Book List of the Week

Blame It on the Books I’ve Read: Rudy VanderLans’s Book List

By Steve Kroeter June 12, 2012

Rudy VanderLans

Graphic designer Rudy VanderLans: Emigre (Berkeley, California)

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“I love it when a new technology is used to celebrate an old one,” writes graphic designer Rudy VanderLans in the introduction to the book list he recently sent along to us.

In this case he was talking about the fact that the digitally delivered Designers & Books website is very much about celebrating the medium of print. But the idea could easily be extended to VanderLans’s work as co-founder, with his wife, Zuzana Licko, of Emigre (1984–2005)—one of the most influential and controversial graphic design magazines ever, known for its experimental use of digital typeface design and layouts. VanderLans and Licko also run the famed Berkeley, California-based Emigre type foundry.

Emigre No. 70: The Look Back Issue, 2009 (Gingko Press)

VanderLans’s design work and experiments with type have been deeply affected by the books he’s read. “I know that I’ve learned from them,” he goes on to say in his book list introduction. “What exactly I’ve learned from them is difficult to determine. But my work has improved over the years—at the very least it has grown more mature—and that didn’t happen all by itself. I blame that on the books I’ve read…”

Among the books he cites are Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour’s now classic Learning from Las Vegas (also on five other Designers & Books contributors’ lists—Michael Bierut, Andrés Duany, Ellen Lupton, R. Craig Miller, and Zoë Ryan). VanderLans comments on this book: “The idea of blending design into the environment by incorporating common, everyday forms, as opposed to applying a rigid, dogmatic language, was liberating for me.” Milton Glaser: Graphic Design was “the first design book I purchased shortly after I started design school. I was supposed to read Tschichold, Ruder, Hofmann, and all the other reductionists, which I did, eventually. But Glaser made graphic design look alive, vibrant, and human.” The appeal of introducing alternative approaches into traditional forms has also led VanderLans to books like Nine Swimming Pools by sign painter-turned-artist Ed Ruscha (“inspirational for expanding the notion of what a book can be”) and Michael Ondatjee’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, which “mixes memoir, verse, interview, poetry, newspaper account, dime store novel, even a sprinkling of images.”

Oakland (designed by Zuzana Licko, 1985), one of the five fonts featured in Departures: Five Milestone Font Families by Emigre, 2011 (Emigre)

VanderLans is the author (and designer) of a number of books that reflect his interests in photography and the landscape of California and the Western U.S., as well as other titles that cover the history and ideas of Emigre. These include Emigre No. 70: The Look Back Issue (the magazine ran for 69 issues), published by Gingko Press in 2009; and Departures: Five Milestone Font Families by Emigre (Emigre, 2011), which features the five Emigre font families (Keedy Sans by Jeffery Keedy; Mason Serif, by Jonathan Barnbrook; Template Gothic by Barry Deck; Oakland by Zuzana Licko; and Dead History by P. Scott Makela) acquired by The Museum of Modern Art, New York (MoMA) in 2011. The announcement from MoMA about its acquisition of the five font families noted that “each is a milestone in the history of typography.”


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