Joe Clark: Accessibility | Design | Writing

Interview with Roger Black (1993.11.01)

How’d you get started?

[The statement] “Nobody reads anything anymore” is to stir people up.

Was an editor, 1960s, of University of Chicago Maroon. National insert in student papers called Amerika was planned (one issue came out). In the course of it, I was trying to look for an art director, and I could find plenty of self-proclaimed writers and editors and photographers and ad salespeople and all that for the magazine, but we couldn’t find any magazine art directors who were from our generation. Schools really weren’t training them at that point. I ended up getting Sam Antiput, who had been the A.D. of Esquire. Dummy of Amerika ran in Print.

I didn’t think of myself as a designer at that point. I was interested, but I thought of myself as an editor. In 1971, I decided to be an A.D. A new wave of vertical magazines, regional magazines and so forth. It was fairly easy just to walk on and say you’re an art director. And at the same time, I think that a really good magazine editor should be able to be an art director. If you’re not visual, you really shouldn’t be in the business.

Did Rolling Stone in ’70s. Made a name for himself there. Started reviving fonts for film then. It was my thought then that the magazine should have different type so that other people couldn’t immediately copy it.

Misses letterpress, because when the type pushes into the paper it’s easier to read. It’s 3D, so it’s easier to read.

So you have a preference for rich typography?

Sure, I think that part of the job of an A.D. is to get people’s attention, and if the typeface is intrinsically interesting, than that’s great. Most of the typefaces that I work with tend to be revivals as opposed to new faces, and the theory there is that a typeface that has lasted for 20 or 30 years and still looks good, there’s a reason for that – that if it can still work despite the change in taste, maybe it can continue to work for a few more years. And many publications now are kind of ratcheted into late 1993, and next year they’re not going to look so hot. "I think on a basic aesthetic level it’s probably a step up from typewriters and mimeographs and machines of that sort, which we had to struggle through for years. One of the best things that happened in office typography is the improvement of photocopiers. And I think getting HP LaserJets in there with their bastardized Times and Helvetica has been a general improvement.

I think the bad news is that with so much stuff happening in the middle and lower areas of design, it is sort of cheapening the currency. Were being overtaken by a tidal wave of very boring stuff, and it gets into you. If you looked at television in the 50s, there was very quirky, neat stuff, but it’s all been homogenized long since, and it’s hard for a TV director or producer to rise above it and do something that’s new. And I think that ubiquity of bad or nondesigned stuff hurts designers. It’s like if a musician hears elevator music all the time: It’s not going to help him.

What do you think of David Carson?

I’ve always been essentially oldschool. My theory has always been that if you take advantage of the people who came before you, then you don’t have to start at the beginning and go through their same mistakes and maybe do worse. What they’re doing is a kind of boiled-down, dried-out rerun of what was very revolutionary in the 1920s or teens – Russian constructivism and what the Bauhaus was doing had an enormous amount of energy and was playing off something that deserved that reputation. Weird foundry type and wood type and mixed them together in an industrialized way that was really fun. It’s like when you look at the Russian revolution on television (the American version of it) – it’s so bowdlerized, it’s all gone. Nowadays in any kind of intelligent context, the most radical thing you can do is take a good look at books of the 16th century, and most of these people are trying to discard all of that without having known it. The cubists knew their art, and so their stuff was incredibly well-informed and survives. I doubt that most of this stuff will survive.

What about language differences in different countries? Do some fonts work better in some languages?]

Oh, clearly, and it’s all cultural. For example, a font may have a very bad association in one country – for example, the fascists may have been fond of it. So you’ve got to watch out. lot of the accents have been done pretty badly, that’s for sure.

Homepage: Joe Clark Homepage: Joe Clark Media access (captioning, Web accessibility, etc.) Graphic and industrial design Journalism, articles, book