What’s Online no. 1: Display

For years website designers Greg D’Onofrio and Patricia Belen of Kind Company, best known for the design of the website Alvin Lustig 1915–1955: Modern Design Pioneer, have been assiduously collecting examples of modern design from old books and periodicals to corporate brochures and other ephemera. Instead of hoarding their wealth of material, they have decided to generously share it with the rest of the world through Display, their new website.

Greg and Patricia are doing this not by slapping items up willy-nilly on Flickr but by creating Display, a website that seeks to maintain high editorial and curatorial standards. Thus, the items they post are fully sourced with information (where known or relevant) on title, client, designer, year, dimensions, page count, language and production method. Descriptions, most short but some the length of mini-essays, accompany each item. Their writing, echoing the spare aesthetic they appreciate in modernist design, is simple, intelligent and accessible. The mini-essays are accompanied by bibliographies that go beyond the usual second-hand sources.

The vast majority of the material on Display is largely unfamiliar, indicating how wide-ranging modernism was in the nearly forty years between the end of World War II and the birth of desktop publishing. Much of it is either the work of lesser-known designers or the lesser-known work of well-known designers. Among the former are Robert Büchler, Yves Zimmermann, and Fridolin Müller in Switzerland; Aldo Calabrese, Giulio Confalonieri and Lora Lamm in Italy; and Tomás Gonda, Manfred Winter and Hans G. Conrad in Germany. Among the latter are designs for the Carlyle Johnson Machine Company by Ladislav Sutnar, for Kaopectate by Lester Beall, and for General Electric by Herbert Bayer.

Two of the recent posts, the first devoted to the TM (Typographische Monatsblätter) covers of Yves Zimmermann and the second to advertising work from Pirelli, exemplify the strengths of Display. Zimmermann (b.1937), a protege of Emil Ruder, is absent from the sections on Swiss design in Meggs and the other graphic design surveys, yet his 1960 TM covers (seven designed, but only two published) are refreshing in their poetic spareness. The Pirelli advertisements—from a range of designers, including Bob Noorda and Alan Fletcher—represent a broader notion of modernism, one that is more playful and visually alluring. Once again, none of this work appears in the histories of graphic design.

This is what makes Display and similar sites such as Grain Edit the future of graphic design history* rather than the competing tomes of Philip Meggs and Alston Purvis, Johanna Drucker and Emily McVarish, Roxane Jubert, Stephen Eskilson, and Patrick Cramsie. This is how those who have been overlooked will finally get their due. But it will only happen if others with similar passions and—equally important—a devotion to detail, share their graphic design collections online. Display covers only a small slice of the graphic design world. There is a lot more of it yet to be explored.

*Of course, the site is not all altruistic. There is a bookstore section where some of Greg and Patricia’s collection is for sale. Their prices are neither cheap nor stratospheric. But for those who cannot afford even those books priced as low as $100, the pictures in the collection section of Display are a welcome consolation.