This story appears in the September 28, 2017 issue of Forbes.Subscribe
A magazine’s logo is its identity, beckoning the reader from the newsstand–or mail pile. In the case of Forbes, it also represents three generations of family stewardship.
So what’s in a name? Forbes asked legendary art director Roger Black — a cofounder of Font Bureau who has designed (and redesigned) countless magazines, including Rolling Stone and Esquire — to evaluate 100 years of Forbes’ typography, from prewar swashes to postmillennial serifs.
“The Arts and Crafts movement was going on in printing in the U.S., with people like Will Ransom, and I think that first logo and the 1922 logo owe a lot to that,” Black says. “The swashes on the letters are from that era. Today we think it looks kind of cute.”
“The 1918 logo is as elegant as any logo of its time. I’d call this Beaux Arts style. There was a Renaissance revival going on; World War I posters had this kind of lettering on them.”
“In 1923, Forbes industrialized the previous logo, then condensed it. A year later, they expanded it and then filled it in 1930.”
“This is the year the magazine went kind of berserk. What is that lower case F with a hat on top? You can see the Ford influence there–and everyone in American business was looking to Ford then. But in publishing there was a prejudice against italics in script. Perhaps because editors were sending a lot of text by wire, and the wire didn’t allow for italics.”
“One of my favorite Forbes logos. That 1937 logo is basically Futura–it’s the Bauhaus influence. The secret is that they were using the classical proportions or the roman caps. Every letter was a circle or a square. The O is twice as wide as the F. And the O is a perfect circle. It really stands out.”
“In 1938, they went right back to the script. You can imagine someone with the name Forbes came in and said, ‘What in the hell are you doing?’ But there was clearly something else going on in 1938 [with three different logos]. I like the middle one with the drop shadow. That would work today. Then it’s like ‘Forbes goes to war’ in 1939.”
“In 1948, the logo said ‘Calm down.’ The war is over, and this begins to set the style for today’s logo.”
“For the logos between 1966 and 1977, the magazine took a font like Universe and added a serif to it, then added a lot of weight in 1977, making it into something like Franklin Gothic. I think it’s boring as all hell.”
“The current logo got its start in the late ’70s and took a kind of Times New Roman style. Then an update came in 1999, making it more open and sharper. You’d have to be careful about changing it again. Apply the rules of capitalism to design: Publishing is a two-way transaction–they’re selling something to you, and you’re now the owner. It’s not the publisher’s magazine. It’s the readers’ magazine.”