Doyle Dane Bernbach, Volkswagen ads, 1960
In 1960, Volkswagen put out an ad for their new car, the Lemon. In a world where every car at that time was competing on becoming bigger, “better”, and flashier, Volkswagen decided to advertise their car’s qualities of simplicity and authenticity with the slogan “Think small.” The ad was printed in black and white and used a photo of the car, making it a sort of “anti-ad” compared the colourful illustration advertisements of their competitors. The car’s differences were featured and the simplicity in lack of colour and detail suggested it was showing the unvarnished truth. It communicated the company’s message and it was “big idea” advertising as it not only advertised the product but also created brand recognition.
Apple “Think Different.”, 1997
iMac “Chic, Not geek.”, 1998
Apple used the slogan “Think different” in 1997 to advertise their apple products. While maybe not directly inspired by Volkswagen’s ad, Apple’s slogan and subsequent advertisements show clear influence of “big idea” advertising. Their unembellished, but effective message gets across their brand identity while maintaining a sense of authenticity through its directness and simplicity. Apple’s ads show their products often on a blank white background, giving it a clean, uncomplicated look and making them stand out among other advertisements which often use colour and busy backgrounds to grab attention. Their products appeared as a pop of colour on the plain background, a big difference their competition’s products which were quite dull and beige at the time.
In the same way Volkswagen was, Apple also presented a sort of “anti-ad” in postmodern design.
Hamilton, Mark. “The Ad That Changed Advertising.” Medium, 20 Mar. 2015, medium.com/theagency/the-ad-that-changed-advertising-18291a67488c.
“The Evolution Of Apple’s Brand Identity.” Team Wired, 20 Dec. 2015, teamwired.com.au/newsroom/2015/12/20/the-evolution-of-apples-brand-identity.
Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk by Paula Scher of Pentagram, 1995
Handbill for an excursion train, 1876
Mass media in 19th century America consisted primarily of handbills and posters. Literacy rates were rising and technology at the time limited the printing of images, so these handbills relied on text. (McCoy) In order to effectively grab the attention of a passer-by and communicate a message, the type was often large, bold, and crisp. From 1828 to around 1900, during which the handbill shown above was produced, wood type was the favoured printing method. Wood type was invented for advertising purposes, as large scale typography was necessary and casting letters that size in metal was expensive and problematic. (Kelly) Though wood type was ideal for display text in advertising at the time, it quickly became overshadowed by newer technologies, its contribution to the evolution of headline typography is forgotten. (Kelly)
The poster on the left was designed by Paula Scher of Pentagram for The Public Theater, making use of The Public’s typeface: wood type. The Public is one of America’s first nonprofit theaters, and is built on inclusivity, accessibility, and the “by the people, for the people” attitude. (About The Public) The Pentagram’s poster was meant to align with these values, advertising Bring in da Noise to the public in an easy to read, and yet enticing, manner. The arrangement of the various creates a fun, graffiti-like impression in keeping with the Public’s brand. (The Public Theater – Story.)
Both designs targeted large audiences, use predominantly text to communicate a message, and fill the page with large-scale type. The Pentagram’s poster incorporates not only the wood type lettering used in the handbill, but also the method of communicating through text: headline typography, all capitals, prioritizing impact and readability. Both designs also use a selection of weights and widths to create variation and fit the design. One can even see the parallels in the way letters of the same word are sized differently to emphasize the word, or fit a certain space. Also consistent is the use of solid-coloured block letters and solid backgrounds arranged in geometric divisions, although Scher takes the idea a step further, orienting words vertically, horizontally and diagonally. These blocks fill the entire page in both designs, creating a rich and detailed design.
The poster was hugely successful, and advertised the show all over New York. The style also quickly became popular. Though it wasn’t solely used in the theater scene, wood-type block lettering was adopted by theater advertising, proving it’s continuous influence. (The Public Theater – Story.)
Kelly, Rob Roy. “American Wood Type.” Design Quarterly, no. 56, 1963, pp. 1–40. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4047285.
McCoy, Katherine. “American Graphic Design Expression.” Design Quarterly, no. 148, 1990, pp. 3–22. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4091231.
“The Public Theater – Story.” Pentagram, www.pentagram.com/work/the-public-theater/story.
“About The Public.” The Public, publictheater.org/en/About/About-The-Public/.
For inclusion in the 3rd edition of Eskilson’s Graphic Design: A New History, I propose graphic and digital designer Muriel Cooper. Working roughly from the mid 1940’s to her death in the mid 1990’s, Cooper worked in advertisement after her obtaining her BFA in design and BS in education 1944 from the Massachusetts College of Art. In 1952, Cooper became the first art director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology publication office, now known as the MIT Press. She went on to design the renowned seven-bar colophon, a highly-abstracted version of the lower-case letters “mitp”, which became the identifying logo for the publication press and demonstrated her reductive, functional, geometric Bahaus design style. Along with teaching at the Institute, Cooper also founded MIT’s Visible Language Workshop where she taught experimental printing and hands-on production (Walker Art Centre). By the mid 1980’s, she was one of the founding members of the MIT Media Lab where she contributed to designing early computer interfaces.
Muriel Cooper, mechanical artwork for the MIT Press colophon, 1963–4.
Along with her colleagues and hired designers, Cooper promoted a Bauhaus-influenced, modernist style to MIT Press’ publications (McBroom). Cooper also felt increasingly restricted by the limitations of the canvas of a printed page and by the contemporary design production of her time, which was dictated by mass-production stemming from the Industrial Revolution. In fact, Cooper wanted designers to produce their work again as they did prior to this mass-production model that separated design and manufacturing. Cooper also believed that emerging technologies (such as the Macintosh personal computer and HP Laserjet printer of 1984) could empower designers. She was a strong advocate for the use of emerging technologies by designers in order for them to escape the restrictions of 21st century mass-production model, which was defining both the design process and the final product (Armstrong, 13). She encouraged her design students to hack and fiddle with production equipment themselves in order to put their own design production back into their hands. In this way, Cooper believed that production technologies could allow designers to rework and test their projects more easily, and that computers could permit these artists to work more instinctively and cooperatively with other designers and tech users (Armstrong, 14). She also focused her research on virtual information landscapes; she believed that the computer screen offered more depth and more possibilities in terms of design space manipulation where information could be in motion, streamed, and alive rather than be static and printed (Walter Art Centre). The computer offered thus an alternate space or landscape in which design could live. By promoting her ideas, Cooper believed that through the use of technology, designers would have increasing experimental space, possibilities, freedom, and time to alter their design as well as gain more control over the production of their final product.
Typography in Space: a three-dimensional typographic space where the reader can browse freely.© MIT Media Lab (M. Cooper, D. Small, S. Ishizaki).
By the teachings, workshops, and implementations that Cooper presented and initiated throughout her career as art director for MIT Press and as a professor at the institute, she revolutionized electronic communication and pioneered computer design interface graphics. For all that she has contributed to graphic design history through her role as an art director, as an innovative designer, and as a woman in a field more or less dominated by men, Cooper deserves a significant place within Eskilson’s future edited edition of Graphic Design: A New History.
Muriel Cooper and Ron MacNeil, Messages and Means course poster, designed and printed at the Visible Language Workshop, MIT, c. 1974.
Armstrong, Helen. Digital Design Theory: Readings From the Field. Princeton Architectural Press, 2016.
McBroom, Brock. “Muriel Cooper.” History of Graphic Design,
“Muriel Cooper: Turning Time into Space.” Walker Art Center, walkerart.org/magazine/muriel-cooper-turning-time-into-space.