Monday, 19 May 2008

Mass market modernism

My first post in some time (sorry, deadlines intervened) was inspired by the excellent book 'Bauhaus, Modernism & the Illustrated Book', by Alan Bartram, and is a very brief sample of the impact of modernism on the mass market in Britain, as shown through some paperbacks in my collection.

At the top you can see the front and back of the 'Pocket Pal'. This is the first British edition of the well known US industry guide, and you can see the influence of American modernism instantly. The repeat pattern is redolent of US TV idents of the time, but the typography is not fully resolved, and things only get more confused inside, where contemporary modernist faces (Univers, Grot 215/216) are dropped into a grid free layout and mixed with a seemingly random assortment of serifs. It looks to be the case that you could often have a fairly free hand regarding cover design, but that too often designers specifying layouts and faces came up against intransigent union practises.

The second book here is a Zenith paperback which shows a masterly control of colour, typography and composition. It looks to have been influenced by the famous Penguin grid system, but that is no detraction of the designer's achievement. Again, there seems something of a disconnection between cover and contents (I'm afraid you'll have to take my word on this, as to scan these pages would mean breaking the spines). The Big Slump is set full-width justified in a standard book serif, with the only concession to the cover being Helvetica sub heads and a curious and not altogether successful full-width caption style, set ranged left in Helvetica Bold with a ranged right first line.

Talking of Penguin, I picked up this wonderful 1965 encyclopedia from a charity shop the other day. It comes from the tenure of the great Germano Facetti as art director (see more of his work here,,1752252,00.html) and seems to anticipate the pop modernism to come by several years.

Also here is Facetti's take on every art student's favourite brief: nineteen eighty-four. I love this cover for its capturing of a particular era: in its almost comic-book mark making it displays a character often (though arguably intentionally) missing from modernist design.

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