There is a cool website that you should check out called letterheady.com. They post cool, old letterhead examples. It’s a great look at awesome design, and a fading art form. We gotta bring this quality of communication and coolness back. Who’s in?
Lots of the examples showed beautiful artwork. Or tremendous simplicity, like the only word that appears on Elvis’ letterhead: Elvis.
But Frank Lloyd Wright’s letterhead was the real knockout.
I got bitten by the Wright bug a few years back, when writing some advertising materials for Taliesin, his studio in Spring Green, Wisconsin. I learned quite a bit about this remarkable genius, and grew quite an appreciation for his bold, focused ideas on creativity. I even started collecting Luxfer tiles designed by Wright from his days working with Louis Sullivan in Chicago.
Why is it his letterhead genius? Well, it’s letterhead, but it’s not. It’s the anti-letterhead. The page reads horizontally, not vertically. Whoa! It’s margins are crazy. Whoa! The date is on the bottom. Whoa! Some stuff is printed sideways. Whoa! In 1939, tactics like that must have knocked people right out of their knickers.
True to form, he undid letterhead, flipped convention on it’s ass, and made a simple, yet loud statement every time one of his customers or colleagues or creditors opened a piece of communication from him. “I’m different.”
The letter also shows a classic, and somewhat underlooked facet of Wright’s legacy: self-promotion. He was great at plugging him self shamelessly in a way that didn’t really seem shameless. Here, he plugged some kind of good thing for him in London and Paris. (You can buy the original for a mere $4,500.)
Wright really understood a fundamental key to greatness: if you’re going to be great, make sure people know about it.
And he took one of the more commonplace forms of communication in his day, and made it unlike anything anyone had ever seen. Genius.
Postscript – As I finish this post, I saw Stu Levitan’s post on the interactive timeline the Wright-created Guggenheim museum. Check it out. It shows a couple other iterations of Wright’s letterhead.