{inspiration} Herb Lubalin – Sex, Politics, and Typographics!

Herblogol'oeuvre de Herb Lubalin | 1 | reproduction interdite | usage st

Recognized as one of the most influential typographers of the 20th century Herb Lubalin provided more than amazing letterforms, he boldly designed groundbreaking imagery that tackled taboo topics in politics and erotica.

I remember visiting the Lubalin Center as a college student in the late eighties and eagerly waiting for each new issue of U&lc. Those beautiful newsprint samples showcased inspirational typographic design with interesting and relevant content. I carted my collection from job to job and referred to the samples for almost twenty years until I finally left them at the Southern Adirondack Education Center. I can only hope they realized the value of and did not throw them in the dumpster.  [ link to a digital archive of U&lc ]

u&lc book cover
U&lc is long out of print but you can get a little taste from this hardcover chronicle by its last editor, John D. Barry.
In 1977, George Lois said “There is no doubt in my mind that Herb Lubalin is the greatest…left-handed…colorblind…Jewish art director…that ever lived.”

Read more: Lubalin Old and New

Most well known for his typographic journal U&lc and the newly founded International Typographic Corporation. U&lc (shorthand for Upper and Lower Case) served as both an advertisement for Lubalin’s designs and a further plane of typographic experimentation; Steven Heller argues that U&lc was the first Emigre, or at least the template for its later successes, for this very combination of promotion and revolutionary change in type design. Heller further notes, “In U&lc, he tested just how far smashed and expressive lettering might be taken. Under Lubalin’s tutelage, eclectic typography was firmly entrenched.”[5] Lubalin enjoyed the freedom his magazine provided him; he was quoted as saying “Right now, I have what every designer wants and few have the good fortune to achieve. I’m my own client. Nobody tells me what to do.”[6]



herb-lubalin-cabeceras-publicacionesThe  Mother & Child and Marriage were designed in 1965, Families logo was designed in 1980.

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Excerpt from Art Directors Club biography published in 1977.

Herb Lubalin is known to have said that if he hadn’t split an egg with his twin brother Irwin, he probably would have been George Lois. A small skinny kid with peculiar eating habits, he was warned by his mother he’d end up as a cockroach powder salesman if he didn’t eat his lumpy oatmeal. Little did she imagine that, during his professional career, he would not only design a package for Black Flag Roach Powder, but would hustle suppositories to the medical profession as creative director at the Sudler & Hennessey ad agency. Lubalin was also instrumental in designing Eros magazine—so controversial it sent editor Ralph Ginzburg off to the pokey on pornography charges.

lubalin-cooper typeWhile in high school, Lubalin showed no inclination toward a graphics career other than for repeated renditions of some highly erotic nude drawings of Tarzan and Jane, which quickly earned him a reputation as a dirty young man. Thus launched, he entered the Cooper Union after scoring 64th out of an acceptable 64 on the entrance examination…His is a full dedication unmoved by laudatory exclamations—a drive never to reach for anything short of excellence—an unending concern to find new ways to say something simpler, stronger, better. Design can communicate that much more because of his additions to our visual language.

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The following text is from a wonderful web resource : designhistory.complease check it out for more juicy details.

erosThe collaboration of Ralph Ginzburg and Herb Lubalin, Fact, Eros and Avant Garde were culturally relevant publications that pushed many of the ideas of 1960s society. Fact and Eros both suffered relatively short careers while still managing to have significant cultural impacts. Avant Garde, on the other hand was quite successful and tenured a career that lasted a slightly longer period of 3 years and 16 issues between 1968 and 1971. All three publications provided Lubalin with a development ground to practice his emerging style of typography and design which influenced much of the design community during the 1960s and 70s.

The first of Ginzburg and Lubalin’s three productions, Eros was a quarterly hardbound publication filled with articles and photo-essays relating to the topics of love and sex. During the radical 1960s the publication was received with both positive and negative reviews and Ginzburg was indicted under federal obscenity laws for the publication of the fourth issue. The combination of the high cost of the hardbound publication and the legal fees incurred during Ginzburg’s court case cause the magazine to close down.

Fact magazine was a similar venture by the two that was equally controversial, although it shifted the subject matter from sex to culture and politics. The magazine was sued by presidential candidate Barry Goldwater for their publication of an article that said Goldwater was psychologically unfit to be president of the United States. The punitive damages of the case caused the magazine to cease publication.

Avant Garde
The most notable of the three, Avant Garde was reminiscent of Eros in its hardbound format and controversial content. The magazine combined aspects of both Fact and Eros and published articles and imagery that were often sexual, critical of the American government and radically different than traditional publications. While there was no direct legal actions brought against Avant Garde it was forced to shut down when Ginzburg went to prison for the Eros scandal.


For more information on Herb Lubalin please visit the Herb Lubalin Center for Design at Cooper Union.

Rare video of Herb Lubalin explaining the process of working with PBS as a client:

UPDATE: new lecture available from Type@Cooper

Typographics: What is Lubalinesque? with Alexander Tochilovsky

Or check here to see a

Speak Up Archive: Inside the Herb Lubalin Study Center

SpeakUp archive of Armin and Bryony’s visit to the Lubalin Center – great pictures of the archives.

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