Great Graphic Design Ch.3


This article is continued from Chapter 2: 1950s-1970s. This third chapter delves into different ways that computer technology and the screen has transformed design, as designers today use a wider array of materials, colors, and production methods than ever before, and yet, despite all technological advances, the fundamentals of design remain essentially the same as they were decades before.

Chapter 3: 1970s1990s

1973 Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon album cover

In 1967 Aubrey Powell and Storm Thorgerson were approached by their friends in Pink Floyd to design the cover for the group’s second album, A Saucerful of Secrets. This would lead to a flurry of requests from other bands, and the founding of their design studio named after a famed encounter with graffiti on a door frame; at the time the fledgling studio shared a flat in London’s South Kensington with Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett who, already known as a clever wordsmith, had allegedly scrawled the word “Hipgnosis” on the door in ball-point pen. Syd was credited for linking ‘hip’—pertaining to a new and groovy subculture, with ‘gnostic’—relating to esoteric knowledge of mystical matters, and ‘hypnosis’—the induced state of consciousness characterized by heightened susceptibility to suggestion. Powell and Thorgerson adopted the name; they liked the word because it possessed “a nice sense of contradiction, of an impossible co-existence.” Puns and the double meanings of words also became a trademark of their album art, as many of their covers told stories related to the album’s lyrics or album title.

Over the next fifteen years Hipgnosis gained international prominence.

Dark Side of the Moon cover, 1973 | Hipgnosis

The final design of their famed 1973 album cover for Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon had been one of several versions prepared for the band; the ‘prism/pyramid’ design was the immediate and unanimous choice. The record itself was wildly successful—it became one of the biggest-selling and longest-charting albums of all time, putting the album and its jacket design in the hands of millions of fans. It has since been widely recognized as one of the best album covers of all time, and paved the way for other major rock bands to set foot in the surreal photo-design world of Hipgnosis. The firm became in-demand after that, and did many covers for high-profile artists and bands such as Led Zeppelin, Paul McCartney, Genesis, Black Sabbath, Peter Gabriel, The Alan Parsons Project, 10cc, Styx, Bad Company and Yes.

Dark Side of the Moon poster, UK

Dark Side of the Moon poster, Canada

Hipgnosis pioneered the use of many innovative visual and packaging techniques, particularly a photography-oriented approach to album design. Powell and Thorgerson’s surreal, elaborately manipulated photos that utilized darkroom tricks, multiple exposures, airbrush retouching, and mechanical cut-and-paste techniques were a film-based forerunner of what would, much later, be called ‘photoshopping’.

Powell and Thorgerson were both film students and used primarily Hasselblad medium format cameras for their work with the square film format being especially suited to album cover imagery, and which rarely featured photos of the artists and instead they often staged models as actors in highly theatrical tableaux. Many covers also featured distinctively ‘high tech’ pen and ink illustrations, often by graphic designer George Hardie, with stickers, fancy inner sleeves, and other packaging bonuses. One example of the unique extras created by Hipgnosis, below, was the specially printed ‘black and white’ inner sleeve for Led Zeppelin’s In Through the Out Door LP, which turned to colour when dampened with water and tied in with the album cover’s photographic theme.

In Through the Out Door slipcover

In Through the Out Door cover (a)

In Through the Out Door dust jacket

1976 Apple ‘bite-mark’ logo

The original Apple logo is a classic for the wrong reasons; it only lasted a year before Steve Jobs commissioned graphic designer Rob Janoff to remedy the visual identity, and the redesign would go on to become one of the most iconic and recognizable corporate logos in history.

According to Janoff, the “bite” in the Apple logo was originally implemented so that people would know that it represented an apple and not a tomato. And nor a cherry, as when Jobs was presented with two apples, one with and one without the bite mark, he decided to go with the bite-marked apple for this very reason. As for the rainbow stripes, Steve Jobs is rumored to have insisted on using a colorful logo as a means of ‘humanizing’ the company. Janoff has said that there was no rhyme or reason behind the placement of the colors themselves, though noting that he wanted to have green at the top “because that’s where the leaf was.”

Apple logo (multi-colored), 1976 | Rob Janoff

The bite might have also lent itself to a nerdy play on words—bite versus byte, a fitting reference for a tech company.

Further speculation might have the multi-colored, bite-marked apple be an homage to the life and death of Alan Turing, who is considered to be the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence. Turing is also known to have lived in troubled times, and was found to have died of cyanide poisoning and with a half-eaten apple beside his bed. The suggestion that he was re-enacting a favorite fairy tale, Disney’s film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), specifically the scene where the Wicked Queen immerses her apple in the poisonous brew, very much enriches this very speculative suggestion that is only mentioned for its wealth of computer design history.

Apple logo (monochrome), 1998

Apple’s multi-colored logo was in use for twenty-two years until it was swept up in the dramatic refocus of the brand less than a year after Steve Jobs returned in 1997. Jobs needed to transform Apple’s image from that of a failing comapny into one capable of churning out sleek and cutting edge products, and he needed a new logo to match. The redesign did away with the colorful stripes, which may always be a source of nostalgia for Macintosh enthusiasts, and replaced them with a more modern monochromatic look that allowed Apple greater flexibility when it came to branding its product line worldwide. Steve Jobs was also not one to get wrapped up in warm fuzzy feelings of nostalgia, however the shape of the logo has remained unchanged from its original inception more than 40 years ago.

While the logo was now monochromatic, the colors were soon reintroduced and this time as part of the computer itself, specifically the semi-translucent plastic shell of the original iMac designed by Jonathan Ive, and showcased by Steve Jobs in 1998 in an overt movement to ‘humanize’ the Apple computer. Notwithstanding its success, four years later Apple dramatically reengineered the shape of the iMac; the new model took on similar traits to the famed desk lamp—turned animated character, Luxo Jr., and while Jobs’ relationship with PIXAR may have partially guided the aesthetics at Apple at the time, it was the influence of Jonathan Ive that became more and more apparent in Apple product design (as well as perhaps the influence of Braun product design on the aesthetics of Jonathan Ive). Apple began to lead the trend for computer design to the metalic off-whites, grays and blacks that continues over a decade later.

It’s very easy to be different, but very difficult to be better.”—Jonathan Ive

In 2004 the original, and now classic, iPod made its splash in the glossy white era of Apple design, which felt so fresh and so clean at the time, and felt less robotic and less alienated than it does in the world today, so Apple introduced it to the world with a clash against black silhouttes and bold backgrounds that hark back to the colors of the rainbow logo in 1976.

In his time apart from Apple, in a turbulent era in the life of Steve Jobs, he was the center of a second famous narrative in logo design history: a renowned account of the designer Paul Rand. Rand declined to provide options for a logo with a one-hundred thousand dollar price tag in 1986, as he said to Jobs: “No, I will solve your problem for you and you will pay me. You don’t have to use the solution. If you want options go talk to other people.” The visual identity detailed in a 100-page brochure, including the angle of the logo, 28°, and brand name, NeXT, takes on a similarly unique and colorful tone. (But is seen below mostly because it’s a personal favorite.)

NeXT logo, 1986 | Paul Rand

1977 Star Wars ‘Circus’ poster

In 1977 fellow artist Charles White III had been hired by 20th Century Fox to create a poster design for the 1978 re-release of Star Wars. White, who was well known for his airbrush work but was uncomfortable with portraiture, enlisted the help of Drew Struzan for the human characters, in oil paints, and White focused on the ships and the mechanical details of the poster art. The poster design was unique, epic and iconic, with a ‘wild’ look about it, popularly called the ‘Circus’ poster, and depicts what appears to be a torn bill that is posted on a plywood construction site wall.

“It was necessity that invented that,” Struzan explains, “They found out there wasn’t enough room for the typography and the billing block they had left in the design. What can we do to make more space on a poster that’s already been printed? Let’s pretend it’s posted, then they can put the type below the actual poster. We painted Obi Wan down the side and stuff across the bottom to make it wider and deeper.”

‘Circus’ poster, 1977 | Drew Struzan

1983 Star Wars ‘Revenge of the Jedi’ poster

Struzan was later commissioned to do the poster for Return of the Jedi, which was originally titled ‘Revenge of the Jedi’ and Struzan’s posters with the original title would become a valuable collectors item. The less-is-more quality of the poster offers an epic representation of the character Darth Vader that only adds to the depth and darkness of the character in the film’s storytelling. The complexity of humanity is a component Struzan has brought to all of his movie posters; he said of the Return of the Jedi poster, “It was about combining two opposites, power and beauty, in the same piece.”

Return of the Jedi poster

After that, Struzan was commissioned to create the Special Edition posters for the original trilogy. Drew was given the freedom to come up with his own concept and designed a triptych, three posters that feature different characters from A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi that all go together. Like all of Stuzan’s other posters, they were done completely by hand. They had—and still have—a timeless feel about them that captured the spirit of the original Star Wars trilogy. Drew Struzan is most widely recognizable for his consistently stunning poster art for the Star Wars films, among many others, and it all started back in 1977.

Star Wars triptych

1986 NBC ‘peacock’ logo

The original peacock logo was created by John J. Graham in 1956, intended to observe the advent of color broadcasts, at a time when NBC was owned by the electronics company Radio Corporation of America (RCA) and color televisions were just beginning to emerge. RCA wanted a way to show the public that the relatively high price of the units was worth the enhanced experience of viewing in color; they needed a logo that required color to be fully appreciated and reminded viewers watching on black-and-white units that they were missing out. Rainbows were too obvious, butterflies were too tame, and eventually the peacock was selected, bringing with it the connotation that NBC was ‘proud as a peacock’ of its new color programming.

NBC logo, 1956, 1975 and 1979

The static symbol would be given an animated form in 1957, replaced in 1959 by a ‘snake’ logo that, too, was given an animated form but then discarded in 1975. The extremely simplified ‘N’ logo appeared in 1975 and might be the most graphically advanced of all, however, it also appeared very similar to an existing logo of Nebraska ETV Network, who sued NBC in February 1976 and would later settle out of court. NBC then used the red-and-blue version for a couple years until the company revived the peacock logo with a much refined and amended form in 1986.

NBC logo, 1986 | CGH

Chermayeff and Geismar designed the ‘peacock’ logo as we know it: the strikingly simple, ‘forward-thinking’ beak silhouetted against flat and vibrant colors that corresponded to the six divisions at NBC at the time. The redesign was introduced at the NBC 60th Anniversary Celebration, with Johnny Carson and co. literally standing by the logo during its presentation; the NBC ‘peacock’ logo has since become one of the world’s most highly recognized trademarks.

Since 1958, Chermayeff and Geismar—now CGH: Chermayeff, Geismar, and Haviv (and Saturday)—have pioneered the modern movement of idea-driven graphic design, the idea of an abstract logo; they started the craze that you, as a company, could have anything and it could come to represent who you are, and were also responsible for the equally iconic coporate identity of National Geographic. (It’s a personal favorite for both its design and wildlife photography.)

National Geographic logo, 1997 | CGH

CGH made very simple, selective changes; they focused the palette on the signature yellow that has showcased the magazine’s spectacular cover photos for decades. As National Geographic branches into new media and more countries, no matter where you see the channel, it will have the same logo and look, with the promise of incredible stories and information within. Making these sorts of changes for such a broad brand however is a very time consuming process; the creative team has to review every place where the old logo and color palette exists on screen or in print and then re-create it with the new logo and colors.

1994 Verdana typeface

Until the late-20th century, typography was handled by the printing industry, which produced paper-based products such as newspapers and books, and traditional typefaces did not necessarily display well on early computer screens. The rise of personal computers in the 1980s and 1990s led to a radical transformation of the type industry, with the demand for new fonts specially designed with screens in mind. Arial was designed for office printers produced by IBM in 1982; Georgia, a serif font similar to Times New Roman—except with a greater x-height, looser spacing, slightly wider letters, and wider, blunter serifs—was designed with screens in mind by Matthew Carter in 1993; and, in 1994 Virginia Howlett of Microsoft commisioned a font from the same British typographer, Matther Carter.

Georgia typeface, 1993 | Matthew Carter

Carter designed the typeface for clarity in small sizes on-screen as well as on low-resolution printers, and in many different languages. Verdana was made easy to read; it was a typeface built for function not style. Its large x-height and wide letter spacing made it less likely that its characters will run together when displayed on screen. Its large counters, for example: the swelling bowl of the lowercase g is broader than the tail immediately below it, begin to reveal the care that was taken to ensure as little confusion between letter forms in Verdana. Another example, the top of the capital ‘J’ has a small horizontal stroke, helping to differentiate it from the letter ‘I’ and the number ‘1’. The lowercase is designed very simply, with plain, vertical descenders and an artful combination of straight lines and curves, together with the subtle variations in stroke width that show Carter’s typographic skill and attention to detail.

Verdana typeface, 1994 | Matthew Carter

Bundled with the computer operating systems, Verdana is now one of the world’s most widely available fonts and widely used by website and software designers. Sometimes it is also used for conventional graphics. In 2009, the Swedish retail giant Ikea changed their print catalog from Futura to Verdana, which was already on their website. The selection of a font designed primarily for the screen proved controversial, but it is a clear demonstration of how, with Internet use part of many people’s everyday lives, Verdana has become ubiquitous.

Verdana had become one of the unlovely workhorses of the Internet when in 2011 Monotype Imaging Holdings Inc. released expanded families of both Verdana and Georgia, with additional character sets, as a way to make the typefaces more appealing to both print and web designers. It’s the fonts’ first major update since Microsoft released them as part of its ‘Core fonts for the Web’ pack 15 years ago. Carter has gone on to designed numerous fonts for computer use and type for publications including the Washington Post, Boston Globe, New York Times and Wired, but has been most reminded, perhaps, of his relics of personal computing’s stone age.

I hope it means that web designers who tend to be a rather frustrated crowd because of lack of typographic control will have a much better palette that they can use,” Carter says. “Because I’m responsible for Verdana and Georgia, I’m rather unpopular with web designers. They say, ‘That’s all I’ve had to work with for the past 15 years.’ My name is mud in the web design business for that.”—Matthew Carter

Chapter 4: 1990s-2010s

Coming soon.

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