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The Herb Lubalin Study Center of Design and Typography at The Cooper Union
Still teaching.
LEGEND LIVES ON

Graphic designers are planning 100 birthday parties for typography idol Herb Lubalin

By Anne Quito

Herb Lubalin would have been 100 years old today. The widely idolized designer-typographer passed away in 1981, leaving behind “mountains of work” that continue to inform design students today. Beyond art schools, vestiges of Lubalin’s legacy can still be seen in the PBS logo, which features his distinctive “Everyman ‘P.'”

PBS logo (1979-1984)

To mark his centennial birthday, stewards of his archive brainstormed how to get undiscovered gems from Lubalin’s enormous body of work to the public eye. Short of a Google Doodle, they came up with a genius plan: Lubalin 100, a daily celebration featuring one work by the graphic design legend for each of the next 100 days, posted on the website lubalin100.com.

Alexander Tochilovsky, curator of the Herb Lubalin Study Center of Design and Typography at The Cooper Union, tells Quartz that they’re planning a calendar of thematic vignettes and live events—displaying little-known posters, elegant “typographics,” book covers, and even a transcript of Lubalin’s career advice to design students on how to get a job. They’re also organizing a pilgrimage to see the iconic work of art “Gastrotypographicassemblage” at the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, New York. Lubalin contributed to the design of the epic architectural font sampler, which was once installed at the cafeteria at the CBS headquarters by architect Eero Saarinen.

This is not the first grand birthday celebration Lubalin has received. In 1977, designer Louise Fili planned an all-day office party for her mild mannered mentor that involved street postings, custom silkscreen t-shirts for the staff to wear, a greeting on the front page of the New York Times, and a birthday cake in the shape of the star of David. “What else could you do for a Jew born on St. Patrick’s Day?,” joked Fili at a Type Directors Club talk last year.

The format of Lubalin 100 offers a template for presenting a designer’s body of work to today’s social media-oriented attention economy. “It gives us a chance to parse the very complex stories into manageable pieces of content and highlight how varied his career was. It also gives us a chance to correct perceptions of Lubalin which can be a bit thin,” explains Tochilovsky. “You can’t do that in one day.” One hundred episodes means one hundred reasons to tweet about conceptual typography, lettering, calligraphy, graphic design history, and midcentury modern. Design nerds, rejoice.

Lubalin, who was left-handed and color blind, still has a lot to teach both designers and clients of design, says Tochilovsky. Working during a time when concepts, not computers, defined design work, Lubalin and his contemporaries were masters of presenting messages in a range of inventive forms. Lubalin’s animated explanation of the design process behind the PBS logo, for instance, still encapsulates the agony and ecstasy of branding work today.