When Typographers Were Kings
As I sit at a table peering out the large windows that make up the front lunchroom at Hunan's, I cannot help but notice the excessive number of "For Lease" signs attached to the exterior of what appears to be every building lining San Francisco's historic Sansome Street. The dot.coms that once dominated this old and rustic neighborhood have long vanished. Even the once mighty advertising agencies that took up complete floors of office space have been reduced dramatically in size.
This neighborhood, like most major metropolitan cites, has seen its share of change. Long before our world was infected with political correctness (when drinking a cup of hot coffee meant you might burn you tongue, but you never thought about lawsuits, and when baseball players actually played for the love of the game, not the money) this neighborhood was the home to some of San Francisco's finest typography houses. Companies like Rapid, Mercury, Omnicomp, Mastertype, and Andresen called this neighborhood home. The typography houses that populated metropolitan cities were an indispensable resource to America's creative professionals.
Raiders of the Lost Art
Today's printed pieces do not have the aura of communication they once represented. It's not hard to see the differences and the gradual lowering of typographical standards that stem from the demise of the typography industry. Many of today's printed pieces suffer from some typographical deterioration.
Advertising agencies and design firms once considered typography an important part of the communication process. Today, most no longer share the passion for the artful letter and word spacing that once was such an important element in the creative process. From the 1950's to the late 1980's typography mattered and had purpose. Whether you were part of this process during the days of hot metal or phototypesetting it did not matter. Typography was an art and typographers were kings.
All across America there were typography houses run by dedicated craftsman who gave their life's blood on the floor of their shops. All this just to make sure some illegible hand scroll an Art Director had drawn up on a cocktail napkin over a four Martini lunch, was transcribed perfectly into the work of art it was intended to be. These Creative Directors and Art Directors were great, and many carried huge egos the size of Boeing 747's, but most had the talent to match the ego. An idea born inside the mind of these creative geniuses would never make its way to a printing press until the final round of typography had been approved by everyone involved in the process.
In the Shadow of the King
If typographers were kings, then the king of kings was Drew Andresen of Andresen Typographics. Mr. Andresen thought outside the box long before the term was coined. In doing so, Mr. Andresen brought his company and an entire industry to national prominence. Mr. Andresen's combination of savvy business and marketing skills, long left out of the typography industry, carried the industry to new levels that others emulated.
Mr. Andresen created the largest typography organization in the country with five locations in California and two in Arizona. At the height of the industry, Andresen was responsible for the typography on most every record album Warner Brothers and Motown Records produced. Most of the major entertainment companies, advertising agencies, and design firms in California and Arizona worked with Andresen Typographics.
During the 1980's, television network ABC launched a show called "Bosom Buddies" starring an actor with no reputation at the time, Tom Hanks. The art director for the show called Mr. Andresen to ask if he could use Andresen's famous typography catalogues for the set to replicate the environment of an advertising agency. When Honda Motor Company hired Ketchum Advertising to introduce the very first Acura campaign, Ketchum's creative team spent several months working with Mr. Andresen pouring through his company's library of over 10,000 typefaces looking for the right one. Finally it was decided that all the work would be produced on a Berthold typesetting system, and a series of specially designed fonts were created just for the Acura campaign giving Honda a very distinct look.
For most art directors and designers today, terms like "track two, minus leading, 10/10" mean absolutely nothing. Nor would they be able to identify the names of typography legends Vern Simpson or Les Usherwood.
When Mr. Warnock and company founded Adobe, it forever changed the graphics and publishing industry. One of the indirect consequences of PostScript was the death of the typography industry. It is unfortunate that the art of typography did not take root in the PostScript world. While many of the legends from the typography industry have passed on, some like Mr. Andresen continued on in the prepress and printing industry. Their place in history is important and their story should be told.
Jeremy Smith is CEO of Smith Consulting, a consulting company in the San Francisco Bay Area that specializes in sales, business development, and executive management for the printing, graphic arts, and imaging industries. Before starting Smith Consulting, he was Vice President of Business Development for Webprint, a technology solutions provider of customer-branded e-commerce solutions for the on-demand printing industry. Mr. Smith has worked with leading companies such as Adobe, Agfa, and Kodak. He has spoken at Seybold, VuePoint, and PINC, been a guest on MSNBC, ZNET, and America Online, and appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Micropublishing News, and MacWorld Magazine. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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