Some typefaces happen on purpose, when a designer sets out to fill a particular graphic communications need. Other typefaces happen by accident, as outgrowths of lettering assignments, signage programs, magazine mastheads and logotypes. On occasion, however, a typeface rises, stubborn and phoenix-like, from the ashes of design failure. ITC Benguiat is just such a phoenix.
In the late 1970s, while Ed Benguiat was working at the design studio of Herb Lubalin, a friend asked Benguiat to create a new logo for a store the friend was opening. This was not a commission, but a favor: the friend had no money.
Friendship overrode pragmatism, and Benguiat provided his friend with a few ideas at no cost. None of these were accepted. Benguiat submitted several more ideas, which were also found unsuitable. Still more were provided, with no success. Finally, after virtually hundreds of trial efforts, a design was chosen.
It would be interesting to know whether the store succeeded (or if the friendship survived), but from a typographical perspective those questions are beside the point. What is relevant is that about halfway through the submission process, Benguiat had come up with some letters that he particularly liked, even if his friend didn’t. These were the letters that would eventually become ITC Benguiat.
Benguiat liked these earlier letters enough that he began to draw additional characters in the same style. Soon, creating and revising these letterforms was taking up most of Benguiat's free time — and a fair chunk of his work time as well. Lubalin finally declared a moratorium, and told Benguiat that if he didn’t find some practical justification for these letterform doodles he would have to quit doing them.
Benguiat stopped drawing the letters for a few days, but soon decided that he had too much invested in the sketches to abandon them. He sorted through the stacks of drawings and found the necessary letters to assemble a proper design submission to the ITC Typeface Review Board.
The Board rejected Benguiat’s submission. Being a tenacious person, Benguiat modified and submitted the typeface three times before the Review Board agreed to add the typeface to the ITC typeface library. Finally, somebody had said “yes” to ITC Benguiat.
After surviving the choosiness of Benguiat's store-owning friend, a cease-and-desist order from “boss” Lubalin and multiple rejections from the ITC Review Board, ITC Benguiat went on to become a staple of graphic communication. This survivor-against-the-odds design is truly one of ITC’s classic typeface families.