Letterform Archive plays a critical role in creating an archaeology of our practice. In recent years the archive began publishing efforts first with the amazingly researched and rich WAD : A life in design book by Bruce Kennett which I adore. Their latest book is Morla : Design a career-spanning monograph of leading designer and AIGA medalist Jennifer Morla.
The book is crafted to “interest left-brain and right-brain thinkers, as graphic design makes use of that middle space” with insightful design advice and visually arresting reproductions to showcase the inventive boldness and eloquent wit that makes Morla’s design unique.
I know I am typo-biased but after seeing a preview of the book the resounding stand out for me, is an exploration of Morla’s 26 favourite 19th and 20th-century typefaces with explanations of when she discovered the face and how she has used it throughout her practice. While Jennifer notes “It is by no means a complete compendium” of her type library she defaults consistently to her “oldest typographic friends” as documented in this section.
Jennifer’s relationship with type is unpicked further in essays with descriptions of learning to see the shape grammar of letters at art school through to her enjoyment derived from experimenting with “newly created typefaces, especially over-the-top ones filled with an abundance of swashes and explosions and a preponderance of attitude.”
Designed as a non linear experience the book, profiles more than 150 landmark projects from her 40-year career although it is not sequenced chronologically. Jennifer notes “a consecutive order may have demonstrated a design progression, I chose instead to pace it with an eye for visual cadence.”
Beyond that rhythm I found the way projects had been curated was easy to navigate as the pops of visual matter (a masterclass in concept, color, and scale) were punctuated with essays about Jennifers creative journey, passion for visual art, behind-the-scenes project stories, and her design philosophy as well as pull quote features with “Designisms” wisdom. “A good client defines the communication goals but does not define the solution. A good client is not beholden to the visual stereotypes of their business.”
The book also acts as a lens on contemporary culture as Jennifer notes “Design does not live in an aesthetic vacuum. Design is influenced by, and influences, contemporary society” she delves into this throughout the text discussing each design response in context.
Technological influences are not overlooked either — one of the passages of text that resounded most with me — was her description of grappling with the change from analogue production to becoming a digital studio and how learning (and failing) created innovation in her practice. “Accidents often produce the best solutions. Only you can recognize the difference between an accident and your original intent.” Jennifer outlines that opportunities can present themselves at any stage in the design process. “I’ve learned to keep my eyes open and not be so committed to what I thought would be the final outcome; I allow the process to become part of the solution.”
The content is packaged to honour the book as an art object - in an astonishing print production devised by Morla herself. The 432 page interior is printed with fluorescent and metallic inks throughout, interleaved with vellum pages printed in white ink, wrapped in supple vegan leather, and finished with neon bookmark ribbons and page edging. The tactility of the covers, are all elegantly considered and the finished tome holds a striking gravity.
In is foreword Erik Spiekermann writes “Making something beautiful is not a luxury but a requirement if we want to serve our clients well. Great ideas beautifully visualized: That is Jennifer’s work in a nutshell— intellectual curiosity expressed in sensual, exciting type and images.
Jennifer Morla established Morla Design when she was just 28 years old. With more than 300 awards of excellence, including an AIGA Medal and a Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian National Design Award, she has been recognized by virtually every organization in the field of visual communication, and her work has been acquired by MOMA, LACMA, SFMOMA, the Library of Congress, the Denver Art Museum, and other major institutions.
Letterform Archive is a non-profit center for inspiration, education, publishing, and community. Drawing from our collection, we publish beautiful and useful books for lovers of graphic design and typography. Morla : Design is the Archive’s second publication.