Herb Lubalin is known to have said that if he hadn't split an egg with his twin brother Irwin, he probably would have been George Lois. A small skinny kid with peculiar eating habits, he was warned by his mother he'd end up as a cockroach powder salesman if he didn't eat his lumpy oatmeal. Little did she imagine that, during his professional career, he would not only design a package for Black Flag Roach Powder, but would hustle suppositories to the medical profession as creative director at the Sudler & Hennessey ad agency, as well as being instrumental, while designing Eros magazine, in sending editor Ralph Ginzburg off to the pokey on pornography charges.
While in high school, Lubalin showed no inclination toward a graphics career other than for repeated renditions of some highly erotic nude drawings of Tarzan and Jane, which quickly earned him a reputation as a dirty young man. Thus launched, he entered the Cooper Union after scoring 64th out of an acceptable 64 on the entrance examination. Prior to his graduation in 1939, he recklessly entered the McCandlish outdoor poster competition for students and professionals, and walked off with the 2nd prize of $50—no small sum in those days. Flushed with this honor (and cash)—having filled his first "0" with a Hires Root Beer Cap in the slogan "It's Tops"—he made the momentous decision to spend the rest of his life pursuing an "O"-filling (among other letters) career.
After graduation from The Cooper Union, Lubalin claims to have done nothing significant in the graphics world until 13 years later when, in 1952, he won his first New York Art Directors Club Gold Medal as creative director of Sudler & Hennessey and a partner in its design organization, SH&L.
In 1964, he formed his own design consultant firm ("inspirationally named Herb Lubalin, Inc.”), which subsequently evolved into what is fondly referred to as the first international graphics cartel. Five years later this became LSC, Inc., incorporating the talents of Ernie Smith, Tom Carnase, and Roger Ferriter. A year after that, several subsidiaries were added: Lubalin, Delpire & Cie, Paris, Lubalin, Maxwell Ltd., London, Good Book Inc. ("a highly unsuccessful publishing venture"), and Lubalin, Burns & Co., with its highly successful typographic offspring, International Typeface Corporation. In 1975, the logo was further changed to LSC&P Design Group, incorporating the name and talents of Alan Peckolick. And, just recently, Herb Lubalin found out he had a thriving Hawaiian operation going called Aki, Lubalin, Inc.
During this feverish organizational development, he also had time for a little creative work. Among his major contributions to graphics were his designs for Eros, Fact, and Avant Garde magazines (all defunct), two redesign attempts for the Saturday Evening Post (also defunct), Air Mail stamps, along with a new 13¢ one, for the U.S. Post Office (still in business), a poster for the American Exhibition in Moscow, and a few articles for the USIA publication, Amerika. His favorite works? A masthead design for a Curtis Publication, "Mother & Child,” and his present involvement as editorial and design director of U&lc, the International Journal of Typographics.
In our design schools today, they define rules of design and teach working procedures. But what they cannot teach is a feeling for inventiveness, a dedication to perfection, and how to remain alert to the sudden excitement of a better idea. Lubalin owns these unique traits. His eye and his ear are unerring. His designs hit the bull's eye of a target with that deceptive ease that only the true professional can command, and he has an uncanny sense for the impact of words. His is a dexterity that combines humor with an absolute mastery of subtle details creating a new legibility, a new logic, and a new elegance in mass communication.
He has been both the subject and author of many articles on graphic design, which have appeared nationally and internationally in, among others, such leading publications as: Art Direction, American Artist, Popular Photography, Communication Arts, Graphics Today, Graphis, Idea, and Gabrauchsgraphik.
In tribute, Print Magazine included him in its special 1969 issue, "Great Graphic Designers of the 20th Century."
Very much in demand on the lecture circuit, Lubalin speciously imparts "very little information with great flair and erudition" to schools and professional organizations from the United States to Europe, Canada, South America and Japan. He is a visiting professor of art at The Cooper Union and has taught at Cornell and Syracuse Universities, as well as serving on the Advisory boards of Kean and Hampshire Colleges.
The professional organizations with which he is involved are legion. Among them: the Art Directors Club, of which he is a past president, AGI (International Vice President), and AlGA, where he is a member of the board.
Herb Lubalin's numerous awards include seven Gold Medals from the Art Directors Club, Art Director of the Year Award from the National Society of Art Directors, a Clio, two honors from The Cooper Union, the Augustus St. Gaudens Medal and The Award for Professional Achievement. He considers, however, his greatest achievements to be his sons: Robert, a talented designer with the architectural firm, Davis, Brody, and Peter, who came to advertising prominence with his Dannon Yogurt "Russian" commercials. Greatness, the bard tells us, comes as a natural inheritance, as a mantle that comes with achievement, or as a bolt that falls with all the force of a divine command. His is a full dedication unmoved by laudatory exclamations—a drive never to reach for anything short of excellence—an unending concern to find new ways to say something simpler, stronger, better. Design can communicate that much more because of his additions to our visual language.
At 59, he claims he has just concluded his apprenticeship.
Please note: Content of biography is presented here as it was published in 1977.