2014 AIGA Medal
1951, Orange, New Jersey


By Elizabeth Danzico
September 8, 2014

Recognized for impeccable craftsmanship, elegant use of typography and designing with a passion and focus that is the envy of every designer.

Louise Fili designs with unmatched grace and elegant craftsmanship, unifying old and new to create contemporary forms in typography.

Fili, who grew up in an Italian-American household in New Jersey, remembers carving letterforms into the wall above her bed at age three or four: Even then, she simply loved making letters. In high school, she taught herself calligraphy with a Speedball guide and an Osmiroid pen. She enrolled at Skidmore College to study studio art, but discovered graphic design instead. Presciently, her senior project was a hand-lettered Italian cookbook.

In the 1970s, Fili left Skidmore for New York City and completed her final semester at the School of Visual Arts (now SVA). It was during a freelance assignment with Knopf that she first discovered her love of designing books. At 25, she was hired as a senior designer by Herb Lubalin, if only because, as Fili modestly remembers it, “someone had been given notice on the day I happened to walk in the door.” Being in an atmosphere where type was paramount had a transformative effect on the development of her voice and style.

Bonnie’s Jams labels
Thomas Miller, “Dr. Margaret T. G. Burroughs,” 1995. DuSable Museum of African American History, Chicago. Photograph: Chris Dingwall.
Mermaid Inn and Mermaid Oyster Bar logo
Mermaid Inn and Mermaid Oyster Bar logo, 2003/2010 Client: Mermaid Inn; Design firm: Louise Fili Ltd; Designers: Louise Fili, Chad Roberts; Illustrator: Anthony Russo.
Covers for Romanzi d’Italia book series
Covers for Romanzi d’Italia book series, 2010 Publisher: Rizzoli International; Design firm: Louise Fili Ltd; Designer: Louise Fili.

Fili joined Random House as art director for Pantheon in 1978. When her quiet cover design for Marguerite Duras’ The Lover helped make the book a runaway best seller in 1984, she was granted carte blanche. She designed nearly 2,000 book jackets, proving again and again that design doesn’t have to shout to be noticed. Paula Scher recalls, “I wondered who this terrific art director was who was designing all the book jackets with exquisite typography at Pantheon and winning so many awards. I was so impressed, and I competed with her. Then I really met her in 1982…. She became my friend and has been so ever since.”

Steven Heller, design historian, writer and Fili’s now-husband and collaborator, says, “I noticed Louise’s work long before we met. In fact, it was the work that prompted me to write her, and later meet her. What I saw in the work was a distinctive flair. It had bits of the past, but entirely reinterpreted.… More important, in a sea of book jackets and covers…her designs stood out for their precision, humanity and aesthetic joy.” The two have since co-authored more than a dozen books, including Italian Art Deco and Shadow Type.

Fili opened her own studio in 1989, focusing on restaurant identity, food-related logos and packaging. There weren’t many female-run studios then, and she knew it could be problematic if she named the studio after herself. But she decided to send a clear message: “If you have a problem with my being female, then I don’t want you as a client.” Louise Fili Ltd has since redesigned the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, designed an iconic “Love” stamp and created legendary identities for New York City eateries including Pearl Oyster Bar, the Mermaid Inn and Artisanal. She has received medals from the Art Directors Club and the Society of Illustrators, as well as three James Beard Award nominations. In 2004, she was inducted into the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame. Today she teaches in graduate and undergraduate programs at SVA and at the school’s masters workshop in Rome.

When asked how she’s been able to master so many new fields, Fili says, “No matter how much you may love your profession, you have to be ready for change.” As students of this graceful master of craft, we can’t wait to see what’s next.

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