70s textbook design

Yesterday I tweeted a couple of photos of analytic geometry textbooks. My father’s, which was printed in 1955,

Sometimes you have to remind yourself of the basics. Pulled out Dad’s analytic geometry book to solve a problem today. ©1955

Dr. Drang (@drdrang) May 17 2017 1:57 PM

and mine from 1975.

Yes, I have my own analytic geometry text, but I keep it at home. ©︎1975, but you knew that from the cover design, didn’t you?

Dr. Drang (@drdrang) May 17 2017 11:57 PM

I graduated college in 1981, so virtually all of my textbooks are from the 70s. Most of them share design features that were hot at the time: bold colors; streamlined graphics, typically abstracted from a drawing in the book; sans serif fonts, usually skinny but sometimes absurdly bold; and a lot of uncapitalized proper nouns. Let’s take a tour.

Here’s my drafting text:


The photos inside the book told a less groovy story of what engineering was going to be like.

Giesecke inside

My differential equations book used serifs, but doubled down on the bright and bold.


Advanced calculus, like analytic geometry, was big on parallel lines.


Soil mechanics picked up on the parallel lines idea but confined them to replacing the letter “I”. And the pictures of dirt inside apparently weren’t worth borrowing for a cover graphic.


Material science went all-out on the skinny, lower-case sans serif and was apparently too tired to bother with any graphics at all.

Van Vlack

Surveying stuck with sans serif but varied the stroke width.


Pavement design went with bold graphics but cheaped out on color.


Vibration took pavement design’s idea and added a little.


Strangely enough, fluid mechanics avoided streamlined graphics.


Structural analysis went bold without going bright.


Steel design has bold, bright graphics and lower-case proper nouns. The orange and blue was clearly an homage to the senior author’s institution. Oskee Wow-Wow.


Elastic structures has it all: bright, bold, streamlined, and lower case. It cheats, however, by being printed in 1981. It could take all the 70s ideas and roll them together.


I’m going to finish the tour with geology, a book design that breaks most of the rules and yet screams 1970s.


Have you never been mellow?