Design on my mind – Elaine Lustig Cohen

This week I discovered the work of Elaine Lustig Cohen, a graphic designer who was married to Alvin Lustig, a mega force in the world of American modernist design. When Alvin became blind due to his diabetes, Elaine started to create his work under his meticulous guidance and eventually she took over his business when he died in 1956, and became something of a pioneer for women in the creative sector.

Elaine later married for a second time, to co founder of Meridian publishing house, Arthur Cohen, and together they founded Ex Libris, a New York gallery and bookshop. Over the years, Elaine designed numerous covers of Meridien paperbacks and Ex Libris catalogues and I think they’re beautiful! I love the sense of playfulness and the colour palette, the letters bound up with the pictures; sometimes it’s as if the words have been dropped experimentally onto the page and sent directly to the printers.

In recent years, Elaine started to work with Adobe Illustrator and created alphabets she refers to as ‘letterform landscapes,’ a smart piece of alliteration that I’ve committed to memory. She is the designer behind the Euclid font (top,) a stylish jigsaw of shapes that take your eyes on a wild ride across the alphabet. In 2008-2009, Elaine made collages that were exhibited in a New York gallery, and invited the audience to play a game. Each collage represents a different artist who Elaine admires and holds clues to their identity. I particularly like the Rodchencko collage (below right,) with the hint of a stripy suit and exclamation mark tie.

Now in her 80s, Elaine’s career is awe-inspiring. Her work suggests she has held onto her tendency for delightful, creative play throughout. Young designers have a lot to live up to!

PS: If you love a good book cover you’ll love our Book by its Cover column.

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