dot-font: Logo Designer Jim Parkinson Sets Type First


Lettering artist Jim Parkinson, whose work you see all around you in famous logos on newspapers and magazines, has recently revamped his elegant little Web site.
It's a simple, effective way of showing off his work (which of course is the main point); presenting itself with the straightforwardness of sign painting and the retro sensibility of old American lettering and printing books. Sort of like Parkinson's work -- and Parkinson himself.

Jim Parkinson infuses modern designs with a retro sensibility.

Master of the Typographic Logo
Jim Parkinson specializes in designing typefaces and typographic logos; he's been practicing in Oakland, California, for the last 25 years, and currently calls his business Parkinson Type Design. His clients tend to be high profile. Not only can you see his hand in the logos of many of the most popular magazines in America, but he also designed the logo for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus (as well as for several models of Specialized Bicycles, including the original StumpJumper and RockHopper). Always, these identifying marks are primarily typographic.


Parkinson has designed or re-designed logos for "Newsweek," "Rolling Stone," "Sierra," "Parenting," "Esquire" (with Roger Black and Ann Pomeroy), the "National Post," the "Atlanta Journal," and the "San Francisco Examiner" –these and many more are displayed on his Web site. He makes interesting distinctions among his projects: some are original designs, some are reworkings of existing designs, some are "restoration" work. It depends, I suppose, on the degree of original design involved. He is often called in to update or modify an old logo, perhaps one that's been through several small degradations in the course of its history and now needs some sprucing up. Other times a publication wants a new look -- but still in the spirit of the old.

Although details are sparse on his site, Parkinson does give a brief description of what each logo design is -- and in the case of revisions or restorations, he often shows a "before" and an "after" shot, which is educational. It's fascinating, for instance, to catalog the changed details in the Chicago Tribune job, a "refinement of an existing nameplate." Subtle changes make a big difference.


Typefaces for Publication Designers
Parkinson's typefaces are generally meant for display, and they are always extremely useful additions to the typographic palette of a publication designer. He has created display typefaces for "Rolling Stone," "Newsweek," the "New York Times Magazine," and the "San Francisco Chronicle," as well as commercial typefaces for Font Bureau, FontShop, Adobe, and ITC.


(I remember writing about one of his typefaces, ITC Roswell Two, in U&lc. He had done two earlier versions, ITC Roswell Three and Four, which were two widths of very, very tall, thin, condensed sans-serif typefaces in the 19th-century grotesque tradition. Roswell Two was an even more extremely condensed variation -- you couldn't imagine using it for letters less than an inch or two high -- which he called number Two because "I had some insane idea that I might want to make a lighter one." He added: "I have since come to my senses." So far, his senses on this topic have not deserted him.)

Showcard Gothic and Showcard Moderne (both available from Font Bureau) might be emblematic of Parkinson's type designs -- the one bulb-topped and showy, like a Betty Boop cartoon, the other a strong serif face that looks as if it had been handlettered in the '30s -- and showing, too, one of the sources of Parkinson's inspiration: the "showcard" lettering of the first third of the last century.


Parkinson was also one of the members of the design team that created ITC Bodoni, a very ambitious type family in three optical sizes (6 point, 12 point, and 72 point) that was based not on the various 20th-century Bodoni revivals but on Giambattista Bodoni's original designs, from the turn of the 19th century. (The other designers were Janice Prescott Fishman, Holly Goldsmith, and Sumner Stone; Stone art-directed the project.)

Precision Retro
His sensibility is definitely centered in the world of wood type and signage from a hundred years ago. I have seen Jim Parkinson bidding fiercely at an ATypI auction for a specimen book showing display lettering styles of the early 20th century -- not just for the love of the letterforms but, no doubt, for inspiration in future type design as well.

Parkinson's lettering is never sloppy or slapdash. His wildest display faces are usable in practical work, and his logo designs invariably convey the feeling intended and work in the media they were designed for.

And his work always seems to embody a sense of humor. He is clearly enamored of the old style of type specimens that made up plausible but unlikely headlines to show off each size of a typeface. The ones on some of the type-sample pages on his site are so carefully double-edged that I have to suspect that they may be real. ("TREES CAN BREAK WIND." "DEAD MAN FOUND IN CEMETERY.")

Next time a magazine or newspaper comes in the door, I'm going to be looking at its logo and display type very closely, trying to detect the fine hand of Jim Parkinson.

Read more by John D. Berry.

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