Book Review

U&lc: Influencing design and typography

Reviewed by Norbert Florendo on July 29, 2005

There are some things you just don’t throw away; World Series ticket stubs, Buddy Holly 45s, and old issues of U&lc magazine. Not only do these items mark moments of American culture, but they also embody unique collective experiences of time and place.

Right from its start in 1973, U&lc rocked the socks off graphic designers and type lovers across America and the world. Unlike many other design publications, it could not be bought at newsstands yet it cost nothing to subscribe to this quarterly magazine. I have not found any estimates of circulation during the earlier years, but at its peak approximately 200,000 copies were distributed worldwide.

The estimated pass along rate for U&lc was five to one, provided, of course, you could even pry a copy away from its owner. That’s what made each issue so special, not everyone had or could get a copy, making the subscriber “special” as well.

U&lc: influencing design and typography is a recently published book that chronicles the acclaimed magazine from its birth in 1973 through the last issue printed in 1999. John D. Berry, U&lc editor for the last two years of printed issues and creator of its companion web publication, U&lc Online, takes us back to the inception and raison d’être for the magazine.

From the beginning, ITC (International Typeface Corporation) founders Herb Lubalin, Aaron Burns and Ed Rondthaler, needed to promote ITC typefaces, and this new vehicle was to “soft market” the faces with a mix of flamboyant designs and intriguing content. It would have been a lofty goal anywhere else in the world. But this was New York City, the very center of advertising graphics and typography, and all of the ITC owners were very well known in this close-knit world of design giants.

With Herb as designer and editor, plus additional content by friends like Lou Dorfsman, Ernie Smith, Seymour Chwast, to name a few, the first issue was launched in basic black ink printed on tabloid sized newsprint. All of these alchemic ingredients blended with astounding results. As U&lc began arriving in mailboxes every three months, inspired readers grew into savvy in-the-know designers and more importantly, specifiers of ITC typefaces.

So began, the nearly one-hundred quarterly issues that changed typography and the business of selling type forever. The book itself displays all the U&lc covers in mini-gallery fashion on front and back foldout endpapers, and nearly 150 pages contain page spreads from selected issues of the magazine.

For those who have never seen an actual copy of U&lc, the page reproductions are quite good and even retain the yellow brown patina of aged newsprint, except shrunk down from the original tabloid size to fit the book’s 9 1/4 × 12 7/8 inch dull coated offset sheets.

The only shortfall that I feel about this book is that definitive spreads from each volume should have been distributed more evenly. The first ten years of U&lc only occupies thirty-four pages, and for some unknown reason Vol. 20, Nos. 1–4 span across eighteen pages of the book.

Which brings up what many faithful readers consider the most shocking of all U&lc issues — Vol. 25, No. 1, the infamous break from tradition. Berry describes in wonderful detail the events leading up to the 25th-anniverary issue. Just before he arrived as the new editor, the decision had been made to reduce the issues down from the large tabloid format to a more conventional 8 × 11 inch page size … the pre-shock to the earthquake.

He then goes on to explain how he and Mark van Bronkhorst, designer, had “hatched a subversive idea: to radically change the logo of U&lc.” In his article, Berry admits that nothing during his tenure as editor “created as much of a stir as changing the logo.”

In addition to Berry’s article on The business of type, there are stories by Joyce Rutter Kaye, Rhonda Rubinstein and Steven Heller, three veterans of U&lc, each bringing behind-the-scene views and insights into what made the magazine remarkable.

Towards the back of the book are two lists; one cataloging the contents of each issue, and the other listing editors and designers of each issue. Outside of a mysterious omission of Vol. 3, No. 1 on both lists (the issue did exist), I did discover something that was a disappointment to me.

I have for ages felt especially proud be an owner of U&lc Vol. One, No. One, intact with my personal mailing address and dated 1974. Whoops! Wait a minute … the reproduction from the book reads, “Volume One, Number One, 1973.” Both my copy and the book’s repro of Vo. 1, No. 2 are dated 1974, which means at some point between the FIRST printing of the FIRST issue of U&lc in 1973 and the printing of issue No. 2, there had to be another print run of issue No. 1, more than likely for an additional mailing.

What a bummer! I guess I just have to be happy that I still own a tall stack of yellowing issues representing the first ten years of the phenomenon known as U&lc. If you don’t happen to own any back issues, the U&lc: influencing design and typography book from Mark Batty Publisher is as close as it gets. Just be aware that your graphic designer friends will want to borrow the book, it’s all part of the U&lc pass-along readership legacy.


  1. Nick Shinn says:

    The big format was important.
    I worked in an ad agency at the time, and we’d do posters and big newspaper and tabloid magazine ads, POP material, etc., so it was cool to see really big new type nicely nuanced.

    Every week, also, I’d get visits from type reps from the type houses, with other promotional material from ITC on the fonts. Berthold, Alphatype too.

  2. Norbert Florendo says:

    Nick, those samples are worth their weight in gold. It brings a tear to my eye recalling what I had to finally throw away (ultimatum from spouse) each time we moved.

    One of the largest and heaviest specimen binders I tossed was from WTC, the World Typeface Corporation.

  3. John Morton says:

    I have aroumd 40 back issues of U&lc Magazine dating from
    1980-1990, which I’ve been reluctant to throw out. Are they collectable and/or worth anything to anyone?

    John Morton

  4. Norbert Florendo says:

    Hello John,

    Original issues of U&lc are definitely collectibles. Even the author of the book I reviewed, John Berry, said his own collection was far from complete.

    I would say you have three options. One of the more frequented forums visited by type lovers is
    You could register (free) and then post a new topic inquiring about the current value or interest in back issues. I am sure you will get response quickly as well as advice.

    Another option is to post the issues on EBAY and auction them off to the highest bidder.

    Personally, I would find a college or university which has programs in typography that would be interested in your collection. That way even more generations of designers could have first hand experience viewing U&lc.

  5. Christopher Frazier says:

    Norbert – I feel your pain, having had to throw out a crate-full of my old U&lc and Emigre magazines after numerous moves. They just didn’t handle the moves very well and seemed to get damaged easier than other publications.

  6. Allan Arima says:

    I worked at a large advertising typographic firm and U&lc was THE magazine I looked forword to the most. I still have a few original copies and time to time, I read and enjoy them just as if they were new.

  7. Jane says:

    I was an art student in London the 1980s and students could take out a free subscription! I am sure I have kept them along with my copies of NME…

  8. I truly wish that someone would do that kind of magazine again. I have some copies in my bookshelf, but now, with more new designs, coming along, this sort of publication would be brilliant.

  9. I started my subscription to U&lc back in the ’70s, while as a graphic design undergrad student at San Jose State University in California.

    There, under the tutelage of the late Bill Hyde (calligrapher who developed the Anchor Steam Beer trademark), and Paul Sinn (a fantastically fanatical typographer who used to draw his own fonts by hand), I developed a keen love for good typography…still using what I was taught some 32 years later.

    I’ve kept all my issues of U&lc.

  10. Darla Moore says:

    I was one of those lucky people who wound up with a collection of U&lc when I taught art in a Chicago suburb. I was glad to pass some great ezamples of typography to my students and have such a wonderful resource with which to do so.

    Is there anything like it for those of us no longer in the know of what’s going on in the industry?

    I even left my collection which I now miss.

  11. Robbie Reddy says:

    For some reason my dad, an engineer, started getting U&lc at work. In 1973 I was 13. My dad brought them home for me and it started a life long love of design. I kept them under my bed for years and they went through countless moves with me. I did hang onto them well into my 20’s. I still think of the publications with fondness and nostalgia!

  12. Ed Marsh says:

    I had a number of issues from the 80s and 90s and in a fit of “organizing” they were thrown away. Fantastic magazine, but printed on lousy paper as they went yellow and brittle quicker than a newspaper. But still–

    What was I thinking? Throw them away? Sacrilege. I now have to live with that shame.

    Not a day goes by…

  13. Sarang Kulkarni says:

    Hi John Morton,

    I would like to have the old U&lc copies. is there any way i can get those to study. that will help a lot. :)

  14. Larry Smith says:

    I have a collection of approx (70) issues from 1975-1998. General condition is excellent with slight yellowing (newsprint). Would like to sell. I’m in process of researching their value.

    Also have a 1st Anniversary issue 1969 of AvantGarde with slight damage to lower edge. Also not sure of value for collectors yet.

    [email protected] if anyone interested….. thanks

  15. Jay Rutherford says:

    I worked at a typesetting house in Ottawa, Canada in the early 70s and was the one who got to keep the U&lc issues (I seem to be the only one who was interested). After I left that place I tried to keep up my subscription – not always successful, but I managed to collect most of them. There are a few holes in my collection, but I have a number of doubles, even triples, due to unintentional multiple subscriptions, and would be willing to trade, if possible. Here are the ones I’m missing:

    1979, Vol. 6 Nos. 1 & 3
    1989, Vol. 16 Nos. 3 & 4
    1991, Vol. 18 Nos. 1, 3 & 4
    1992, Vol. 19 No. 2
    1994, Vol. 21 No. 4

    Anyone have any of these to trade or sell?

  16. Ed Rhodes says:

    I used to work for Gould-OSD, later Westinghouse-FSO, later, bankrupt! They had stacks, and I remember many a time between actual work, going through those magazines.

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