Typography: The Influence of Lou Dorfsman & the CBS Wall

Typography: The Influence of Lou Dorfsman & the CBS Wall

Oct 23, 2009

A few designers have always given us a great deal of inspiration: Alvar Aalto, David Hicks, Massimo Vignelli, Milton Glaser — but no one more so than Lou Dorfsman, the brilliant and legendary designer behind CBS' corporate identity for more than 40 years. Everything he had his hand in at CBS set the design bar to an always striven-for height, and probably his most fascinating design was the Gastrotypographicalassemblage — the massive wall of hand-milled type set in a 35 foot long by 8 foot high California job case for the CBS cafeteria.

Envisioned by Dorfsman and laid out by the great Herb Lubalin, the wall is an icon in the history of design and typography. Unceremoniously dismantled in the mid-90's, the wall was fortunately saved and is now being restored by The Center for Design Study, where you can see a great Dorfsman-narrated video of the wall.

Adapting Dorfsman's eye for two projects in our book, we concentrated of course on the Gastrotypographicalassemblage and the 3-D type, and to a lesser extent the way he directed Dansk's photoshoots in the 1970's.

The first project pictured is the Type Chess Set, which uses an altered California job case (we had to make it 8x8 squares instead of 7x7) as a chess board, and the chess pieces, therefore, are the unreversed type blocks of the first letter of the game pieces. Again we drew the type onto a board — this time a long 2x4 — and then again cut the letters out with a scroll saw. The problem of the repeated K of King and Knight was solved by making the knight lower case. The pawns are also lower case, and set at a lower plane. The tops of the letters we smeared with white and black paint, as printer's ink would stain the type blocks.

The second project pictured was Le French Dresser, which was at one time an abandoned drawer-handle-less dresser. We sanded it, painted it, and set about designing its new drawer pulls, which we drew onto 2 inch pine board in a Lubalin-style swash, in French, then cut out with a scroll saw. The drawer "les pulls" refers to the the French word for sweaters, and of course also to a drawer pull. The words were then painted white and affixed to the drawer faces.

Lou Dorfsman passed away a year ago yesterday, but his brilliant influence will always be with us.

John and Linda Meyers are otherwise known as Wary Meyers Decorative Arts, which focuses on interior design, object design, painting, illustration, and soft sculpture (coming soon). Their new book, Wary Meyers' Tossed & Found: Unconventional Design from Cast-offs is a DIY trip through their world of yard saling and resourceful repurposing. Out now from Stewart, Tabori, and Chang.

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