Allen Hurlburt

Recognition

1973 AIGA Medal

Born

1910, Bridgeport, Connecticut

Deceased

1983, Sarasota, Florida

Recognized for his profound influence on and deep commitment to excellence in graphic design

Throughout the 1960s, Look magazine produced special issues. In 1963, it was the Kennedy family special issue. In 1966, the theme revolved around the American woman. And in 1968, Look turned its gaze to what it called the “sound and fury in the arts.” A red and fuchsia high-contrast illustration of John Lennon was splashed on the cover; inside, in a double gatefold that would eventually become immortalized as a popular poster, were the rest of the Beatles, photographed by fellow 1973 AIGA Medalist Richard Avedon. “No one had seen anything like it,” says Will Hopkins, a designer who worked at Look at the time. “That issue on the Beatles was very important, and very famous,” agrees R. Roger Remington, a graphic designer who teaches at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).

Avedon had his finger on the shutter, but the concept and execution for that particular special issue came from Allen Hurlburt, Look’s art director. Unlike most other magazine designers from that period, like the directors at Time, Hurlburt placed a special emphasis on photography. But unlike Life, another pictures-driven publication and Look’s main competitor, Look garnered a reputation for its sophisticated page design. Under Hurlburt’s supervision, text and image intermingled creatively. “Compared to the other image-oriented magazines, Look was far more aesthetically satisfying,” Remington says of those mid-century issues. Hurlburt did this so well that after he died in 1983, Saul Bass told The New York Times that “the acceptance of his ideas elevated the standards of the whole field.”

Hurlburt likely didn’t set out to shake up the publishing world—at least not initially. Born in 1910 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Hurlburt studied economics at the University of Pennsylvania—with the intention, Hopkins speculates, of pursuing business school. Also telling was his stint as both the editor and designer for The Pennsylvania Punch Bowl, the humor magazine that Penn students have published since 1899. According to the Art Directors Club, this may be where Hurlburt won his first accolade as a designer: “It was only a college magazine,” an ADC biography on him reads, “but it was good enough to elicit a note of praise from M.F. Agha, art director of Vanity Fair, when Punch Bowl did a parody of that magazine.” After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in economics, Hurlburt continued down the path of art direction jobs at a series of advertising trade publications. That, and the fact that he liked to paint with watercolors, more or less formed the basis of Hurlburt’s aesthetic education.

Hurlburt’s career soon took a backseat as World War II descended, and Hurlburt fought in France, where he received a battlefield promotion. He returned to the United States in 1946 and immediately took a job as art director at the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) in New York, where he produced graphic design work that helped promote the television network in its early days. In 1951, a lunch meeting with Paul Rand and Arnold W. Gingrich, the founding editor of Esquire magazine, would lead to a new job for Hurlburt. Thereafter Hurlburt, who had been impressed by Rand immediately upon meeting, became an administrative art director under Rand at the William H. Weintraub advertising agency. A few years after Rand’s death in 1996, Communication Arts magazine published Hurtlburt’s biography on Rand. “One of the outstanding, but little-known, attributes to his success was his ability to bridge the gap between creative communication and business needs,” Hurlburt wrote, hinting, perhaps unknowingly, at a quality he shared with Rand. Hurlburt only worked under the storied designer for two years, but the time was significant in more ways than one: at Weintraub, Hurlburt met his wife, Regina, who was Rand’s secretary at the time.

In 1953 Hurlburt began what would become his celebrated tenure at Look, which was owned by Cowles Communications, Inc. Along with editorial director Dan Mich, Hurlburt introduced readers to the thematic special issues, which allowed for deep dives and immersive photography. But Hurlburt displayed his panache for magazine design year-round. He became known for an elegant layout structure that impressed other designers and pleased the masses. “Imagine what the world was like,” says Sean Adams (2014 AIGA Medalist), executive director of the Graphic Design Graduate Program at ArtCenter College of Design. “You’ve got black-and-white television on a tiny little screen. Magazines were your full-definition color TV. Hurlburt really took that whole idea and just added this level of sophistication that wasn’t there before.” It existed in the fashion world, to be sure: Alexey Brodovitch (1987 AIGA Medalist), a slightly senior contemporary of Hurlburt’s, brought abstraction and flair to the pages of Harper’s Bazaar. But Look had a broader audience.

Modernist principles at the time called for balance and austerity across design. But Hurlburt demonstrated an inventive—even irreverent—use of the grid. “His grids tended to be far more interesting,” Adams says. “It wasn’t just four columns and call it a day. It was, maybe, six columns and then two boxes.” Hopkins, who went to work for Hurlburt in 1966, puts it more bluntly: “He didn’t use a grid.” Regardless, Hurlburt put a premium on the way text interacted with images. Hopkins recalls that at Look, stories would get assigned to a writer and a photographer, who would both produce an intimate reportage on a subject. But no story could be considered for publication until a designer had mapped out how it would look on the page. “If you didn’t lay out that story, that was the end of it,” Hopkins says. The goal was visual impact. Take, for instance, an issue with a spread titled, “Pop Art ...Pop Violence ...Pop Tragedy.” On the left, a checkerboard of Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe portrait. On the right, a group portrait of members of the Hell’s Angels. Their faces are a kind of jumbled mirror to the neat rows of Marilyns. It’s visually textured, but still cinematic.

In 1968, Hurlburt left Look to become the art director for Cowles Communications, overseeing design of all of the publisher’s titles. Although the following year Look reached a peak circulation of 7,750,000, in October 1971 Cowles folded Look, citing financial struggles. But for Hurlburt, this period of time was marked by accolades: he was named Art Director of the Year by the National Society of Art Directors in 1965; he served as president of the American Institute of Graphic Arts from 1968 to 1969; he won the AIGA Medal in 1973; and he was inducted into the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame in 1978. Besides trophies, Hurlburt also kept up prestigious connections in the art and design world. “Saul [Bass] liked Allen Hurlburt a lot,” Adams says. Hopkins recalls that it was Hurlburt who asked Alexander Calder to create the copper elephant stabile that still gets handed out to winners every year at the National Magazine Awards (also known as the Ellie Awards).

This period also marks the beginning of a second act for Hurlburt as an author. In 1971 he published Publication Design, a silver-bound book that covers typography, color, and technique in magazine design. He and his family moved to London in 1974, and in the years that followed, Hurlburt published a series of other instructional books—the most famous (and perhaps ironic) of which was The Grid: A Modular System for the Design and Production of Newspapers, Magazines, and Books, from 1978. In it, he documented grids used by icons like Rand, Massimo Vignelli, and Le Corbusier (in architecture), and he parsed the differences in grids used for books, newspapers, and magazines. “Wherever plans have been called for in the building of objects, the division of areas, or the decoration of flat surfaces, grids have been involved,” Hurlburt wrote in the introduction of the short, dense book. This comprehensiveness has earned The Grid a place in the canon: Remington and Adams both say it’s in their curriculums. “When I was in school his books were textbooks,” Adams says. “As an educator, now I’m referring to those again.” It’s a testament to Hurlburt’s natural knack for the field that an untrained designer could pave the way for an elevated standard in magazine design, and then go on to teach generations of new designers. That’s how Hopkins remembers him: “Allen just was smart, that’s all.”


Timeline:

1910 Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut

1932 Graduates from the University of Pennsylvania, after working as both editor and designer of the school magazine, The Pennsylvania Punch Drunk, with a B.S. degree in economics

1937 Becomes art director of eight advertising trade magazines, including Advertising & Selling and the American Printer

1946 Returns from fighting in World War II in France, and becomes art director of the National Broadcasting Company in New York

1951 Meets Paul Rand at a lunch with Arnold Gingrich, the founding editor of Esquire magazine; becomes an administrative art director under Paul Rand at the Weintraub agency. Meets his wife, Regina, who was Rand’s secretary.

1953 Joins the staff at Look magazine

1956 Becomes art director of Look magazine

1968 Moves to a new role as art director for all of Cowles Communications; serves as president of the American Institute of Graphic Arts until the following year

1971 Leaves Cowles; publishes first book, Publication Design

1973 Receives the AIGA Medal “for his profound influence on and deep commitment to excellence in graphic design”

1974 Moves to London with his wife and daughter, Sarah

1975 Publishes The Look Book (edited by Leo Rosten, with a foreword by Gardner Cowles), a compendium of the magazine’s iconic spreads, under Harry N. Abrams, Inc

1977 Publishes Layout: The Design of the Printed Page

1978 Publishes The Grid; gets elected to the Art Directors’ Hall of Fame in 1978

1981 Publishes The Design Concept

1983 Passes away in Sarasota, Florida; last book, Photo/Graphic Design, published posthumously


Sources:

Waggoner, Walter H. “Allen F. Hurlburt, 72, is Dead; A Leader in Magazine Design.” The New York Times, July 1, 1983. http://www.nytimes.com/1983/07/01/obituaries/allen-f-hurlburt-72-is-dead-a-leader-in-magazine-design.html.

“Allen Hurlburt.” Art Director’s Club Hall of Fame, 1978. http://adcglobal.org/hall-of-fame/allen-hurlburt/.

Look Magazine” archives, 2Neat magazines. https://2neat.com/magazine/product-category/look-magazine/.

Hurlburt, Allen. “Paul Rand.” Communication Arts, March/April 1999. http://www.paul-rand.com/foundation/books_commArts/#.WVU_ilKZOL8.

“Cowles Closing Look Magazine After 34 Years.” The New York Times, September 17, 1971. http://www.nytimes.com/1971/09/17/archives/cowles-closing-look-magazine-after-34-years-look-magazine-is.html?mcubz=0.


This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.