As a long-time associate professor at the Art Institute of Phoenix, Alison King is used to schooling groups on the history of Arizona design. So to hear King lecture on typography in a public space seemed like no sweat.
Acting as the first major event inside the confines of the newly-renovated Newton in uptown Phoenix, AIGA Arizona's "Branding Arizona" talk provided an excellent overview of the trends in typography across the first 100-plus years of Arizona design history. Moving seamlessly between in-the-know quizzing for design nerds and pretty pictures for the laymen, King catered well to the diverse crowd, made up of her Modern Phoenix fans, AIGA members, and other interested community folks.
To say there were a number of interesting facts is an understatement. For those who couldn't make the sold-out event, here are 10 things we learned from "Branding Arizona."
10. Arizona design isn't widely documented.
Upon beginning the lecture, one of King's first references was to the common design textbook, Meggs' History of Graphic Design. Its connection to Arizona? Spare at best. Consider the fact that throughout this industry-standard book, only one Arizona-based designer gets a mention. Guess who?
9. Frank Lloyd Wright and his Taliesin stable were known for more than just architecture.
In answering our last question, look to none other than Frank Lloyd Wright. Beyond being an architect, Wright and his Taliesin West-based graphic partner Eugene Masselink were renowned for their avant-garde design. With offset logos, alternative page orientation, and geometric designs, the pair brought Arizona some much-needed graphical attention.
8. Printing followed the railroad.
In Arizona's territorial days, the railroad went only so far. And with the weight and complication of most printing presses at the time, that meant the presses never made it far either. Until the beginning of the 20th century, printing was centralized at the territorial capitol, Prescott, meaning most typesetting and printing for the territory took place in a single city.
7. Trends in design were largely determined by who had the most access.
That print and design were so consolidated meant that options for looks and aesthetics were quite limited. Since newspapers like The Arizona Republican and Prescott Miner controlled the only printing presses during their respective eras, nearly all ad design and other printing had to go through them.
6. Newsmedia and advertising were just as tied in the past as they are today.
Following the paper rationing of the World War II era, papers began utilizing ads as much more than a revenue source. Occupying ad space with "advertorials" (advertisements designed to look like news content), newspapers and ad companies came to targeting even the news itself as a source for marketing in the postwar era. The Institute for Consumer Facts, in partnership with the Phoenix Advertising Club, served as the main "newsgatherer" for this type of information.
5. Typography = brand identification
To illustrate the centrality of typography to branding, King preceded her lecture with a group activity. For every letter of the alphabet, audience members were to identify, based on a single letter of font, the Arizona-based brand being represented. Turns out you can recognize more than you might think.
4. Brand consistency is a relatively new development.
Inconsistencies in typographical technology and availability meant inconsistencies in design. Only during the latter half of the 20th century could brands fully depend on iconic logos to sell their products. The dramatic "rebranding" campaigns of the present were simply regular occurrences in an era of few typographic choices.
3. Typography workers were leaders in organization.
Though Arizona is consistently (and rightfully) viewed as anti-labor, it turns out in one arena the state was a pioneer: typographical workers. Founded in 1901, the Phoenix Typograhical Union was the first labor union in the state.
2. Signage is central to Arizona's design identity.
Led by the iconic design of Glen Guyett (brought back to renown by Phoenix's Hip-storian Marshall Shore), Arizona's neon signs became the stuff of legend. Described by King through such trends as "type-on-a-stick," oversized, glaring signs became a trademark of the state's roadsides, forming visitors' conceptions of Arizona's identity and culture.
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1. Without "œthel," we wouldn't have Phoenix.
As many are aware, the word "phoenix" has Greek roots. And until the turn of the 20th century, those roots were plainly evident in local design through the Greek letter "œ" (a.k.a. the "œthel) utilized in the common printing of the word Phoenix. Only with the arrival of linotype and other new technologies were these "archaic" forms removed from the design lexicon, meaning that nearly till statehood, even in language Phoenix was rooted to its history.
Editor's note: This post has been modified from its original version for clarity.