industrial design magazine

by Steven Heller - Design Literacy Second Edition (Allworth Press)

A design icon doesn't come along every day. To be so considered it must not only transcend its function and stand the test of time, but also must represent the time in which it was produced. The cover of Industrial Design, Vol. 1 No.1, February 1954, was not just the emblem of a new publishing venture, but a testament to one man's modernism; one of the last works created by Alvin Lustig (1915-1955), who suffered an untimely death from diabetes in 1955 at the age of forty.

Despite failing vision, Lustig was deeply involved in the design of the first two and nominally with the third issues of the magazine as art editor, art director, and art consultant, respectively. He saw his role as the framer of ideas that were visual in nature. Although he never had the chance to develop his basic design concepts further, he left behind a modern design icon -- the cover -- and a format that continued to define the magazine for years after.

Industrial Design, No.1, 1954

Industrial Design, No.2, 1954

Industrial Design, No.3, 1954

Industrial Design was the brainchild of publisher Charles Whitney, who also published the successful Interiors. In 1953 he was convinced by his friend and advisor George Nelson that the time was right to introduce a specialized periodical devoted to practitioners of this burgeoning field. Interiors was already featuring its own industrial design column that had evolved into a discrete section, which Whitney realized had commercial potential as a spinoff. Interiors was also so beautifully designed that Industrial Design could have no less the visual panache of a coffee table book/magazine, replete with foldouts and slipsheets, not unlike the legendary design magazine Portfolio, published between 1949 and 1951. To accomplish this an eminent art director was sought. This was the age of great magazine art directors -- including Alexey Brodovitch, Alexander Liberman, Otto Storch, Cipe Pineles, and Alan Hurlburt -- and Whitney fervently believed that a magazine's design would be the deciding factor in its success. Hence Lustig was entrusted with considerable authority to design the magazine as he saw fit.

On the editorial side, however, Whitney decided to take a calculated risk by promoting two young Interiors associate editors to co-editors of Industrial Design. Jane Fisk (now Jane Thompson of the architectural firm Thompson & Wood in Cambridge) and Deborah Allen may have been inexperienced in the field of industrial design but nevertheless had a clear plan to introduce a distinctly journalistic sensibility into professional publishing that emphasized criticism and analysis rather than the puff pieces common to the genre. As it turned out, this became a point of philosophical contention between the designer and editors.

If they had a choice the editors would have preferred an art director who, as Thompson explained, "would have been in the trenches with us," a team player with journalistic instincts rather than a distant presence with a formalist sensibility. Because Lustig designed the initial dummy and subsequent two issues in his own studio and returned with the completed layouts to the editorial offices he had made certain assumptions about the presentation of content that were often inconsistent with the editors' vision. "We did not want the words to be gray space, we wanted them to have meaning," recalled Thompson about wanting more spontaneous design responses to the material. But instead of being journalistically intuitive, Lustig imposed his formal preconceptions, and designed the magazine as he would a book.

Blocks of text type were indeed used as gray matter to frame an abundance of precisely silhouetted photographs. But if there was a problem it was more in the editors' minds than Lustig's design. While it was not as journalistically paced as say, a Life magazine, it was respectfully, indeed elegantly neutral allowing, for a wide range of material to be presented without interference. Moreover, it was what Whitney wanted, so the editors reconciled themselves to building the magazine's editorial reputation through informative features written by authors not previously associated with trade publishing.

Thompson nevertheless hated the first cover with its tight grid and silhouetted photographs. Instead she wanted to disrupt the design purity with a few well composed coverlines. She further favored a conceptual method of intersecting photography, resulting in an editorial idea, not a pure design. Lustig thought coverlines would sully the design and intersecting ideas would be too contrived. Years later, Thompson grudgingly admitted that maybe Lustig's judgment was wiser: "He wanted to make a strong simple statement, which he believed (perhaps erroneously since Industrial Design did not have to compete on the newsstand) had to stand up against the covers of the elegant fashion magazines." Lustig's design set the standard for future covers, and his successor, Martin Rosensweig, continued to produce covers for a few years afterward that more rigidly adhered to the same formal practices.

Despite these creative tensions, the early issues of Industrial Design reveal a shift in the nature of professional publishing from a trade to cultural orientation that was in no small way underscored by Lustig's classically modern design.

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