The images above are taken from one of the oddest artifacts of the design profession created during the sixties: a booklet documenting the work chosen for the 14th Annual Type Director's Club Show of 1968 (not to be confused with Typography 14, which is the fourteenth annual book published by the same organization after they started numbering them differently in the 80s). I am indebted here to Somi Kim for lending me her copy, the only one I have ever seen. She found it years ago at Dawson's Bookstore on Larchmont in Los Angeles: they had received a cache of books from the collection of a retiring illustrator and designer, and when we heard about this we swooped into the store and bought so much so fast that we barely knew what we were buying. When we sat down later to inspect the acquisitions, it was clear that she had scored a most remarkable item (for $5), and this document has stuck in my head ever since.
Forty-eight pages, 8 1/2 x 11, paperback, saddle-stitched, all half-tones (and not very nice ones at that) black and white only: low production values that are surprising only if you have never looked at how modestly annuals were produced "back in the day" when the entire American design profession could not have filled the hall at a current American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) conference. The list of all 149 members of the Type Director's Club that year appears on the back cover.
The jury for the show that year chose about 200 items for the exhibition, many terrific pieces by a stellar group including Peter Bradford, Ivan Chermayeff, Jacqueline Casey, Seymour Chwast, Lou Dorfsman, Milton Glaser, Herb Lubalin, Bradbury Thompson, among others. The work is a pretty comprehensive showing of the world of typography circa 1968 (skewed to the New York-centric world of the TDC then) with corporate, institutional, publishing, and advertising work all well represented. Stylistically, it's eclectic, with only the tiniest hints of the influence of psychedelia.
The title on the cover of the booklet is "Business as Usual" subtitled "Fourteenth Annual Type Directors ShowTypography Wherever It Exists" with a one by one inch image of what looks like a police or fireman leaning over an injured person lying on pavement. And this is the entire text on page 3: "Think of your work and think of what's going on around you. The theme of the 14th Annual Type Directors show is 'Typography Wherever It Exists.' It's still the theme. We've just expanded the theme. Added a larger context. Look at the winners for their excellence in type direction. That's how they were judged. If the news photos seem to overshadow the show's winners, think of how it is in real life."
Once you get inside the annual, the spreads are arranged with five or six winning designs on one side (with their captions, so they are pretty small) opposite a full-page, full bleed uncaptioned image of the following things: piles of dead soldiers in Vietnam; a campus demonstration (at Columbia?); several images of the Newark riot, particularly of what looks like police brutality; the Black Panthers; suffering children in Vietnam, starvation somewhere; Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, and Lyndon Baines Johnson. On every spread of the book there are lovely pieces of typography, things most any of us would have been proud to have created, and then an image as brutal as a slap on the face.
It becomes apparent that the unspoken theme of that year's annual was suffering. Obviously, the participants of the TDC show committee were disturbed enough by the horrendous events of 1967-68war, assassination and civil strifeto feel that they overwhelmed the possibility to celebrate their own accomplishments. And while every annual provides future generations with a record of the designs that were deemed worthy by their contemporaries, in 1968 the TDC designers felt that it would be more important to bear witness to what was going on while the work was made. In pure visual terms, the weight of the news photos implies that the creative, cultural and social aspects of "Business as Usual" could not be maintained. But in verbal terms, the irony of the phrase "Business as Usual" also implies that the mercantile interests of design are going to go on making their demands, no matter what god-awful events occur in the background. There is definitely a touch of black humor and bravado in the "I-survived-1968-and-still-got-my-design-award" spin in this otherwise mournful document.
After inspecting "Business as Usual" years ago, I contacted Ed Benguiat, whose name was the only one I recognized on the roster of committee members on the inside front cover of the annual. I tried to ask him how the decision was made to produce the annual that way, what the discussions were like: he was not really willing to go into it at all, and I'm pretty sure he referred to the entire thing as a "dumb joke."
Of course there are other interesting aspects of "Business as Usual" as well. The annual falls into the category of social protest without bearing any of the visual marks of the youth culture that we now associate with the late sixties: it appears to be the work of adults, though its sponsoring organization was clearly in its adolescence. Also, "Business as Usual" is an artifact of a time when the design organizations, though they imagined themselves to be national, were really local, East Coast clubs. Today the membership of these groups is simply too large to ever imagine them making any overt political statements: after all, the AIGA has chapters in both red and blue states, and corporate membership, (which, for the TDC in 1968, consisted mainly of typesetting houses) is now comprised of multinational corporations. So this document is a souvenir of days gone by: and although my daily reading of the newspaper increasingly becomes an exercise in pain management, I can't imagine connecting an expression of that suffering through any activity involving my membership in a national design organization. Though not impossible: maybe things just aren't bad enough! Guess I will now go turn on "The Daily Show..."
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