TypeTalk - U&lc Magazine Retrospective: Reinventing Tables of Contents

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The 1950’s were the gateway to a brave, new world in typography ushered in by the leap from metal typesetting to photocomposition. These were ground-breaking and transitional times in the history of typography and design due to changes in technology that allowed for total control (and increased speed) over the setting of type, which in turn heralded in a new era of expressive typography.

One of the hallmarks of this unprecedented period in typographic history was U&lc (Upper and lowercase), the typographic journal published by International Typeface Corporation (ITC) from 1970 to 1999. This award-winning publication was 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. The rotating circle of designers had complete freedom to explore typographic solutions without restrictions. U&lc became noted for its powerful—sometimes brash—and always stirring, typographic design. The graphic design community eagerly anticipated each quarterly issue, which was avidly read and circulated by type enthusiasts, and sought after by collectors the world over.

Although U&lc ceased print publication in the fall of 1999, it left a powerful and enduring mark in the world of type and design. In looking back at some of these issues, one can’t help but notice how well they still stand up, some almost two decades later. This article marks the first in a series that will revisit and explore some of the innovative and inspiring typographic designs presented in the pages of U&lc over its tenure.

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A table of contents (TOC) is usually thought of as ‘just’ a listing of the contents and pagination within a publication. It is often cleanly and simply designed, serving as more of a functional entryway into the rest of the content. U&lc offered an opportunity for designers to reconceive this gateway in a manner that enticed the reader into the rest of the publication with typographic variety, creativity, and flair.

Here are some of the most imaginative, expressive, and sometimes experimental examples of this all-important listing: 

1. Variations on a dynamic theme as seen in these four U&lc TOCs designed by Pentagram. The use of scale and color combined with a balanced architecture of type create an eye-popping directory, all of which sit above a foundation of solid text with minimal use of graphics. U&lc, Vol. 20, No. 3, 1993, Vol. 20, No. 4, 1993, Vol. 21, No. 1, 1994, Vol. 21, No. 3, 1994.

2. A very playful approach reminiscent of a jukebox/billboard marquis was taken in these TOCs, designed by Rhonda Rubenstein. Vibrant color and strong contrast catch the eye in an engaging way. U&lc, Vol. 21, No. 4, 1994, Vol. 22, No. 3, 1995.

3. A gutsy, somewhat experimental approach to the type (for a typographic journal, nonetheless) was taken in both the cover and TOC of this issue, designed by Michael Ian Kaye. Although partially cut off, the type is still readable. U&lc, Vol. 23, No. 2, 1996.

4. Containing type that is set on its side in a manner that imitates a chart or a graph, this TOC becomes the foundation of the page, making the reader work a bit harder to locate and read it. It does mirror the approach taken on the cover with the logo also placed on the bottom of the page, preparing the reader for the unexpected. U&lc, Vol. 23, No. 3, 1996 designed by Michael Ian Kaye /Carin Goldberg.

5. The visually-engaging images invite the reader to look below to the TOC text. This befitting treatment captures the flavor of the content, designed by Mark van Bronkhorst. U&lc, Vol. 24, No. 4.

6. An uncomplicated yet typographically-sophisticated TOC treatment complements the cover of this issue, designed by Mark van Bronkhorst. The selective use of color, scale, and abundant ‘white’ space that surrounds an asymmetrical grid contribute to this minimal yet elegant approach. U&lc, Vol. 25, No. 3, 1998.

7. The final print issue of U&lc contains a purely typographic TOC approach consisting of no less than eight typefaces, which create a virtual ‘ladder’ of type. They are all successfully integrated to showcase a dynamic range of type styles, which are then offset by the content descriptions, as designed by Deanna Lowe. A spot of red helps the reader navigate the elements. U&lc, Vol. 26, No. 2, 1999.

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

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