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No. 160: Unseen Archives from Herman Miller, Preserving 1960s Erotica, a Graphic Designer’s First Feature Film + More

Hello, and welcome to our new look Design Diary, a collection of five fab projects from across the world that have impressed us this week. 

For more creative gems along these lines (and so many others) follow along all day, every day on Instagram @AIGAeyeondesignFacebook, and Twitter @AIGAeyeondesign.

Herman Miller’s 1964 catalog, designed by Tomoko Miho

Unearthing the archives of an(other) unsung woman designer with a ton of talent.

The late graphic designer Tomoko Miho has gotten some seriously overdue attention recently, thanks to a profile by Adrian Shaughnessy for Herman Miller’s WHY magazine. During her time working for George Nelson’s office in the early 1960s, and later in-house for the Container Corporation of America (CCA), Miho designed posters, signage, catalogs, logos, and showrooms for clients like CCA, the architecture firm Omniplan and, most prolifically, for Herman Miller. Miho is known for a certain amount of elegance and serenity in her design work—not to mention precision and clarity of thought.

One favorite detail in the WHY account is Lance Wyman’s praise of Miho as playing a “huge part in defining the way furniture catalogs look and function.” If being a pioneering force in furniture catalogs seems to you the least interesting of her considerable accomplishments, that would be understandable. We may have thought so too had Herman Miller not sent over images of its 1964 catalog, art directed by Miho, which shows off her exacting and effortless-looking style; beautiful photographs of furniture silhouetted against a white background (now a catalog staple); and a clever system of dissecting those photos with an overlay of the product description, which then reveals the full spread with the flip of a page. 

Ralph Ginzburg and Herb Lubalin’s Eros, digitized

More 1960s archives live on.

Here we’ll seamlessly pivot to the preservation an entirely different kind of publication from the 1960s. Eros was the brainchild of editor Ralph Ginzburg and designer Herb Lubalin, a quarterly magazine “devoted to the joys of love and sex.” Only four issues were created in total—the content was considered by some not only taboo, but (dubiously) illegal. Ginzburg was sent to prison for nine months for sending prurient and pandering advertising through the mail, a U.S. federal crime. It put a halt to production.

These days those four issues have been very hard to find (and not cheap when you do)—that is, until graphic designer Mindy Seu, Cooper Union’s Herb Lubalin Center and the Internet Archive put them all online. Click through the covers and all of the content—from a short analysis of the “female reaction” to JFK to a “photographic tone poem” of interracial love—at your leisure. When you’re done, head over to the archive for Avant Garde, another Lubalin and Ginzburg venture, digitized by the same folks. It’s worth noting that Lubalin’s editorial design and typefaces for both of these magazines left a lasting legacy on graphic design, though we won’t blame you if that doesn’t feel like the most exciting part.


Red Trees, a film by Marina Willer

The Pentagram partner has made her first feature length film.

You may know Marina Willer as the designer behind the identities for the Tate Modern and Serpentine Galleries, among many others, or for the beautiful street-cover rubbings collected for her project Overlooked. In all of her free time, she also makes short films—and last week, she premiered her first feature length film, Red Trees.

It’s a personal project in every sense of the word. The movie tells the story of Willer’s family, one of only 12 Jewish families to survive the Nazi occupation of Prague during WWII. As Willer’s grandfather was a chemist, and one of the scientists to discover citric acid, the Czech government prioritized getting him and his family out of the country safely. When the Gestapo visited the Willers’ house before they left, her grandfather hid the formula in his wife’s recipe book.

After relocating to Brazil, Willer’s father grew up to become an architect, and much of the film’s story is told through images of Prague’s brutalist architecture—much of which was mercifully spared bombing because of the occupation. Willer’s approach is introspective and quietly poetic; you won’t find images of Hitler and concentration camps typical to World War II films in this work. As Steven Heller put it in a review of the film for Design Observer, “[Red Trees] changes the tenor of the holocaust narrative from an unimaginable, and therefore dismissible, act of evil into a singularly human, redemptive experience.”

Moreover, what started out as just a side project, and a break from graphic design, has taken on particular relevance given the refugee crisis and U.S. travel ban. In a 2015 interview, during the film’s early stages, Willer said, “The point of telling personal stories is that they become universal, and we can learn from history to not make this mistake again.”

Cover designs for Jeffrey Eugenides' fresh complaint, by Na Kim

The pressure of completing your dream assignment is very real.

Over at the online publication Literary Hub, book designer Na Kim has offered up a thoroughly entertaining, wry, and insightful case on why you should not spoil an incredible opportunity with an outsized ego. In her case, the opportunity was to design a book cover for Pulitzer Prize winner Jeffrey Eugenides, and her hurdle was “trying to make something cool” rather than thinking about what the design was actually for: in this case, the forthcoming novel Fresh Complaint. Kim’s piece is a prescient reminder of the value of engaging in personal work so that you can take the personal out of work work—i.e. design for the client or particular project, and not yourself. But it’s also a chance to see some truly stellar cover designs, and the stages Kim went through before landing on the final one. Take a peek inside the—at times tortuous—process of finally landing your dream project.

NYCTA: Objects, a new book by photographer Brian Kelley

And the designers at Standards Manual.

Standards Manual, the Brooklyn-based publisher that brought us the reissued graphic standards manual for New York City Transit Authority (their first of many Kickstarter blockbusters), has some new work to share. In a familiar vein, NYCTA: Objects brings together over 400 artifacts from New York’s subway system, collected and documented by photographer Brian Kelley. Starting with MTA MetroCards, Kelley has been methodically collecting and documenting New York City Transit objects and memorabilia since 2011. In the book, he lays them all out against a clean white background—gloves, hats, patches, stickers, subway maps—and lets the objects of previous decades take us through a visual history of transit. Particularly interesting are the funky yellow and red pins proclaiming “LIRR Tours” and “I’m with the (M) Group” in a curvy ‘70s type—much more Tom Wolfe than city maintenance.

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