason Santa Maria. His twitter bio sums up his unfortunate predicament: “Designer by day, designer by night.”

Based in Brooklyn, New York, Jason has positioned himself as the godfather of modern typographic resources – here are a few of the offices he currently holds:

  • Co-founder of Typedia, which as the name suggests is an online encyclopedia of typefaces
  • Creative director for Typekit, a subscription-based service offering hosted web fonts
  • Lecturer for the Interaction Design program at the School of Visual Arts in NYC
  • Creative director for the online web magazine A List Apart
  • Co-founder/designer of ALA’s publishing wing A Book Apart

The other projects and events he is involved in are innumerable, so instead of trying to figure out whether Jason has a clone army or just never sleeps, go over and take a look at the latest incarnation of jasonsantamaria.com.

The previous version of his website/blog introduced the concept of a custom design for each article as opposed to having entries conform to a rigid template, but this posed an unforeseen problem:

In order to post something, I felt it couldn’t be short or just a quip on a topic, it had to be substantial. I fell into a design trap I unknowingly set for myself. – Jason Santa Maria

Here’s a screenshot of the new home page design which allows posts of various lengths to co-exist in one stream. It features one of my favourite fonts Chaparral for most of the text:

Jason Santa Maria website redesign

Personally I don’t think he is breaking new ground with this less-is-more offering, but when Jason Santa Maria redesigns it is always worth sitting up, taking a good hard look and perhaps even a leaf or two from his book…

It’s official: Typefaces are modern art

MOMA (The Museum of Moden Art in New York) recently acquired 23 digital typefaces for their collection. Although MOMA includes many works featuring typography, the only typeface previously in their collection was 36-point Helvetica Bold lead type.

MOMA (The Museum of Moden Art in New York) recently acquired 23 digital typefaces for their collection. Although MOMA includes many works featuring typography, the only typeface previously in their collection was 36-point Helvetica Bold lead type designed by Max Miedinger in 1956. The oldest of their new acquisitions is OCR-A (1966) and the newest is Gotham (2000).

This first selection of 23 typefaces represent a new branch in our collection tree. They are all digital or designed with a foresight of the scope of the digital revolution, and they all significantly respond to the technological advancements occurring in the second half of the twentieth century. Each is a milestone in the history of typography. – MOMA

OCR-A

Big Caslon

FF DIN

Gotham

See how many of the 23 faces you recognise with @issue’s quiz.

Jon Contino

The super productive Jon Contino has just relaunched his portfolio stuffed with great typographical works and since I have been planning to post something about him, it is as good a time as ever to do so.

The super productive Jon Contino has just relaunched his portfolio stuffed with great typographical works and since I have been planning to post something about him, it is as good a time as ever to do so.

He calls himself an Alphastructaesthetitologist, but in my mind Contino is simply the king of NYC hand lettering. The raw old-world feel of his work certainly strikes a chord with me, and his impressive client list suggests I am not alone in my sentiments.

I have been trying my best at creating a time machine through lettering. – Jon Contino

If you were wondering where his talent stems from, Jon claims that his mom’s hand is consistently better than his own lettering and she always shows him up when it comes to holiday cards!

It’s hard to select a fair representation from his diverse portfolio, but below are a few examples of Jon Contino’s work. For plenty more check out his website, blog and his brand CXXVI.

The works of Jon Contino

The works of Jon Contino

The works of Jon Contino

The works of Jon Contino

The works of Jon Contino

The works of Jon Contino
I was lucky enough to snag one of these puppies from CXXVI before they sold out.

The works of Jon Contino

The works of Jon Contino