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Type Directors Club Turns 65
by Angelynn Grant

Having weathered the turbulence of a changing industry and reaching a milestone anniversary, the Type Directors Club today is as collegial as it is venerable. Although the club’s name is derived from a now obsolete job, its purpose as an organization for those with a discerning eye for typography is as apt today as it was 65 years ago.

It was the mid-1940s and a group of “mad” men from agencies like J. Walter Thompson and McCann-Erickson began sharing typographic war stories over lunch. In those days, a “type director,” whether he called himself that or not (and it was, by and large, a man at that time), was the person in the agency who marked up (specified or “spec’d”) the copy and sent it out to a typesetting company—a type house. This select group, who met over lunch, wanted to elevate their profession and the quality of typography. Founding member Milton Zudek described the club’s goals at their first exhibit opening in 1947: “We simply want to make more and more advertising people aware of the importance of the agency typographer. We want them to realize that the selection of type for an advertisement demands a sixth sense that goes beyond the basic knowledge of typefaces—that it demands, in effect, the same kind of artistic sense that people have learned to associate with Art Directors, but are still learning to associate with Type Directors.” Speaking that same night, Paul Lang, a member of the Art Directors Club remarked, “When I began, artists were called layout men, renderers or finishers. When we insisted upon being called art directors, the advertising execs would say, ‘Call yourselves anything you like, but give us what we want.’ By the same token, if type directors keep calling themselves just that, they will, in time, be recognized for what they actually do contribute.”

Last year a Best in Show award—designed by Graham Clifford—was introduced. At the end of the judging, the judges were asked to pick one piece of work that they felt best represented the year.

Membership was by invitation only—one had to be sponsored and submit a portfolio—and it stayed that way for almost 40 years. Allan Haley, longtime member and past TDC president and board director, notes, “Being a member gave one the ‘Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval’ of being good at typography. It said something about you.” Members found themselves in rarified company. At the end of the 1950s, the TDC held Typography USA, an all-day seminar at New York’s Biltmore Hotel. The who’s who on the podium makes a type lover’s skin tingle: Saul Bass, Herbert Bayer, Lester Beall, William Golden, Matthew Leibowitz, Leo Lionni, Herb Lubalin, Paul Rand, Ladislav Sutnar among other luminaries.

Lectures, salons and classes have been a cornerstone of the TDC throughout the 65 years. The first lecture series, begun in 1947 and called “Ten Talks,” included topics like “Basic Letter Forms and Their Effect on Type Design,” “How to Identify Type Faces,” “How to Make A Practical Typographic Layout” and “The Modern Approach to Typography.” Although the luncheons stopped decades ago, talks and classes expanded. This past year featured talks by authors Brian Miller (Above the Fold, Understanding the Principles of Successful Web Site Design) and Simon Garfield (Just My Type) and classes such as Erik Spiekermann discussing “What makes a good typeface?” and Paul Shaw leading a “Type Walk” in Brooklyn. Although the TDC didn’t have its own space for many years, current members enjoy the use of the club's present day loft-like space in the heart of New York’s fashion district with full access to a library/archive maintained by Carol Wahler, executive director and member for the past 24 years.

Last year’s annual Typography 32 was designed by Matteo Bologna, Mucca Design, who also happens to be the secretary/treasurer of the Type Directors Club. The chair was board member Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich and international judges included Art Chantry, Arem Duplessis, Fons Hickman, Mario Hugo, Jason Kernevich, Angela Voulangas and Bruce Willen.

From the start, being chosen for a TDC exhibition and included in the TDC annual was very prestigious, a high compliment given the esteemed jurors. For example, the 1952 jury included Charles Coiner and Bradbury Thompson. Today, it holds three competitions: the annual TDC competition for typography, TDC2 for type design and TDC Intro for motion graphics. The annual publication of winners, from the early brochures to the book format of the past three decades, is a snapshot of trends in type and a collector’s item for many. The most recent annual, Typography 32, includes a facsimile of an earlier one: 1962’s Type High, a 48-page brochure designed by Paul Rand. For 2011, a Best in Show prize was introduced and awarded to Niklaus Troxler. He received a trophy designed by vice president Graham Clifford in the shape of a large-scale metal type piece, a lowercase Franklin Gothic “t,” milled from a solid piece of aluminum.

Last year’s Best in Show award was given to Niklaus Troxler for his piece titled Ullman-Kühne at the TDC opening at the Cooper Union Gallery in New York City in early July 2011. Troxler has been a frequent winner at the TDC having had his work appear in the annual 31 times in the past 24 years.

The TDC Medal is even that much more distinguished. Begun in 1967 when the work of Hermann Zapf was honored, this distinction is given “to individuals and institutions that have made significant advances for, contributions to and achievements in the art and craft of type and typography.” The list of honorees includes Bradbury Thompson, Paul Rand, Herb Lubalin, Ed Rondthaler, Georg Trump, Adrian Frutiger, Ed Benguiat, Paula Scher, Matthew Carter and, this past year's recipient, Mike Parker. Grant
Angelynn Grant is a Boston-based graphic designer, writer and educator. She has taught at Rhode Island School of Design, the Art Institute of Boston, Simmons College and MIT. You can e-mail her at In addition, Grant is the host of a jazz program on MIT radio, WMBR.