The Definitive Dwiggins no. 7—Dwiggins vs. Rand

Kenneth FitzGerald recently posted a blog about the new edition of Thoughts on Design by Paul Rand (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2014) which is not only illuminating about the subtle and undisclosed changes from the original 1947 edition, but is also of interest for its comparison of Rand to W.A. Dwiggins. In sections 8 and 9 of his post, he pairs Thoughts on Design with the second edition (1948) of Layout in Advertising, finding the latter to be “an authentic how-to guide that is detailed, specific, clear, and clear-headed.”

FitzGerald’s discussion of Dwiggins’ text is excellent, not only in its comparison to Rand’s text but also in relation to the issues that have occupied graphic designers for the past twenty years. He approvingly quotes Dwiggins: “…The writer has not assumed to give directions. He has aimed, rather, to help the practitioner compile his own book of directions. The help that the text may be expected to provide, then, will be along the lines of evocation—or education in the root meaning of the word—drawing out of the receptacle what was already there. If it succeeds in enlightening the student of graphic advertising as to methods of attack and analysis it will have done one good thing. If it then inspires him to build up his own structure of judgments and standards, based upon the exercise of his own faculty of criticism, it will have accomplished its aim.” In FitzGerald’s view, “This promotion of diverse approaches, balanced with an unwavering commitment to craft and a critical component in making is thoroughly contemporary and far-sighted. Layout in Advertising’s instructions on organization, ideation, layout, and typography are as applicable today as they were in 1928.” Whereas Rand dictates what good design is, Dwiggins is open-minded. FitzGerald also compares the approaches of both men to typography and the design of logos; and their sense of humor. In every instance, he sides with Dwiggins.

A Technique for Dealing with Artists by W.A. Dwiggins (New York: The Press of the Woolly Whale, 1941)

A Technique for Dealing with Artists by W.A. Dwiggins (New York: Press of the Woolly Whale, 1941)

In his discussion of Dwiggins’ humor FitzGerald cites his pamphlet A Technique for Dealing with Artists (New York: Press of the Woolly Whale, 1941)*. There is a back story to this engaging treatise about the relationship between artist (designer) and client.

Dwiggins wrote A Technique for Dealing with Artists soon after he finished the original edition of Layout in Advertising in 1928. It was announced for publication by Rimington & Hooper in the fall of 1931 before Dwiggins decided, due to the changes in the economy caused by the Stock Market Crash of 1929, to pull it back. In a letter to Chauncey Griffith of Mergenthaler Linotype, he  described the text as “It is a hand-book for businessmen, written from the businessman’s point of view. It is intended to help businessmen to get along with artists—to give them pointers as to methods for getting artists to do what they want. It is a sequence of crisp and workmanlike rules… The rules are the product of my long experience as a kind of combined artist and practical-man.” [23 November 1932] He wanted to use the text to promote his typeface Electra, then in progress. It was a daring idea that never happened. In the end, Dwiggins used the emblems he designed to accompany quatrains by William Rose Benét in The Saturday Review of Literature, 1927–1928, to promote the typeface—an equally unusual move.

During the 1930s Dwiggins used A Technique for Dealing with Artists exactly as it was intended to be used: he gave out copies—presumably typescripts—to clients he felt needed to be educated. One instance involved Frank Altschul, Wall Street banker and proprietor of The Overlook Press, who had commissioned Dwiggins to illustrate and design One More Spring by Robert Nathan. In response to a request by Altschul, via his printer Margaret Evans, he wrote, “I can see that my end will not move as fast as you hope, partly because I have to make a number of ttys [sic] at a design to get one that will march, but mostly because I can’t [sic] let them down by turning a spigot—sometimes they refuse to ‘gell’ [sic] and you have to lay off until the mixture clears. Your comment ‘fast as possible, so Mr. A [Altschul] can approve them before he goes’ sends a shivver [sic] of apprehension down my spine!” [7 October 1934]

Along with the letter Dwiggins sent text from A Technique for Dealing with Artists. He explained to Evans, “The bit will explain why I want to know just how far Mr. A contemplates going into approving—or the contrary! I think you will see that the screed does not mean to be ‘tempermental’ [sic]. It is just one of the facts I have found out about my way of working. The only good stuff I am able to dig out of myself emerges according to this formula—so I have stopped trying to fit myself to any other. Please have Mr. A agree to my forgetting Mr. A entirely in evolving the ornaments. If that spoils the job for him… have him let me out. In a spirit the most amiable you can imagine, I’d much rather turn over to you, gratis, the scheme so far worked out and have you go on from there by another hand, than try to make the stuff click on the basis that each item will have to pass the proprietor’s approval in detail!”

In early 1940 Dwiggins revived the idea of publishing A Technique for Dealing with Artists. Apparently, dealing with clients had continued to be frustrating. He wrote to Melbert Cary, Jr., owner of Continental Type Founders and proprietor of The Press of the Woolly Whale,

The enclosed TECHNIQUE is a text that I have needed very often, in small pamphlet form, to send to clients who do not understand how to get the best out of me. Explaining to them, viva voce, is such a tedious process, and usually ineffective because I put the case too mildly.

Yesterday I was called in to help one of the Boston papers revise its front page. There I am called on to work with a group of men who havent [sic] any notion whatever about design. I cant [sic] conduct a school of design with them. But if I could have left a copy of the pamphlet with each of them—a pamphlet racy enough in text, and attractive withal—I could meet them the next time on a different footing, I think.

Dwiggins had decided to take the manuscript down “from the closet shelf” to send to Cary for his feedback. [16 January 1940]. Cary liked the pamphlet and nearly a full year later he and Dwiggins agreed to publish it. The title page lettering was completed in February and A Technique for Dealing with Artists was published soon after, with the first advertisement for it appearing in the May-June 1941 issue of Print magazine. Dwiggins’ intent for Technique was not only to have copies for himself to use, but for other artists (designers) to buy them in bulk, at a special reduced price, “for argumentation in their own struggles with dumb clients.” [Dwiggins to Cary, 30 January 1941]

*The amusing press mark for The Press of the Woolly Whale was designed by Dwiggins for use in The Treasure in the Forest by H.G. Wells (1936), one of his most outstanding illustrated books.