Traveling Down Graphic Design Rabbit Trails

I am thick in the middle of research for my book and I am having a blast. The rabbit trails that I find myself traversing is reinvigorating my love of the trivia and interesting things you can find on the internet and in the library. That serendipitous wandering that I used to do when the internet was new and less curated. I have also found myself actually walking into my local and the main San Francisco Library after many years of just grabbing things online.

Albrecht Durer, Hierinn Sind Begriffen… (1528) - page from the Grabhorn Collection in the SF Public Library
Albrecht Durer, Hierinn Sind
Begriffen… (1528) – page from the Grabhorn Collection in the SF Public Library

By the way, if you are in San Francisco and haven’t been there yet, the main SF Library is fantastic. It houses the Grabhorn Collection (http://sfpl.org/index.php?pg=2000006101) which was started by Robert Grabhorn and according to the library website “it had grown to include almost every typeface, printer and publisher of note from the past five hundred years. The collection is particularly strong in early type specimens and the work of sixteenth century French and Italian masters. Also of note are fine press editions of twentieth century letterpress printers, including printers’ ephemera. The collection supports the study of printing, papermaking and bookbinding with a large reference collection of books, pamphlets, and periodicals.”

More info about the collection.

The latest rabbit trail had me spending time at the Letterform Archive (http://letterformarchive.org/), a new graphic arts archive that was created last year out of Rob Saunder’s personal collection, into a non-profit repository of graphic arts, printing, typography and other related ephemera. They are also allied with Cooper Union for a post graduate certificate and workshops on type design.

I have been there several times and am always amazed that they let you actually touch and hold and page through their materials. If you ever wanted to see the original of the famous Bodoni “Manuale Tipografico” or hold copies of the early 20th century periodical from Germany, Gebrauchsgrahik, as I did yesterday, or see a wealth of cool posters, then this is the place to come.

Woodcut illustration by P Helms, Hamburg
Woodcut illustration by P Helms, Hamburg
Cover design by Herbert Matter + Borel
Cover design by Herbert Matter + Borel
Cover design by Joseph Binder
Cover design by Joseph Binder
Cover design by Piet Schwarz
Cover design by Piet Schwarz

I spent an hour and a half looking at copies of Gebrauchsgraphik from 1927 to 1934 and was immediately transported into the past and experiencing the birth of modernist graphic design. There were feature articles on Herbert Bayer and the Bauhaus, on poster design from France and Germany, features on A.M. Cassandre, work by E. McKnight Kauffer, Georg Trump, Lucien Bernhard andothers from the turn of the century;  cover designs by Joseph Binder, Piet Schwarz, Herbert Matter the great swiss poster designer.

Once the magazine became international in 1927, volume 4, there are articles in English and German and we see the work of Dutch, Belgian, Swiss, British and American designers. There were showcases of the best advertising happening in the US from the Art Director’s Awards in New York City in 1930 and 1931. In those advertising pieces, you can see the beginnings of change from the old-school turn of the century style type and images and compositions to the new avant garde, asymmetric layouts and sans serif fonts being used. It’s fascinating to review and the era reminds me so much of the layers of change we ourselves have been through in the last 20 years of web design improvements.

I highly recommend visiting the space if you have any interest in any of these topics, they will give you an overview of the collection and leave you to peruse some of the favorites. If you have a specific interest, you can request to see that material and spend your whole time looking at one thing or one group of things (books, periodicals, posters, ephemera). They block appointments out in 1 1/2 hour blocks. They are located in the Potrero Hill area of San Francisco.

I expect that during this research process I will be meandering into other interesting places and will share them as I discover them.

erin

current: partner, tangible user experience :: a full-service user experience design consulting firm.

former Yahoo! founder of the public and internal Yahoo! pattern library. dse. design director of ued teams responsible for designing solutions across key yahoo! platforms: social media, personalization, membership and vertical search.