Post 14 – 80’s design- Rudy Vanderlans & Zuzana Licko- Kahra

Posted: June 12, 2012 by kahraokeefe in Uncategorized

Rudy Vanderlans, Zuzana Licko and Emigre magazine.


Rudy VanderLans (born 1955, Voorburg) is a Dutch type and graphic designer and the co-founder of Emigre, an independent type foundry.

VanderLans studied at the Royal Academy of Art in the Hague. Later, he moved to California and studied photography at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1984, VanderLans, with his wife Zuzana Licko, founded Emigre and began to publish Emigre magazine, a journal for experimental graphic design.

“I like the idiosyncratic, and I like design that is infused with indigenous characteristics. So now I’m more interested in people who stay in one place, who do something specific that relates directly to their immediate environment, so you can see where it comes from.” (Rudy Vanderlans)

in 1983, mistakenly thinking he was applying for a job at Chronicle Books, VanderLans found himself at the San Francisco Chronicle.He was hired by the editorial art director to do illustrations, cover designs, and graphs. His frustrations with the harsh demands of a daily newspaper motivated him to seek other creative outlets.

Emigre was originally intended as a cultural journal to showcase artists, photographers, poets, and architects. The first issue was put together in 1984 in an 11.5“ by 17” format by VanderLans and two other Dutch immigrants. Since there was no budget for typesetting, the text was primarily typewriter type that had been resized on a photocopier.Working with the newly invented Macintosh computer and a bitmap font tool, Licko began creating fonts for the magazine. Emporer, Oakland, and Emigré were designed as coarse bitmapped faces to accommodate low-resolution printer output. They were used in issued two, and, after several readers inquired about their availability, she began running ads for them in issue three.

Emigré became a full-fledged graphic design journal in 1988 with issues ten, produced by students at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. VanderLans concentrated on work that was being neglected by other design publications, either because it didn’t adhere to traditional canons or it was still in its formative stages. The issues, each built around a theme, have featured Ed Fella, Rick Valicenti, and David Carson from the United States, Vaughan Oliver, Nick Bell, and Designers Republic from Britain, several Dutch designers, and many others who were exploring new territory. Several controversial articles and interviews have appeared over the years, provoking other design publications to become more opinionated.

In 1989, the fonts had become enough of a commercial success that Licko and VanderLans gave up freelancing and concentrated exclusively on their own business. Emigré, which had been published erratically, settled into a quarterly schedule.

In designing Emigré, VanderLans rejected standardized formats in favor of organic grid structures that reflected his enthusiasm toward the contents. Computerized page composition gave him the flexibility to reinvent the look of the magazine with every issue. Sometimes several articles would run through the pages concurrently, each text differentiated by font, size, leading, and column width, creating an impression of eavesdropping on several simultaneous conversations. Nuanced type variations within sentences created the mood and rhythm of spoken words. Even the logo has gone through several permutations.

When their work began to receive public attention, it was attacked for promulgating visual incoherence and viewed as a threat to Modernist ideals and an affront to universal notions of beauty. Massimo Vignelli was their most vociferous critic. Throughout the early ’90s, he denounced the magazine and fonts as garbage, lacking depth, refinement, elegance or a sense of history.

The text and typography were hardly indecipherable to its intended audience. In fact, Emigré was quite inviting and involving for its readers, who had a high degree of visual sophistication. “People read best what they read most” has become a credo for Licko and VanderLans and has been adopted as a rallying cry by designers eager to challenge preconceptions of type design and magazine layout.

“”We strive to create work of substance, designing meaningful and responsible work that stands the test of time. Our approach is rooted in the tradition of simple and content-driven presentation, where form and function work in tandem to organise information and create value.””

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