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Good graphic design was long an exception to the rule in American
advertising. Beginning at the turn of the century, copywriters were allowed
to rein over designers and nuances of type and image were secondary to the
hard sell of a product or message. Unlike European advertising of the same
period, which was aggressively visual and pictorially innovative, in America
it was virtually inconceivable that an art director would be much more than
a glorified layout man subservient to the needs of the text. This changed in
the 1930s when the advertising pioneer Earnest Elmo Calkins discovered
that the effective marriage of word and picture could produce startling
results. Prefiguring the “creative team” and creative revolution by more than
three decades, he brought copywriters and designers together, forging a
creative union. By 1939, when Gene Federico (b. 1918), a twenty-one-year
old Pratt Institute graduate with a special interest in typography, entered
the advertising field, a few exceptional designers had already begun to
change the look (and often the content) of mainstream advertising, paving
the way for a distinctly American modern
“Lester Beall opened my eyes to the idea that type could be used
to emphasize the message,” Federico said about one of American
advertising’s leading modern typographers. “One of his ads had the great
line, ‘To Hell With Eventually. Let’s Concentrate On Now.’ Thee in
eventually was very large and now was the same size. The simple
manipulation of these letterforms allowed the reader to immediately
comprehend the message.” Federico’s method was also based on the
integration of text and image. He always worked intimately with a
copywriter and played with the nuances of language. He looked for those
simple elements in the copy that expressed or emoted, and suggested that when
a designer doesn’t read the copy to catch the sound of the words, he or she
runs the risk of misconstruing the typography. “If the rhythm of the words
is disregarded, the copy is likely to be broken incorrectly,” he continued.
Federico was more concerned with attitude than with
Despite Lou Dorfsman’s assertion that he was the prince of Light Line
Gothic (admittedly one his favorite typefaces), few of his ads conformed
to a single formula or evoked stylistic déjà vu. Nevertheless, one trait was
dominant; his love of type. Letters served as sculptural forms placed on or
against an image. Type both communicated messages and evoked a time
Federico’s series of advertisements for Woman’s Day, which
appeared in the New Yorker magazine in 1954 and were targeted at media
buyers, typified his rhythmic sensitivity. One of the most well known had
the catch-line “Going Out,” and showed a photo of woman riding a bicycle
with wheels made from the two Futura Os in the headline—a visual pun in
the modern tradition. The goal of the ad was to persuade potential
advertisers that three million-plus devoted readers went out of their way to
buy this check-out counter magazine. The ads apparently did well for the
client, but more importantly proved the power of persuasive visual
simplicity in a field that often erred on the side of overstatement.