A SALUTE TO THE INSPIRING CREATIVITY OF WILLIAM ADDISON DWIGGINS Bill Dwiggins, who created the term Graphic Designer nearly a century ago, was a designer, illustrator, calligrapher, writer, ad man, marionette-builder. Also a printer, we are completely inspired by him. May we all have a little Dwigginspiration every day!

William / WAD / Bill / Dwig / Dr. Puterschein : The Man Behind the Nicknames

“You take a cork out of the top of your head, and you drop in a word like La Paz. Then put in a couple of cocktails and some black coffee, and put the cork back in tight, and jump up and down for two or three days and then the word will come out of your fingers onto the paper.”

William Addison Dwiggins, a.k.a. Will, Bill, WAD, Dwig and more, was born June 19, 1880 in Martinsville, Ohio and died on Christmas Day in 1956. In his short 76 years, he achieved more than most of us could in three lifetimes. Most notably, he established the term Graphic Designer.

Dwiggins first called himself a Graphic Designer in 1922, just four years after the agony of World War I ended. The Roaring Twenties were on, Prohibition and all. It was a time of artistic and cultural dynamism that produced Art Deco and the age of modernism. Dwig, as his friends called him, completely embraced it. Who better to be the father of modern graphic design?

Type, Ornament Design and Printing

“Like to design type. Like to jiggle, type around and see what comes out. Like to design ornament. Like paper. Like ink on paper. Like bright colors. Handicapped by clock.”

A student of Frederick Goudy, Dwiggins went on to design at least a dozen typefaces. His most notable are Electra, Metro and the well-known Caledonia. Dwiggins often drew them first as a full alphabet on paper at “10 times 12 point size,” with a pen or brush. He then put the drawings on the floor and squinted at them through a diminishing glass held belt high to get a sense of how everything would reduce.

He said you could never tell for sure if the face would work until all the elements were cast in metal and you started setting it into sentences. He worked on perfecting Caledonia for nearly 11 years.

Book Design and Writing

“In the matter of layout, forget art and use horse-sense.”

Early in his career, Dwig wrote and published a satirical book called Extracts from an Investigation into the Physical Properties of Books as They are at Present Published, criticizing book publishing practices at the time. It is a “recording” of the supposed investigation by a committee of The Society of Calligraphers, which he founded and was the only member.

Imagine what a committee of designers would ask book publishers today about their practices. That is exactly what Dwig did in 1919. That, and his marionettes, got the attention of publisher Alfred A. Knopf, who hired WAD to design better books. Dwiggins did exactly that for many years.

Dwiggins literally wrote the book on advertising design in 1927. Called Layout in Advertising, the book went on to a second printing 20 years after its original publication date.

Marionette Making

“As in all the arts a simplified or abstracted presentation is often more vivid than an exact representation.” – from Marionettes in Motion, The Puterschein System diagrammed, described by W.A. Dwiggins, Handbook XII Puppetry Imprints © 1939

Advertising wasn’t always good to Bill, who was diabetic. Facing a nervous breakdown, he left the business which was apparently a rat race even then. Dwig began to make marionettes and put on puppet shows for local children. As any good designer would, he carved, painted and clothed the marionettes. He wrote and produced the play, and even designed and produced the poster, tickets and other promotional elements under his own label, The Puterschein Authority. The back story on the name Puterschein is worth a Google. Classic Dwiggins!


William A. Dwiggins was an irrepressible creative who took joy in designing virtually everything in his world. Including how the world now refers to people like him: graphic designers. We say, well done, Bill Dwiggins!


 Wikipedia : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Addison_Dwiggins

Linotype : http://www.linotype.com/373/williamadwiggins.html

Font Bureau : http://www.fontbureau.com/historical/williamdwiggins/

Typophile : http://typophile.com/node/13538

Internet Archive : http://archive.org/details/WADtoRR1940

Art Directors : http://www.adcglobal.org/archive/hof/1979/?id=264

Booktryst : http://www.booktryst.com/2012/08/digging-dwiggins-in-technicolor.html