Design Review: Volume 4, Issue 6 (January-February 1953)
A Firm is often judged by its letterhead. Generally there is the usual motley collection of colours, type faces, and devices as dished up by the average printer, expressing (that is, if it expresses anything beside typographical eclecticism) merely the fact that your printer has assumed complete and exuberant control of the whole situation. And this—in spite of the printer's glib line that ‘Your best ambassador is your writing paper’.
This is a matter for dissatisfaction. ‘Who is right,’ you say, ‘—the printer or the critic?’ Where the printer happens to have been trained in layout the result may be perfectly satisfactory though perhaps rather tame. But when a man untrained in layout exercises control over a thing so personal as to convey the tone of a firm—that, one suggests, is a matter for censure. Just as a voice on the telephone conveys to the ear an impression of its own apart from the words used, so too, it is submitted, does the letterhead to the eye.
If we were to examine most of the letterheads printed in this country we would wonder what reason lay behind their arrangement at all. What, you may ask, do we expect a letterhead to do?
We want to know at a glance the name and address of the sender. If a reply is urgently required then we look for the telephone number.
As far as the design is concerned the first consideration must of course be legibility—the layout must be so arranged as to convey clearly the basic information at a glance—what the designer would call ‘display’.
Character must be considered at the same time, for there is no doubt that a business firm may make very good use of its letterheads to establish goodwill. Many firms go to an extreme amount of trouble and expense to equip their businesses with up-to-the-minute methods. Yet they permit the contradiction of using letterheads that might have been designed in the doldrums of the eighteen-nineties.
One cannot offer a formula, for the requirements of every client must be considered on their own. However, some ideas can be stated. There is no need to place emphasis on size. The lettering need not be big. It is more important to relate correctly both the disposition of each element in relation to the others and to the white space available. Very often the symmetrical layout is used, but I find assymetry gives more freedom. I also find two colours ample when designing and sometimes that it is better to keep the second colour for subsidiary details rather than have equal weight with the primary colour.
* The choice of a letterhead shouldnot be made before a letter is typed on the page.