More than four decades have gone by since acclaimed designers Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda of Unimark International were hired by the New York Transit Authority (now the MTA) to modernize and unify the look of the subway signage, which by Noorda’s own account “was a mess.” Cluttered with varied typefaces of different sizes and rendered on different materials from mosaic tile to a paper sign stuck to the wall, the old signage system confused more than aided travelers. In its place, Vignelli and Noorda developed a cohesive subway wayfinding system designed to promote intuitive understanding — so much so that they promised: “The passenger will be given information or directions only at the point of decision. Never before. Never after.” It did all that and more. The New York Transit Authority’s wayfinding system is still considered a masterpiece of clarity, logic, consistency, and elegant modernist design.
The accompanying 174-page Graphic Standards Manual was as brilliantly written and produced by Vignelli and Noorda. One day in 2013, two young designers at Pentagram – Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth – stumbled upon an original copy of the manual in the basement of Pentagram’s New York office. The pair found the manual so awesome that they wanted to share it with friends, so they created a dedicated website (thestandardsmanual.com) and posted scanned pages online. The site instantly went viral. Within 72 hours, more than a quarter million people visited the site. Although delighted, Reed and Smyth felt strongly that an on-screen viewing didn’t do justice to the beauty of the real Standards Manual. To truly appreciate it, they felt people should see it full size in print, and they set out to produce a book with an introduction by Vignelli protege and Pentagram partner Michael Bierut and an essay by New York Magazine’s Christopher Bonanos, author of “Instant: The Story of Polaroid”.
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At age 68 when Kit left his partnership at Pentagram after 23 years to set up his own independent studio, we discussed how it would give him the luxury of doing what he wanted to do simply because he wanted to do it. Since I’m not that far behind him in years, I understood the importance of the question, “if not now, when?” Speaking for myself, when I fantasized about becoming a writer in high school, I didn’t have corporate brochures and power point presentations in mind (not that I’m complaining). Our quasi-serious venture, Hirasuna + Hinrichs Special Projects – or as Kit calls it “Hinrichs + Hirasuna Special Projects” – was intended to set aside a small portion of our time and energy to focus on the topics we found of compelling personal interest, whether it was profitable or not. We promised to take turns choosing the topic, since the things that interest me don’t necessarily interest him, and vice versa. Our first project is “Obsessions,” a series of small perfect-bound books on things that fascinate us, even though others may find that inexplicably odd. Kit’s collection of alphabet postcards, an offshoot of his passion for typography, launches the series. We also agreed that the production value must live up to our high standards – i.e., nothing cheesy. This is why it was printed beautifully by Blanchette Press on Sappi McCoy Silk.
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It is hard to say what will happen to the penguin logo when Penguin Books and Random House complete their merger, announced in October, but I can’t imagine that the pudgy little bird won’t survive. Founded in the UK in 1935 to bring well-designed quality paperbacks to the market, Penguin Books made the flightless bird its trademark from the start. The first penguin was drawn by designer Edward Young, with Gill Sans specified for the typeface, and covers showing three bands of color used to organize titles by genre – orange for fiction, dark blue for biographies, etc. Typographer Jan Tschichold modified the logo in 1946 and redesigned some 500 Penguin books and also wrote a four-page design manifesto, “Penguin Composition Rules.” In 2003, Pentagram’s Angus Hyland tweaked the penguin logo some more.
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The words “typeface” and “character” are fitting terms to describe fonts. When listening to good designers talk about them, you would think they were gossiping about people. They talk about their emotional qualities, complain about what they perceive as their flaws, get blushingly specific about their physical beauty. For them, some typefaces are casual flings, good for a quickie when the mood strikes and the lighting is right; with others, they are in love and ready to commit for life. For many designers, a studying letterforms is more engaging than reading what the collected letters have to say.
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The product used to be called NutsOnline and its packaging identity was totally generic and forgettable. So, when the New Jersey-based online retailer secured the domain name “Nuts.com,” it set out to change its image by hiring a powerhouse team to design a new logo and packaging. The result is an identity that looks like it was created by precocious third-graders – but in a good way. The letters were hand-drawn by Pentagram partner Michael Bierut and digitized by type designer Jeremy Mickel. Illustrator Christoph Niemann made line-drawings of the gang of playful nuts. The effect is fresh and charming, and unconventionally nutty. As breezily executed as this design looks, it takes skill to make it appear spontaneous and carefree and not amateurish and crudely done. A closer looks shows there is a hierarchy to the information on the box and an organization to the design. Even the see-through nut personalities give consumers a glimpse of the product inside. This is sophisticated design made to look naïve.
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Pentagram, the international design consultancy, celebrated its 40th anniversary this year with a stop-motion video, narrated by a voice that sounds somewhat like the Dos Equis “most interesting man in the world.”
“The Forty Story” is a tale of a boy born on the day that Pentagram opened its doors in London, and shows how his life has been impacted by 40 years of Pentagram design. To chronologically (more or less) knit together a small sampling of Pentagram’s amazingly diverse body of work, the storyline veers wildly, starting out by claiming the boy was born in a BP petrol station, walking in Clarks shoes by age 1, shaving with a disposable razor by age 3, publishing poems about Pirelli tires with a Parker Pen by age 6, and acclaimed by Reuters as a lad before being panned by Italy’s 24 Ore and resorting to antidepressants. The story goes on until he finds love and contentment, with Pentagram’s portfolio of projects flashing across the screen.
The script was written by Naresh Ramchandani and Tom Edmonds, directed by Christian Carlsson, with titles by John Rushworth.
Congratulations on your first 40 years, Pentagram! May your next 40 years be just as stellar.
Some typefaces aren’t meant for everyday use. They often aren’t readable as running text or even for headlines. Most will never be licensed for public use nor are they commercially available. But they set the mood, add their own graphic interest, and tell their own slice of the story. That is the case with several of the typefaces featured in the 365 Typographic Calendar for 2012.
Take Girder, for example. Asked to create the identity for the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge next year, Kit submitted an alphabet as part of his presentation. The alphabet took its inspiration from the riveted girders that formed the unpinning of the bridge. The immediate association with San Francisco’s most famous landmark offered a visual linking device in the visitors’ gift shop, and made a distinctive image for all kinds of tourist souvenirs, from key chains to coffee mugs.
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The occasion of America’s Independence Day on July 4th offers a good time to reflect on how the Star-Spangled Banner became the official flag of the nation. It all started back in 1777. A ragtag army of American colonists was engaged in a fierce battle for independence from Great Britain. Designing an aesthetically pleasing flag to represent themselves was the last thing on their mind. Outnumbered, outspent and outmaneuvered, the Continental Congress had more urgent matters to deal with.
But an emissary from a pro-colonist Native American tribe forced Congress to act by requesting a banner of sorts to display so that scouts would not come under “friendly fire” while on missions for the Continental Army. To prove they were willing to “pay” for such a flag, the emissary included three strings of wampum. Congress hastily put a flag design on its agenda, and 11 days later: “RESOLVED: that the flag of the United states be 13 stripes, alternate red and white; that the Union be 13 stars, white in a blue field representing a new constellation.” This resolution was one of many passed that day. The committee obviously didn’t give the matter much thought, but “borrowed” liberally from several sources, including the Sons of Liberty red-and-white “stripes of rebellion” banner and the 13-star blue canton of the New Hampshire Green Mountain Boys and Rhode Island Continental Regiment.
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The Pentagram 365 Typography Calendar now celebrates its tenth year, prompting us to ask its originator Kit Hinrichs what drove him to create this now popular product.
What was your inspiration for the calendar?
I’ve long been an admirer of Massimo Vignelli’s iconic Stendig calendar, introduced in 1966. It’s classic Helvetica typeface is boldly graphic, contemporary and easy to read. If I may speak for Massimo, it was “Perfetto!” Yet as someone who loves and uses type, all kinds of type, I felt there was room for a wall calendar where the typography was in more than one face. So many people, designers included, have no idea who designed the beautifully crafted typefaces that are very much a part of our everyday life. I wanted to enable people to become more aware of type as a designed object.
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Editor’s Note: Normally we don’t post people announcements on our blog, but we are breaking the rule for Kit, @Issue’s co-founder and creative catalyst. Kit’s new studio is off to a running start, with his entire San Francisco staff still on his team and projects proceeding on schedule. Below is the joint announcement released by Pentagram and Studio Hinrichs. Watch for more great work from Kit. Congratulations, dear friend, and all the best.
October 1, 2009 — After 23 years as a partner of Pentagram, Kit Hinrichs announced that he is leaving the international consultancy to establish an independent design firm, Studio Hinrichs, in San Francisco.
“My more than two decades at Pentagram have been the most gratifying of my 40-plus years in design,” says Hinrichs. “I’ve been proud to be in partnership with many of the world’s most talented and dedicated designers. Their commitment to design excellence set the bar to which I’ve continually aspired.”
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Published by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Discoveries focuses a spotlight on the cutting-edge research conducted at the institution. Graphically, the magazine was designed to communicate Cedars-Sinai’s bold, innovative and conceptual thinking.
Over the years corporate magazines (once called “house organs”) have had a home-grown feel that have separated them from “real” consumer publications sold at newsstands. In fact, if they weren’t given out free, most people would not pay to get a copy. What do top-selling magazines do that inhouse publications often don’t? We asked Pentagram’s Kit Hinrichs, @Issue co-founder/design director, and designer of several mainstream magazines, including United Airlines’ Hemispheres, Coastal Living, Exhibitor, and Red Herring as well as publications for countless corporations, museums, cruise lines and institutions, including Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Discoveries magazine, shown here.
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