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Ordinary Cover

October 29, 2014

Here is a behind-the-scenes look at the process of creating our Ordinary cover, from the initial sketch by Rick Valicenti, to the research and lettering tests by Nick Adam, the scouting and photo documentation by Ross Floyd and Bud Rodecker, and finally, the selected cover design.

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Below is Nick Adam describing his lettering work for the cover:

Lettering is often said to be a lesser-practiced form of communication or even argued to be a dying form. A quick view of the communication design landscape shows us anything but lettering’s absence. While it has become quite common, there are those that stand out through bringing together contemporary culture/tools/thought with an understanding of history and discipline. The lettering works of both Alex Trochut and Steven Powers, while very different from each other, do just this. Their works are based on reinterpreting histories through traditional craft while leaving behind a contemporary fingerprint. The task I received was straightforward: letter the word “ordinary” in a grocery style on a 18×24 inch paper. My approach was to define how to achieve a publicly acceptable visual ordinary that carries a slight touch of a point of view.

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Ordinary cover sketch. © Rick Valicenti.

My first thought was basic; it’s not a form’s style alone that makes it believably ordinary. There are other factors. The mediums and materials employed are the first-order considerations in this equation. While the task was to create in the style of, it was paramount to avoid looking like pastiche. Here honesty would be achieved through brush-in-hand execution of letterforms designed following trade-style lettering structure. The next factor would be the context it exists on and then within. DayGlo paper with black paint is the commonplace visual within windows of urban markets. Maintaining authenticity, STR Fluorescent Orange paper from Chicago’s Rayco Sign Supply would be the substrate positioned on storefront windows. With medium, material, content, and context we are achieving a visual vernacular of ordinary without declaring a letter style. Establishing this foundation of ordinary provides the space needed to move away from the various styles of the often used speed-stroke found on the majority of grocery signs.

Often when determining letter or type style for a project I turn to research to cite or riff on what history has set as precedent. Looking for a relative to contemporary speed-stroke, I took a shortcut to Chicago type design history by way of the Archive 12 catalogue designed by Plural. The concept of the book’s design was built from a collection of typefaces related to Chicago. Quickly I found what looked to be a relative but perhaps twice removed: Ray Baker’s Film-O-Type LaSalle, named after the downtown street for its finer goods and the lettering styles of storefront showcards. Diving deeper I found that, while Film-O-Type was based in New York, they often hired Chicago lettering artists to produce drawings for their typefaces.

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© Nick Adam.

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© Nick Adam.

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© Nick Adam.

Ray Baker’s history began at Chicago’s Lettering, Inc., one of the earliest photo-typesetting companies in existence. Their point of distinction in the industry was the ability to achieve dramatic effects through setting type on angles, curves, or bends, and then photographing it—producing flawlessly set headlines that looked like ordinary authentic lettering. Wanting to see the in-use examples that perhaps predated Film-O-Type variation, I searched the stacks of the Newberry Library for specimens from Lettering, Inc. Pulling samples of sales collateral, there it was. Never called LaSalle, at times credited as Script, but usually used in titling treatments for their own material. Through photo-typesetting technology came ease in reproduction, the sophisticated distinction once applied by a hand-lettered variation of LaSalle was now being used as the voice of a middle-grade supermarket for the piggies to go to.

Today, as the all the todays of yesterday, our tools are developed to be more accurate, faster, and increasingly connected to each other. Our world has never been sharing information as it does right now, each of us are a tutorial/skill-share/Google away from becoming half-informed or skilled on anything. Our skills and knowledge are completely up to us and our determination. With this, our work is getting richer. It now stands as evidence to intent, illustrating our understanding of the now and of what came before it. I choose for my work to be purpose based, informed by discipline, tradition, history, and impact. I chose LaSalle for its visual and conceptual alignment through a lifetime of fluctuating ordinary behaviors. The curves and bends on the fifty posters painted for this series celebrate the innovation of Chicago’s Lettering, Inc.

A modern cut of Filmotype LaSalle is available for use and purchase through

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Nick Adam creating the lettering for the Ordinary issue cover. © Thirst.

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Ross Floyd photographing the lettering for the issue cover. © Bud Rodecker.

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Two covers for the Ordinary issue. © Iker Gil.