TypeTalk: U&lc Magazine Retrospective part 2, Type Taking Shape


We continue our retrospective of the groundbreaking U&lc (Upper and lowercase) magazine with an exploration of the use of type shapes, also referred to as contoured type. U&lc was the award-winning typographic journal published by International Typeface Corporation (ITC) from 1970 to 1999 created to showcase the ITC typeface library, in addition to serving as a palette for virtuoso typography and exceptional typographic design. Originally edited and designed by Herb Lubalin until his death in 1981, U&lc went on to feature an assemblage of prominent designers who used this unique typographic platform to create some of the most expressive, experimental, and stimulating typography of the times.

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We most commonly see type—especially text type—set in perfectly aligned vertical columns that are often used as the narrative to images, whether they be photographs, illustrations, charts, or graphs. But sometimes, with a little out-of-the-box thinking, text can be used to illustrate and/or reinforce the actual content, be it the overriding theme or subject matter, or the actual images. This approach was commonly employed in U&lc due to the interesting and entertaining nature of the content, coupled with the complete freedom offered the designers who worked on this one-of-a-kind publication.

The examples shown below, designed by the likes of Pentagram, Alexander Isley, Push Pin, Paul Davis, WBMG Design, Inc. (Walter Bernard and Milton Glaser) and more, showcase some of the most creative, visually striking and somewhat experimental uses of type shapes.

The body text for an article entitled “Type on the Table” (left) partially fills a plate as it is intruded upon by a typographic fork, cleverly integrating the headline and subhead with the text. In this article celebrating the 28th anniversary of ITC (right), the text becomes a giant initial letter as it fills the contours of an oversized – and somewhat stylized – lowercase ‘i’ (right). U&lc, Vol. 23, No. 2, 1996 and Vol. 22, No. 2, 1995, both designed by Michael Ian Kaye.


The text takes on the contour of an exclamation point in this article on Punctuation (left) while it becomes the background for the shape of a t-shirt, except for the collar and waist band which are made of type (right). Both, designed by Pentagram, are cleverly conceptualized and professionally executed. U&lc, Vol. 20, No. 4, 1994.


The shape and form of square brackets are used to configure the text as well as contain the images in this spread designed by Pentagram. U&lc, Vol. 18, No. 3, 1993.

A very powerful message is conveyed with type set in the shape of the word VOTE, punctuated by flags used as paragraph separators in this spread designed by The Push Pin Group. U&lc, Vol. 19, No. 3, 1993.

The type helps create volume for the body below the head (left) as well as within the letter X (right) in these two clean yet stylish designs designed by Paul Davis Studio. U&lc, Vol. 20, No. 1, 1993.


The text in these two spreads designed by Mark van Bronkhorst are shaped to mimic the contour of the items shown on the facing pages, whether it be a wine bottle or a beer bottle label. The text is justified to maintain a well-defined edge, and has been carefully composed to minimize bad spacing and too many hyphenations. U&lc, Vol. 25, No. 4, 1998.


The geometry of the photographs is mimicked by the type shapes, the initials, and the diagonal tags in these two spreads designed by WBMG Design, Inc. U&lc, Vol. 19, No. 1, 1992.


The title of this issue set in colorful caps becomes part of the contour of a book on the cover of this issue (left).The road in the illustration is led off of the page by the edges of the text in this almost surreal treatment that melds type and illustration (right). U&lc, Vol. 16, No. 1, 1990 and Vol. 17, No. 4, 1990, both designed by Larry Yang.



All available back issues of U&lc can be downloaded in PDF format from the archive at fonts.com.

Editor’s note: Don’t miss Part 1 of the U&lc retrospective on reinventing tables of contents.


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Ilene Strizver

Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer, writer and educator specializing in all aspects of visual communication, from the aesthetic to the technical. Her book, Type Rules! The designer’s guide to professional typography, 4th edition, has received numerous accolades from the type and design community. She conducts her widely acclaimed Gourmet Typography Workshops internationally. For more information on attending one or bringing it to your company, organization, or school, go to her site, call The Type Studio at 203-227-5929, or email Ilene at info@thetypestudio.com. Sign up for her free e‑newsletter, All Things Typographic, at www.thetypestudio.com.

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