According to “The Economist” Letterpress is making a comeback. This centuries old method of printing, whereby letters are pounded deep into the paper, is no passing fad for a new generation of artists, graphic designers and others accustomed to the world of digital print. They have “discovered” a printing process barely changed since its invention by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-fifteenth century, and as a result are basking in the tactile and visual splendour that letterpress brings to their work. It’s a very far cry from the 1980s and 90s when photo-offset and computer printing deemed lead type redundant, and the only letterpress printing left standing were private presses whose handmade books were mostly aimed at bibliophiles.
So what accounts for this resurgence? Apparently, two factors. Firstly, digital fatigue and second and somewhat ironically, technology has made it easier to print letterpress than ever before. An apprentice need no longer spend years learning how to set metal type into rows as a computer design can be turned into a plastic printing plate. Thus, for both the hobbyist and the professional designer, letterpress, be it metal or plastic, is now the latest on-point tool. Those who are returning to letterpress are learning the fundamentals of typography; leading the charge are those trained in the visual arts, such as graphic designers, fine artists and illustrators.
Let’s have more of “what’s old is new”.
For an insight into the history and techniques of letterpress printing you can read Justin Knopp’s fantastic blog TypoReturn at http://blog.typoretum.co.uk/
He has his own letterpress printing business and is also involved in the conservation and restoration of old printing presses.
David Ogilvy CBE (1911-1999) was the doyen of advertising in America in the 1950s and 60s. Whilst his mother was Anglo-Irish, his father was a Gaelic-speaking Scottish Highlander. During the Second World War David Ogilvy worked for the British Intelligence Service at the British Embassy in Washington where he analysed and made recommendations on matters of diplomacy and security.
It was his reputation as a superb wordsmith and communicator on Madison Avenue that established him amongst his peers as the pre-eminent ad-man in America, and his ideas on effective writing and branding are still highly influential. The character of Don Draper in “Mad Men“ is loosely based on Ogilvy and another famous ad-man of the 1960s, Leo Burnett.
On one occasion Ogilvy crafted a memo for his employees at Ogilvy and Mather, identifying 10 “hints” on how to write for maximum clarity and precision:
“The better you write, the higher you go in Ogilvy & Mather. People who think well, write well. Woolly minded people write woolly memos, woolly letters and woolly speeches. Good writing is not a natural gift. You have to learn to write well.
1. Read the Roman-Raphaelson ¹ book on writing. Read it three times.
2. Write the way you talk. Naturally.
3. Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
4. Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are hallmarks of a pretentious ass.
5. Never write more than two pages on any subject.
6. Check your quotations.
7. Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning – and then edit it.
8. If it is something important, get a colleague to improve it.
9. Before you send your letter or your memo, make sure it is crystal clear what you want the recipient to do.
10. If you want ACTION, don’t write. Go and tell the guy what you want.”
¹ How to Communicate Effectively in Business, Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson. See http://www.amazon.co.uk/Writing-That-Works-Communicate-Effectively/dp/0060956437/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1332602643&sr=1-1
David Ogilvy: “I am a lousy copywriter”  (lettersofnote.com)
Ogilvy’s Advertising Lessons (alignment.wordpress.com)