Jan V. White

Jan V. White was born in Prague, Czech Republic on April 6, 1928 to mother, Emil Weiss and father, Alex White. His parents were large contributions and influencers within White’s life. His mother, Emil Weiss, was a well-known architect and illustrator, while his father, Alex White, was a writer and educator. Educated in England at Leighton Park School, he eventually moved to the states to study at and eventually teach at both Cornell and Columbia University. He obtained degrees from Cornell in architecture, and in planning and preservation from Columbia School of Architecture. White went on to take cues from both of his parents, studying architecture like his mother and growing towards the motion of educating and writing, like his father. His life revolved around educating others in the art of magazine editing and layout. He grew up to be a very well known graphic designer, popular for being a “magazine guru and design consultant to publishing companies” (Jan). He spent some of his life, from 1951 to 1964, as an art director working for a large magazine company popularly known as Time Magazine; publishing and educating others, as well as traveling the world to twenty-seven countries, and giving over 1800 seminars to educate individuals on the importance of the relationship between layout and graphics in magazine editing. While at Time Magazine, White worked as the associate art director on the Architectural Forum magazine for five years, as well as worked as an art director on the House and Home magazine for eight more years. Since 1964, he has redesigned over 200 publications, worked as a consultant, educator, and writer, informing individuals and teams of his print design publication techniques. White’s focus was not only to produce “pretty” work, but to also produce quality work, that would be logical and easy to understand. He strove to educate all individuals, designers and non-designers, so that everyone could have the capacity to create quality print publications. “Jan’s goal was to enable anyone to design a page that communicated, and he lectured tirelessly and internationally” (The simpleton). White originally focused on periodical design after working for Time in the mid 1980s, until he found his true calling in his analysis of visual rhetoric and information design in publishing. He sought to teach people how to better blend their skills to achieve the highest level of understanding for each other and for others ideas. He approached this by persuading visual people to resort to think more so verbally and for verbal individuals to think more so visually. He found that by doing so, groups or teams of individuals were better equipped to work together and ultimately increased the quality of their designs and products. While working for Time Inc., White published over two hundred and fifty articles and beyond “a dozen books on visual techniques in publishing” (Jan). His most popular book, which can also be noted as his most successful book on visual techniques in publishing was called “Editing by Design”, published in 1974, was the first book he wrote on the process of publication. This book started a series of books that helped to explain graphic designers to individuals who held little knowledge of design and magazine editing. These books, “Editing by Design”, “Graphic Idea Notebook”, and “Graphic Design for the Electronic Age”, etc. are some of the most well known publications of Jan V. White, of which are still “relevant today, even in the digital age – in any channel where text, pictures and diagrams are juxtaposed” (The simpleton). Designers and non-designers applauded White for not only his fundamental knowledge of graphic design and print publications, but they admired his language style. White’s books and other publications are very simple English, they are clearly written and are easy to understand especially to non-designers. This was an important aspect of white’s career as an educator, because he not only wanted to influence graphic designers, but non-designers as well, to give them the opportunity to design without the “designer” title and background knowledge. White approached his publications with the idea that his writing and his ideas should be understandable to the non-designer and this idea was very popular with White’s readers who found his publications on print design to be easily understood. After working at Time Magazine, White broke off to open his own publication-design studio in Connecticut. He is noted for his great understanding of fundamental design. “Design trends come and go and styles change but underneath it all, the fundamentals of design are still there” (Graphic). His publications were groundbreaking fundamental ideologies that people have followed and retraced their steps to for years and will most likely still reflect on for years to come. Jan V. White educated people on every aspect of design from “Graphic Design for the Electronic Age”, to “Using Charts and Graphs”, to Color for Impact” to “Xerox Publishing Standards”. These publications by White were revolutionary for designers who followed him. He set the publishing standards for years to come, and created “perhaps the first modern style guide, covering everything from tone and voice to page layout and printing” (Jan). White made sure he never missed a beat, in covering every topic known to graphic design as he published so many important artifacts for the design world. Along with that, White’s ideas were very much before his time; he was publishing “Mastering Graphics” to educate on the techniques of producing print publications in the 1970s and 1980s. With print publishing still on the rise in the seventies and eighties, White was past the mastery of print equipment and already mastering print design fundamentals and sharing them with the world. Jan V. White was sharing his knowledge of print publication and graphic design with the world on his own, before even the invention of the Internet. Without the World Wide Web to benefit from, White still found a way to spread his fundamental knowledge across the world. In addition to providing people with his great fundamental knowledge through seminar and publications, White went on to dedicate many of his books to the public domain, so that everyone interested could have access to them. Throughout his forty years as a graphic designer, Jan V. White wrote and published twelve books, on grids, typography, color, layout, charts and grids, and print publishing. He also made sure, that once the Internet was created, he allowed all of his publications to be seen and downloaded from the Internet Archive. White had four sons, all of which had kids themselves, leaving White with seven grandchildren. In 2012, “with generous foresight, two years before he died Jan relinquished copyright on his out-of-print books, and made scans of them freely available on the Internet Archive” (The simpleton). Unfortunately, Jan V. White passed away on December 30, 2014 at the age of 86, however his work lives on and continues to teach and guide graphic designers working with page layout, publication, digital design, etc. White’s publications and books remain relevant today in every subject he studied, especially print design and publication and it is likely that they will continue to be relevant in the future.

(Picture chosen from http://www.janvwhite.org/about-jan)



Works Cited


“Graphic Design Book Recommendations: Jan V. White.” Nubby Twiglet, 14 Apr. 2014, nubbytwiglet.com/2014/04/13/graphic-design-book-recommendations-jan-v-white-titles/.

“Jan V. White.” About Jan V. White, www.janvwhite.org/about-jan.

“The simpleton.” Remembering Jan V White 1928-2014, qwertyrob.blogspot.com/2015/05/remembering-jan-v-white.html.