Steven Heller

Recent articles by Steven Heller

Letterform Archive: Objects of Inspiration

Issue 100, Summer 2020

Feature

Letterform Archive is feeding the post-digital generation’s passion for physical artefacts

Milton Glaser: Design eminence

Issue 100, Summer 2020

Feature

‘Buttons, flyers, posters, postcards, T-shirts and books. How primitive are the means we have to dissent. And yet I believe these modest tools can help change history.’

Françoise Mouly: The illustrator’s art editor

Issue 100, Summer 2020

Feature

‘The covers are meant to capture the moment, but we want them to make sense next week, next decade, in a hundred years!’

Big idea, small footprint

Issue 99, Autumn 2019

Review

New York’s Mmuseumm is not a freak show but rather a show of freaky, poignant…

For the love of food and print

Issue 97, Autumn 2018

Feature

Michele Outland, creative director of Bon Appétit, also co-founded and designs the indie mag Gather Journal. Steven Heller reports

Signs of the times

Issue 97, Autumn 2018

Review

Every few years or so, a choice handful of illustrator / designers make a splash…

Guilt, abstracted

Issue 97, Autumn 2018

Feature

Nora Krug’s graphic memoir explores the impact of the Second World War – and the Nazi regime – on German families

From cover to cover

Issue 96, Spring 2018

Review

Originally used to protect book bindings, dust jackets were often discarded before a book was…

The anti-Rockwell

Issue 95, Winter 2018

Feature

Blechman pioneered a less-is-more aesthetic. His scratchy shorthand expresses ideas with a punchy surprise

A 2D man comes to life

Issue 95, Winter 2018

Review

This gutsy new book by Paul Sahre is a candid narrative about a graphic designer – a two-dimensional practitioner.

Crayon game

Issue 93, Winter 2017

Feature

The unexpected craze for adult colouring books has created a bonanza for publishers. Can they keep it going?

The ‘bookness’ of books

Issue 93, Winter 2017

Review

Hundreds of books about books have been published during the past century. A complete bibliographic…

Dreaming in Colors

Issue 91, Spring 2016

Review

In the ‘about’ section on the Colors website, you can see a sepia-tone photograph of…

Love songs for Piano

Issue 90, Summer 2015

Review

In her photographs and brief text for Office Romance (Aperture, $29.95, £19.95, designed by Jon…

Guerrilla graphics

Issue 4, Summer 1991

Feature

Design has the power to effect change. Now it must develop a social conscience

Unpacked baggage

Issue 88, Summer 2014

Review

Is any contemporary illustrator a household name today? Not in the same way that Norman…

Leftovers with a bad taste

Issue 87, Spring 2014

Feature

In the past century the use of ‘trade characters’ built brand loyalty while reinforcing stereotypes

Raw and radical

Issue 86, Autumn 2013

Review

The ‘underground press’ died out more than 40 years ago. Yet it lives on, thanks…

Surfing a 1960s California wave

Issue 86, Autumn 2013

Review

Having spent a week alternately prancing and slogging through John Van Hamersveld’s career-capping monograph, I…

The physics of sitting

Issue 85, Spring 2013

Review

Brian Lutz’s Eero Saarinen: Furniture for Everyman will appeal to all designers – as much…

Turn of the Screw

Issue 84, Autumn 2012

Review

‘Sex sells!’ was a 1960s motto. Though not as popular as ‘Peace now’, ‘Make love…

Commercial Surrealist

Issue 5, Winter 1991

Feature

Are the pictures of Dallas photographer Geof Kern postmodern retro or authentic art?

Miss Fixit

Issue 83, Summer 2012

Feature

Tina Roth Eisenberg never had a business plan. But all the things she dreams up – the Swissmiss blog, ‘creative mornings’, stick-on tattoos – pay off. By Steven Heller

Signs of life under an iron fist

Issue 83, Summer 2012

Review

Graphic design histories are, in large part, harvests of unearthed images and anecdotes. Every time…

Hergé’s adventures in the world of graphics

Issue 69, Autumn 2008

Review

I frequently have lunch at a Belgian café in New York called Le Petite Abeille (the…

From dump to designer bookshelf

Issue 79, Spring 2011

Review

It seems antithetical to the DIY fanzine ethos for a book about the subject to…

The theatre that Swarte built

Issue 49, Autumn 2003

Review

On April 30 1995, the Dutch cartoonist Joost Swarte was miserably tossing around on his…

Design as a matter of life and death

Issue 56, Summer 2005

Review

When I was at Valley Forge Military Academy during the mid-1960s my second favourite subject (after…

Reputations: Alex Steinweiss

Issue 76, Summer 2010

Feature

‘I got this idea that the way they were selling these albums was ridiculous. The covers were just brown, tan or green paper. I said, “Who the hell’s going to buy this stuff? There’s no push to it. There’s no attractiveness. There’s no sales appeal.” So I told them I’d like to start designing covers.’

Gnomic utterances

Issue 75, Spring 2010

Review

There is nothing new about artist’s books composed from pieced together, ironically juxtaposed snippets of…

Found Master

Issue 70, Winter 2008

Review

I first came across N. P. de Koo while researching my own Dutch Modern (Chronicle…

Murket forces

Issue 70, Winter 2008

Review

Despite my admiration for Naomi Klein’s No Logo (2000), it ultimately served only to increase…

It is what it is

Issue 53, Autumn 2004

Feature

Scott Stowell’s Open brings innovation, style and plain speaking to broadcast design

Crumb’s graphic sweepings

Issue 41, Autumn 2001

Review

Crumb has been the comics’ deity for me since the early 1960s when I saw…

How to write a Modernist’s obituary

Issue 67, Spring 2008

Review

History is continually being made, but that does not mean all history will be written. What…

Moderne times

Issue 61, Autumn 2006

Feature

Why has France’s influence upon European graphic design been underestimated and neglected?

Credits where due

Issue 68, Summer 2008

Review

How do you make God laugh? Make plans! How do you make your publisher cry…

Mini-museums, little magazines

Issue 79, Spring 2011

Review

There has been considerable recent interest in ‘little magazines’ from the 1960s to the 80s…

The alchemist

Issue 60, Summer 2006

Feature

Animator Jeff Scher uses dense, unorthodox techniques to make his highly original, image-rich films

When Andy got his sticky fingers on an album . . .

Issue 71, Spring 2009

Review

Andy Warhol (1928-87) is the artist who will not die. His life and work helped…

Sex and pulp and rock’n’roll

Issue 70, Winter 2008

Review

In 1952, US Congressman Ezekiel C. Gathings singled out pocket-sized, mass-market paperbacks as being for…

Cartoon knowledge

Issue 76, Summer 2010

Review

I have known Jules Feiffer, the cartoonist, playwright, screenwriter and novelist, for 25 years. So…

Stereotyping for pictures, power and profit

Issue 62, Winter 2006

Review

Stereotyping was the name given by the French printer Fermin Didot in 1794 to his…

Better than the real thing?

Issue 73, Autumn 2009

Feature

Facsimiles give scholars and students the chance to enjoy, understand and literally get to grips with the physical nature of printed design classics.

Face to face with the Afrikan written tradition

Issue 53, Autumn 2004

Review

Contemporary graphic and typographic design histories are mostly America-centric or Euro-centric. Despite a few books…

Modernism and me: a survivor’s tale

Issue 59, Spring 2006

Review

On reading the first few pages of Natalia Ilyin’s Chasing the Perfect: Thoughts on Modernist…

New frontier

Issue 68, Summer 2008

Feature

When art director Art Paul made the journey from Bauhaus to Hefner’s Playboy mansion, men’s mags became truly ‘Modern’.

Keepers of the flame

Issue 80, Summer 2011

Feature

US picture magazines of the late 1960s and 70s are still a vital source of inspiration

Once upon a time...

Issue 69, Autumn 2008

Feature

… there was a Big Bad President. How satirists use children’s tales to puncture the huffing and puffing of politicians

Buy this book

Issue 58, Winter 2005

Feature

Jürgen Holstein’s volume of rare Weimar-era jackets and covers is an extraordinary labour of love

Storytelling giant

Issue 72, Summer 2009

Feature

Everything Christoph Niemann makes, from visual blogs to picture books, reveals his witty, literate personality

Taking a scalpel to the dictators

Issue 80, Summer 2011

Review

John Heartfield is credited with having invented ‘political photomontage’ but an equally prolific fotomonteur was…

Religion’s universal message (board)

Issue 57, Autumn 2005

Feature

World religions put their faith in the standard quarter-inch grooved changeable letter board

Who’s zooming whom?

Issue 41, Autumn 2001

Review

Almost twenty years ago, when I first saw Hungarian illustrator Istvan Banyai’s portfolio, he was…

Boy’s Own inventions

Issue 82, Winter 2012

Review

American Heritage, a hardcover quarterly, was my favourite magazine in the 960s for its beautifully…

Form follows performance

Issue 28, Summer 1998

Feature

Richard Saul Wurman, FAIA, is an architect, cartographer and the author and designer of more than 60 books. He founded the TED conferences, which “focus on the merging & converging of the fields of Technology, Entertainment and Design”. Wurman coined the term “Information Architecture” in 1976 when he was chairman of the national convention of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and devised the theme “The Architecture of Information”.

Recalling the Vignelli experience

Issue 54, Winter 2004

Review

‘In the early 1950s,’ begins Massimo Vignelli in the first chapter of this visual monograph…

Mighty pen

Issue 68, Summer 2008

Review

Political cartoons are rarely covered in graphic design histories. The reason may have something to…

Erotic fantasies of a proto-Goth

Issue 71, Spring 2009

Review

If you like Roland Topor, the mid-twentieth-century French Surrealist illustrator and visual commentator, you’ll love…

Telling and selling

Issue 7, Summer 1992

Feature

Cooper Black is one of the emblematic typefaces of the twentieth century. Who was the man behind the face?

Beyond Blackletter

Issue 79, Spring 2011

Feature

The lettering on the covers of Germany’s most popular film magazine expressed plot and tone with exuberant, readable forms.

Joyously tasteless art direction

Issue 78, Winter 2010

Review

Allow me to get something off my chest. Of the two jobs I once most…

Testament to tenacity

Issue 81, Autumn 2011

Review

Hitler knew that without the Soviet Union threatening his flank, he could march on Eastern…

A place in the sun

Issue 65, Autumn 2007

Feature

An Art Deco warehouse in Miami Beach throws unexpected light on the dark arts of design

Spaniards’ works

Issue 73, Autumn 2009

Review

When I was researching my Deco España: Graphic Design Between the Wars (Chronicle Books) in…

Comic sans the grown-ups

Issue 74, Winter 2009

Review

There are two names responsible for bringing comics ‘out of the trash and into a…

A new kind of story

Issue 51, Spring 2004

Feature

An interview with pictorial magazine pioneer Stefan Lorant (1901-97). By Steven Heller

Advertising: mother of graphic design [extract]

Issue 17, Summer 1995

Feature

The word ‘advertising’ makes designers cringe. But it is central to the profession’s history and practice

Back after these messages: the No. 17 show

Issue 39, Spring 2001

Feature

With Number Seventeen, their New York design practice, Emily Oberman and Bonnie Siegler have acquired a reputation for dancing letterforms and emotionally resonant, playful graphics that speak directly to TV viewers who haven’t yet turned into their parents

Reputations: George Lois

Issue 29, Autumn 1998

Feature

‘You can’t research a big idea. The only ideas that truly research well are mediocre ideas. In research, great ideas are always suspect.’

Born modern

Issue 10, Autumn 1993

Feature

Painting is dead, long live the dustjacket. Alvin Lustig brought modern art into American bookshops

Type play for kids

Issue 19, Winter 1995

Feature

It has taken decades for expressive typography to win acceptance in the world of the children's book

Big ideas that built America

Issue 22, Autumn 1996

Feature

In the 1950s and 1960s, American art directors led a creative revolution. Thier secret weapon was the Big Idea

Darkness visible

Issue 20, Spring 1996

Feature

Amy Guip reconciles commercial image-making with a need to explore more personal themes

Designing heroes

Issue 43, Spring 2002

Feature

Every era creates heroic imagery that conforms to its specific needs

[Sutnar]

Issue 13, Summer 1994

Feature

Born in Czechoslovakia, Ladislav Sutnar was a pioneer of information design. Working in America in the years after the war he synthesised European avant-gardisms into a functional commercial lexicon, made Constructivism playful and used its geometry to forge the dynamics of catalogue organisation. ‘The designer must think first, work later,’ Sutnar declared. His writings — in which the bracket was a favourite motif — are as timely today as his designs.

The man who invented graphic design

Issue 23, Winter 1996

Feature

When W.A. Dwiggins called himself a graphic designer, he coined the phrase that would define professional practice

Scrap merchants

Issue 27, Spring 1998

Feature

Peter Giradi's practice creates digital landscapes composed of detritus scavenged from the wastleland of traditional media

Eyes on the world

Issue 26, Autumn 1997

Feature

They are obsolete now, but the picture magazines of the pre-TV era were breeding pens for today's visual narratives

Stories unfolding in time and space

Issue 31, Spring 1999

Feature

With a revival of journalistic visual essays in US magazines, illustrators are once again becoming integral contributors to the editorial mix

Lessons in printing trade journalism

Issue 31, Spring 1999

Feature

For one issue, under Jan Tschichold’s stewardship, a monthly trade journal, Typographische Mitteilungen, became a beacon for radical typography.

Smartest letterer on the planet

Issue 45, Autumn 2002

Feature

Chicago’s comic book hero has a finely tuned gift for hand-lettering

Writing on the wall: The posters of James Victore

Issue 30, Winter 1998

Feature

With a visual polemic of angry scrawls that stop pedestrians in their tracks, this committed New Yorker tackles Shakespeare, safe sex and racism in personal (frequently self-financed) projects that hammer home graphic design’s potential to make a difference

Eros

Issue 25, Summer 1997

Feature

In 1962 Ralph Ginsburg and Herb Lubalin defied puritantical America with the four issues of their erotic magazine Eros

Gothic horror

Issue 62, Winter 2006

Feature

The Nazi party’s obsession with cultural dominance extended far into calligraphy, lettering and type

Sue Coe: eyewitness

Issue 21, Summer 1996

Feature

The New York-based artist makes ferocious images as instruments of social change. Her timely new book is a searing indictment of animal butchery.

Reputations: Michael Bierut

Issue 24, Spring 1997

Feature

‘The biggest challenge that faces a designer isn’t the quest for novelty, but coming to grips with the fact that much of what we do has little content’

Look away

Issue 38, Winter 2000

Feature

‘The South’, Seymour Chwast’s special civil rights issue of Push Pin Graphic, was a virtuoso display of graphic design authorship

Reputations: John Plunkett

Issue 28, Summer 1998

Feature

‘We wanted to avoid the unspoken design taboo: Good design = subtle, tasteful, elegant, restrained. My feeling about that is: maybe so . . . depends on the context. We felt it was more important that Wired be alive than subtle . . .’

Multi-coloured mirrors

Issue 57, Autumn 2005

Feature

Alan Aldridge’s art direction of Beatles lyrics gave a graphic twist to the Swinging Sixties

Art directing the opposition

Issue 16, Spring 1995

Feature

Daniel Walsh, former US Marine, founder of Liberation Graphics and self-styled ‘communications therapist,’ uses the poster to argue for alternative points of view

Dr Leslie's type clinic

Issue 15, Winter 1994

Feature

Through its publications and gallery, the Composing Room promoted the new American design

Reputations: Maira Kalman

Issue 47, Spring 2003

Feature

‘I was out walking the dear dog and I saw 500 things that made me want to make art.’

Mr Roughcut

Issue 32, Summer 1999

Feature

or: how graphic designer Pablo Ferro learned to split the screen, cut the crap and tell the story (in the time it took to run the titles)

The meanings of type

Issue 50, Winter 2003

Feature

The back-stories, informed by trends, cults, philosophies and nationhood

A terrible beauty

Issue 49, Autumn 2003

Feature

The atomic bomb’s mushroom cloud has become the logo of annihilation

Designing demons

Issue 41, Autumn 2001

Feature

The rhetoric of hate provides ‘a new kind of meaning’

Comics for damned intellectuals

Issue 8, Autumn 1993

Feature

It is ten years since Françoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman impetuously founded Raw Books and Graphics. Since then, Raw, the couple’s alternative comic strip magazine, has provided an outlet for talented unknowns, given new significance to the term ‘graphic novel’, almost single-handedly reinvented one of America’s most popular indigenous artforms – all on a shoestring budget.

Reputations: Bruce Mau

Issue 38, Winter 2000

Feature

‘I think it is one of the paradoxical conditions of design authorship, that you have to be both producer and critic simultaneously. I can maintain a kind of double life.’

Fast track songlines for type

Issue 75, Spring 2010

Opinion

Steven Heller on Gail Anderson’s SVA class in typographic animation

Repossession

Issue 74, Winter 2009

Opinion

After years of wrangling, the posters that the Nazis stole from Hans Sachs are to be returned to his heirs. But would they be better off in a Berlin museum?

Cult of the squiggly

Issue 72, Summer 2009

Opinion

Over-abundant embellishment is spiralling out of control. Time to get out the shears, cries Steven Heller.

The 'L' Word

Issue 66, Winter 2007

Opinion

Not all designers are liberals. But you’d never know it from design conferences. Or the pages of Eye…

What do we call ourselves now?

Issue 63, Spring 2007

Opinion

In a world of brand specialists and information architects, is it enough to call ourselves ‘graphic designers’ without sounding either overly specialised or obsolete?

Political imagery re-examined

Issue 58, Winter 2005

Review

One challenge of design and art historians today is how to analyse familiar material, like…

Me feral designer

Issue 56, Summer 2005

Opinion

While we don’t need more slick professionals, primitives are no boon either

Springtime for Hitler and Lego

Issue 44, Summer 2002

Opinion

A review of ‘Mirroring evil’ at the Jewish Museum, New York

Kicking complacency in the ass

Issue 36, Summer 2000

Feature

In the late 1960s, the underground press was a spontaneous and primitive rebellion against the status quo, with visual and verbal obsecnity as its most potent weapons. Sex stimulated sales, but ultimately sapped its creative radical energy

Reputations: Milton Glaser

Issue 25, Summer 1997

Feature

‘I am nervous about ideologies, whether it’s the ideology of business or the ideology of Bolshevism. I get nervous in the presence of absolute certainty’

Changing of the guard

Issue 8, Autumn 1993

Opinion

American graphic design is divided. The once rebellious avant-garde has become the status quo, while the new guard shun their elders’ example and adhere to few of the old ‘isms’

Total design

Issue 8, Autumn 1993

Feature

In its all too brief life, Alexey Brodovitch’s Portfolio magazine achieved perfection

Cult of the ugly

Issue 9, Summer 1993

Feature

Designers used to stand for beauty and order. Now beauty is passé and ugliness is smart. How did we get here and is there any way out?

Monitor

Issue 11, Winter 1993

Opinion

Who says classical has to mean boring?

Recent blog posts about Steven Heller

An Iranian vision

5 November 2020
Design history, Graphic design, Magazines, Typography

Despite censorship and sanctions, a bilingual magazine showcasing Iranian and Western design has flourished for two decades. By Steven Heller
The history of visual arts in Iran is divided into two historical periods of Iranian…

The last magazine czar

24 June 2014
Design history, Graphic design, Magazines, Reviews

Art director Alex Liberman remembered: ‘His only requirement was that the design make it easy to read the copy.’ Review by Steven Heller
Alexander Liberman (1912-1999) was the first and last twentieth-century magazine czar, writes Steven Heller. No…

Typorama spectacular

12 January 2014
Graphic design, Posters, Reviews, Typography

This Paris retrospective of Philippe Apeloig’s cerebral, conceptual design and typography is a triumph that exceeds high expectations, reports Steven Heller
The last time I saw a gaggle of teenage art students sitting quietly on the…

Objects of desire

28 February 2013
Food design, Graphic design, Reviews, Visual culture

Designers have been engaged in sex since neolithic times. Well, maybe those neolithics were not…