Gene Frederico

Gene Federico, a graphic designer and advertising executive who helped introduce a style of typography to American advertising that made the lettering the star, rather than a supporting player.

Mr. Federico was a founder in 1967 of Lord, Geller, Federico, Einstein Inc., a New York advertising agency, and later served as its creative director, vice president and vice chairman. He was known for the innovative integration of type and image, using text as part of the picture to create visual puns. This was the hallmark of American advertising's ''Creative Revolution'' of the late 50's and 60's.

 

Gene Frederico

In the late 30's, when Mr. Federico was first a student in the extracurricular graphics group known as the Art Squad at Abraham Lincoln High School and then a member of the 1939 graduating class at Pratt Institute, both in Brooklyn, clever typographic design was rare in mass advertising.

Gene Frederico

Gene Frederico

At most agencies, copywriters dominated the creative side, with text segregated from images in unimaginative, cookie-cutter layouts. The art director was a mere functionary. In Europe, commercial artists' posters of the same period were strikingly artful and decidedly individual, but in America, where slogans reigned supreme, art was an afterthought, and artists' and designers' names were rarely on agency shingles.

Mr. Federico, however, was influenced by the European leaders, among them A. M. Cassandre and Lucian Bernhard, and he eventually became one of a handful of contemporary advertising designers to develop a distinctly modernist approach to graphic design. It emphasized clean layout, asymmetrical composition and sans-serif typefaces, and it was rooted in the often witty union of word and picture.

Mr. Federico used headlines as an armature to carry visual messages and used type to approximate sounds on the printed page. One of his most memorable designs, a 1953 advertisement for Woman's Day magazine, typifies his brand of letter-form manipulation through surprising shifts in scale and juxtapositions. Atop a large, white-on-black headline, ''Going Out,'' a woman rides a bicycle, its wheels made from the two ''o''s.

The ad was part of a long-running campaign to convince potential advertisers that three million devoted readers went out of their way to buy Woman's Day. The ads succeeded in attracting attention and new business, but just as important, they proved that a simple, visual idea worked in a medium that was known for verbal overstatement.

Mr. Federico was once called ''the prince of Light Line Gothic'' (a reference to one his favorite typefaces), but his work showed no single style, only a love for the nuances of type.

In the 50's, Mr. Federico experimented within the limitations of type set in the traditional but cumbersome hot-metal process; he later embraced early attempts at phototypesetting. One of his proudest achievements was a 16-page booklet, ''Love of Apples,'' one of a series published by The Composing Room in New York; the designers were given freedom to interpret specific subjects through the marriage of type, photography and illustration. Mr. Federico tested how extremely tightly hot-metal letters could be set next to one another and remain legible.

Gene Frederico

Gene Frederico


But his booklet was also a critique of the extremes of mass marketing. He wrote: ''When we, in business, industrial America, began to get smart about apples, we packaged them and packaged them and packaged them until the apple itself became the package.'' He metaphorically illustrated the point with a photograph of an apple with a string tied around it. Mr. Federico's elegant touch made these few pages not a screaming polemic, but visual poetry.

Mr. Federico, who was born in New York on Feb. 6, 1918, began his career doing ads for Bamberger's Department Store in Jersey City. He then switched fields to become a designer for Fortune magazine and Architectural Forum.

But he preferred advertising to editorial layout and in 1948 took a job as an art director at Grey Advertising. There he met Bill Bernbach, a founder of Doyle Dane Bernbach, the agency credited with the innovative concept of forming creative teams of copywriter and art director.

Mr. Federico eventually moved to Doyle Dane Bernbach as an art director and spent five years there, working on the Woman's Day account and others. He then moved on to become executive art director and creative director for various Madison Avenue agencies, including Douglas D. Simon Advertising, Benton & Bowles and Warwick & Legler, before co-founding Lord Federico (''It added a sort of regal sound to my name,'' Mr. Federico once said), which became Lord, Geller, Federico, Einstein.

There he designed ads for scores of clients, including the campaign, ''Yes, The New Yorker.'' In 1991 he left the agency to become an advertising and graphic design consultant.

''Federico was known as 'El Supremo,' '' said Samuel P. Antupit, president of Common Place Books, who met Mr. Federico more than 30 years ago. ''Gene was, and is, the art director's art director.''

2017 History of Graphic Design

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