It's with great regret that I noted the death late last week of Dugald Stermer, the art director who made Ramparts magazine sizzle in the '60s and set the pace for many an art director who followed in the business. It was Stermer's restrained design vision that put the gloss and visual energy in the "radical slick" style of the muckraking magazine.
The cover at the right was said by Stermer to be his favourite and showed him and the editors burning their draft cards in protest at the Vietnam war.
Peter Richardson, who wrote“A Bomb in Every Issue: How the Short, Unruly Life of Ramparts Magazine Changed America.”has written an excellent obituary on the Truthdig website.
For Stermer, the fact that Ramparts was located in California was crucial. Because the magazine wasn’t based in New York, it was never expected to succeed. For this reason, [Howard] Gossage said later, the Ramparts staff was like a troupe of dancing bears: Their technique was less important than the fact that they could dance at all. But those low expectations allowed Stermer to innovate, and he made the most of his liberty.
Stermer didn’t read magazines or the alternative press, so he had no preconceptions of what Ramparts should look like. Mostly he was guided by his UCLA professor’s dictum that the best design is never noticed. To emphasize the magazine’s message rather than its look, Stermer set every line of type—the captions as well as the text—in Times Roman. Drawing on local styles, especially those developed by San Francisco printers Edwin and Robert Grabhorn, he produced an elegant design that grounded the magazine’s explosive stories and irreverent tone.