A brief tour of Milton Glaser’s typography
A sample setting of Hologram Shadow
October 28, 2013

A brief tour of Milton Glaser’s typography

In his first monograph, Milton Glaser Graphic Design, Glaser warns that he is “not a type designer,” and that his typefaces only came into being as the product of graphic ideas applied to letterforms. Even with that caveat, it’s evident that Glaser’s heavily stylized type, with an emphasis on three-dimensionality, has had a lasting effect on the design of many subsequent display types. Glaser’s typefaces combine Pushpin-era Deco motifs with conventions adapted from hand-painted signs, but share a tendency to imbue generic letterforms with geometric dimension. Across the six examples here, he achieved a robust body of varied typefaces that nonetheless all reflect at once his graphically rigorous mode of thinking and the more shapely and expressive character of his illustration.

Alphabet of a blocky, geometric typeface

Babyteeth photostat. 1964. The photographer apologizes for the unruly alternate 7.

Babyteeth is one of Glaser’s earliest and most successful typefaces — used in his most famous poster —alongside many other notable music promotions, such as this poster for Mahalia Jackson at Lincoln Center. In Milton Glaser Graphic Design, he provides an origin story:

The inspiration for my Babyteeth type face came from this sign I photographed in Mexico City. It’s an advertisement for a tailor. The E was drawn as only someone unfamiliar with the alphabet could have conceived. Yet it is completely legible. I tried to invent the rest of the alphabet consistent with this model.

Blue semicircle filled with white block text against light blue background

Detail from Milton Glaser Graphic Design (1983), p. 158

Alphabet of a three-dimensional typeface

Baby Fat photostat. 1960s.

In the same volume, Glaser notes that Baby Fat inspired his approach to his famous Simon and Garfunkel poster of 1967: that is, rather than the type following the example of the graphic, the reverse happened—the shape of the letters dictated the treatment of the figures.

Alphabet of a softly shaded three dimensional typeface

Houdini photostat. 1964.

Alphabet of a cylindrical three dimensional typeface

Hologram Shadow photostat. 1977.

The Hologram typeface was an idea Glaser says had been in his head for a while before he had a chance to actually make use of it. He found his opportunity in a poster for a festival for United Artists (not in our collection). But he also got a chance to use it here:

Primarily text on yellow background

Museum of Holography. Around Holodeon. Poster, 23 × 34. 1977. Designed by Milton Glaser.

Alphabet of three dimensional typeface with long shadows

Big Kitchen photostat. 1996.

Alphabet of three-dimensional, slightly beveled typeface

Sesame Place photostat. 1980.