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Short Essays on Design


CONTENTS 9 Preface 11 Warning: May Contain Non-Design Content 14 Why Designers Can’t Think 18 Waiting for Permission 23 How to Become Famous 28 In Search of the Perfect Client 32 Histories in the Making 35 Playing by Mr. Rand’s Rules 39 David Carson and the End of Print 42 Rob Roy Kelly’s Old, Weird America

65 Mark Lombardi and the Ecstasy of Conspiracy 67 George Kennan and the Cold War Between Form and Content 70 Errol Morris Blows Up Spreadsheet. Thousands Killed 72 Catharsis, Salesmanship, and the Limits of Empire 75 Better Nation-Building Through Design 77 The T-shirt Competition Republicans Fear Most 79 India Switches Brands 81 Graphic Designers, Flush Left?

44 My Phone Call to Arnold Newman

84 Just Say Yes

46 Howard Roark Lives

87 Regrets Only

49 The Real and the Fake

91 The Forgotten Design Legacy of the National Lampoon

52 Ten Footnotes to a Manifesto 61 The New York Times: Apocalypse Now, Page A1 63 Graphic Design and the New Certainties

93 McSweeney’s No. 13 and the Revenge of the Nerds 96 The Book (Cover) That Changed My Life


I Hate ITC Garamond My daughter Liz called me from college to recommend a book she had been assigned for a political science class: Mr. Truman’s War by J. Robert Moskin, a non-fiction account of the end of World War II and the dawn of the Cold War. On Amazon, I learned it was out of print, but she was so enthusiastic about it that I tracked down a used copy. It arrived in the maila few weeks later, and I opened it up only to receive a hellish, ghastly, devastating shock. The entire book, all 400-plus tightly-packed pages of it, is set in a typeface that I absolutely despise: ITC Garamond.

Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design


Sorry, Liz, I just don’t think I can do it.

repulses me in a visceral way that I have trouble explaining.

There are lots of typefaces I don’t like, but each of them usually has a saving grace. I’ve

ITC Garamond was designed in 1975 by

always had a distaste for Herman Zapf’s

Tony Stan for the International Typeface

Optima, for instance, but I have to admit

Corporation. Okay, let’s stop right there.

that there are occasions when it’s been used

I’ll admit it: the single phrase “designed

well. Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial

in 1975 by Tony Stan” conjures up a entire

is an example. But ungainly ITC Garamond

world for me, a world of leisure suits,



Michael Bierut

That it

harvest gold refrigerators, and “Fly, Robin,

objects. Take architecture, for example.

Fly” by Silver Convention on the eight-

As Paul Goldberger writes in his new book

track. A world where font designers were

on the rebuilding of lower Manhattan, Up

called “Tony” instead of “Tobias” or “Zuzana.”

From Zero, “There are many phases to the

Is that the trouble with ITC Garamond?

relationships we have with buildings,

That it’s dated?

and almost invariably they come around to acceptance.” Typefaces, on the other

Maybe. Typefaces seem to live in the

hand, seem to work the other way: they

world differently than other designed

are enthusiastically embraced on arrival, and then they wear out their welcome. Yet there are fonts from the disco era that have been successively revived by new generations. Think of Pump, Aachen, or even Tony Stan’s own American Typewriter. But not ITC Garamond.

The most distinctive element of the typeface is its enormous lower-case x-height. In theory this improves its legibilty, but only in the same way that dog poop’s creamy consistency in theory should make it more edible. Some people dislike ITC Garamond because it’s a desecration of the sacred memory of Claude Garamond. That part doesn’t bother me. For one thing, despite its name, Garamond as we know it appears to be based on typefaces developed by

’s dated?

Jean Jannon, who lived about a century after Garamond, and Garamond based his designs on those of Aldus Manutius: it’s hard to say where you’d locate authenticity in this complicated history. And I’ve been stimulated by Emigre’s revivals like Mrs. Eaves and Filosofia, which take inspiration from—and bigger liberties with— the work of, respectively, John Baskerville

Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design


and Giambattista Bodoni with great success. But there are good revivals and bad revivals, and ITC Garamond is one of the latter.

There was a moment in time where it seemed that bad type would drive out good time. Reporting on a now-legendary 1987 debate where Paula Scher faced off against Roger Black and denounced


ITC Garamond for the simple reason that “it’s called Garamond and it’s not Garamond,” Karrie Jacobs pointed out what was then

It soun

a cause for widespread alarm: “ITC faces have a way of muscling out the faces from which they were adapted...” In the largest of cities, a designer has a great many type suppliers to choose from. If she doesn’t want an ITC Garamond, she can get a Berthold or a Linotype version. But in a one-typesetter town, the odds are that the local type shop will offer mainly ITC faces. The distinctions between Garamonds then become moot. ITC Garamond is Garamond.” Thanks to the internet and the digital typesetting revolution, there’s no such thing as a “one typesetter town” anymore. Too bad. It sounds nice and peaceful. seeming no less impregnable and unchITC Garamond enjoyed its apotheosis when

anging as the Soviet empire. And then, just

it was adapted as the official corporate

like global communism, it just went away,

typeface of Apple Computer in 1984; adding

replaced overnight with a sleek customized

insult to injury, the font was condensed

version of Myriad.

horizontally 80%. Associated with Apple’s brilliant packaging and advertising for

Today, ITC Garamond is no longer

the next 20 years, the resulting mutation

ubiquitous, but it pops up in unlikely places

became a part of the global landscape,

and still gives me a nasty start, as in my


Michael Bierut

nds nice and peaceful.

daughter’s book recommendation. I’ve

and the dissonance of the message combine

come to realize that I don’t hate it for any

in one deafening clang. To promote the

rational reason; I hate it like I hate finger-

ITC Garamond’s arrival in Texas, Summerford

nails on a blackboard. I hate it because

used it, in all its monstrous glory, to set

I hate it. Yet I do know one use of it that

a single giant word: Helvetica. It’s not a good

I would call an unqualified success: it’s the

font, but just this once, it made a great

classic poster by Jack Summerford from

punch line

way back when the typeface was shiny and


new, where the nastiness of the typeface

Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design


I Hate ITC Garamond  
I Hate ITC Garamond  

This booklet was a small project for Typography I. I was given a short chapter for Michael Bierut's book "79 Essays on Design" and a choice...