The Herb Lubalin Study Center of Design and Typography has a new home. Curator Mike Essl spoke to CR about one of New York’s design gems
On a recent visit to New York I was fortunate enough to pay a visit to the new home of The Herb Lubalin Study Center of Design and Typography, an archive of the work of both Lubalin and a host of other leading graphic designers. The Study Center has long been one of New York’s hidden design gems – its recent move to the Cooper Union’s new building now makes it far more accessible (there’s even an exhibition coming up). Curator and designer Mike Essl explains the history of the archive and the opportunities brought about by its move
CR: Could you please give us a quick potted history of the archive – how did it come into being and what is its purpose?
ME: The Herb Lubalin Study Center of Design and Typography in the School of Art was founded in 1985 by The Cooper Union and friends of the late Herb Lubalin. Its mission is to focus on the preservation of design history through both hard copy and electronic means. The Study Center and its archive are important central resources for the students and faculty as well as the professional public and the general public.
Ad for Sudler & Hennessey ad agency
Cooper Union logo
The core collection includes an extensive archive of the work of Herb Lubalin. Included are promotional and editorial design, typography, posters, journals, magazines (U&lc, Avant Garde, Eros, fact), letterhead, logos, identity programs and packaging dating from 1950-1980. Herb Lubalin was born in New York City in 1918, graduated from the Cooper Union Art School in 1939, and joined Sudler & Hennessey in 1946 where he headed the design division. In 1964, he opened his own design consultancy. During his lifetime, Lubalin received more than 300 awards from the New York Art Directors Club, The Type Directors Club, the AIGA and other professional bodies. He died in 1981.
The U&lc drawer
CR: As well as Herb Lubalin, other designers’ work is present in the archive – what are the criteria for inclusion?
ME: We have no specific acquisition policy; the evolution of the archive is more organic in nature. We are not currently soliciting new collections due to space constraints, but occasionally we do accept work, which is determined on a case by case basis.
The archive also contains work by European designers such as this poster by Maciej Urbaniec
And American designers such as E McKnight Kauffer, poster shown
CR: How is the archive currently run?
ME: The Lubalin Center’s structure and daily operations are run in tandem between a Curator (Mike Essl) and Archive Associate (Emily Roz) The Curator cultivates the vision and strategic planning of the Center, curates exhibitions, acts as a liaison to the design community, invites guest lecturers, and oversees the development of the student Rhoda Lubalin Fellowship projects. The Archive Associate handles daily operations that include, but are not limited to, hosting and guiding research scholars, arranging class visits from outside institutions, fulfilling image requests, assisting students with project assignments, and arranging the installation and practical aspects of both exhibitions and lectures. Additionally, the Archive Associate oversees the collection itself, with ongoing cataloging and proper housing of archival materials. With the addition of the new Lubalin Center website, the Archive Associate will be blogging about pieces in the collection.
CR: The Archive was recently moved to CU’s new building – what new opportunities has the move opened up for the archive?
ME: We now have a more public presence as the new building has attracted more visitors. We also have access to a larger gallery space. A show with 23 artists, like Lubalin Now, would not have fit in our old gallery. The design of the new space is also more inviting and brighter, and generally more comfortable to do work and research in.
‘Tissue’ for Lubalin’s PAS Graphics logo
CR: What’s your favourite piece in the archive and why?
ME: My favourite works are the original tissues created by Herb Lubalin. These are sketches that Lubalin would make before a final was executed by a hand letterer. The tissues show the clarity of Lubalin’s process as the final logos rarely differ from the initial sketch.
Sketch for U&lc cover
Film for same cover
CR: Tell us about the Lubalin Now exhibition – what is the idea behind it?
ME: Lubalin Now [which opens November 5] is a show of contemporary graphic design that features expressive typography and lettering. We have selected work that directly references the work of Lubalin, and work that shares a kind of formal kinship.Over the last few years I began to notice an increased use of the Lubalin and Carnese typeface Avant Garde. I also became aware of the work of Justin Thomas Kay, a designer that freely references the work of Lubalin. From there the idea began to snowball as I continued to see reference to Lubalin in advertisements, on television, and in design work I found on websites like FFFOUND, Flickr, and Behance. It was at this time that we began to plan the move of the center and were strategizing what our first show would be. It was then that we came up with the idea for Lubalin Now. This exhibition allows us to show work we have in the archive as well as new work that builds on the legacy of our namesake.
An original manual for Die Neue Haas Grotesk, amended with the typeface’s new name – Helvetica
CR: Given that so many of today’s designers work largely on screen, how will it be possible to archive their work for future students?
ME: To be honest I don’t have a great answer for this. My opinion is that if you are going to archive digital work you also need to archive the device that it was conceived for. For example, if we were to try and archive a website we would need to archive the platform for which is created and also the browser version. As we have no set acquisition policy or budget we have yet to tackle this problem. Currently the Center’s focus is on print work, but eventually we will need to create an acquisition policy that covers digital work.
CR: If our readers want to visit the archive, what should they do?
ME: They should email Emily Roz at firstname.lastname@example.org
See more images of the collection (pre-move) here
The Herb Lubalin Study Center of Design and Typography is at The Cooper Union, 41 Cooper Square, NYC. Lubalin Now (to be featured in December’s CR) is on from November 5 to 8. With thanks to Alexander Tochilovsky