Dorfsman, Louis (1918- )

Published on .

Most Popular
Louis Dorfsman was born in New York on April 14, 1918. In 1935, his plans to attend New York University were derailed by the $300 annual tuition, a considerable sum during the Depression. Mr. Dorfsman turned instead to the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science & Art, whose degree program was both respected and free to those selected for admission. There he studied design, typography and architecture and took his first courses in advertising.

After graduating in 1939, Mr. Dorfsman served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1945. Medically exempt from combat because of a punctured eardrum, he was sent to the army design center in Dallas, where he worked on posters and public-relations exhibits. Two of his posters won first and second prizes in the national army arts contest in 1944.

After the war, he worked briefly as an art director at Reiss Advertising in New York before joining the art department of CBS as assistant to William Golden, head of advertising and design. (In 1951, Mr. Golden created the famous CBS eye for a one-time TV promotion, but CBS President Frank Stanton soon made it into the icon for the company.)

In 1951, Mr. Stanton separated the TV and radio divisions, and Mr. Dorfsman became art director for CBS Radio, where he created a series of provocative ads intended to remind the industry that CBS was still active in radio. Though NBC had largely abandoned radio except for news, CBS continued into the 1960s. The elegant balance and clean b&w graphics of Mr. Dorfsman's ads attracted industry attention, especially at cutting-edge shops such as Doyle Dane Bernbach and Jack Tinker & Associates.

In 1959, Mr. Golden died at the age of 48, and Mr. Dorfsman took his place as the company's reigning design guru, becoming creative director of the CBS Television Network the following year. In 1969, he was promoted to VP-creative director of CBS Broadcast Group.

But it was the construction of the new CBS headquarters building at 51 W. 52nd St. in New York in the early and mid-1960s that provided Mr. Dorfsman with the occasion to focus and unify company graphics. The building, designed by the architect Eero Saarinen, was a matter of great pride to Mr. Stanton, who believed that a uniform physical sense of CBS should pervade every aspect of its space.

Every aspect of the building's lettering and signage conformed to Mr. Dorfsman's specifications. He even fought off the demands of New York Fire Department inspectors, whose regulations for "exit" signs demanded letters of uniform thickness and no serifs.

Mr. Dorfsman's design edicts were all encompassing and covered all printed materials, from advertising to memo pads to stationery. Even letters typed by CBS secretaries conformed to his design specifications.

Although CBS used McCann-Erickson as its principal ad agency in the 1950s and Sudler & Hennessey in the 1960s and 1970s, much of the day-to-day creative work in the early '50s was done in-house under Mr. Golden's direction; by the time Mr. Dorfsman took over, virtually all of it was being done in-house, with the assistance of the art department at Sudler & Hennessey. He later wrote that had his advertising and design department been measured by its billings, in 1977 it would have been the 11th-largest U.S. agency.

Mr. Dorfsman officially retired from CBS in 1987, but continued to be active with the company and other clients through his own company, Lou Dorfsman Design, which he had started in his Great Neck, N.Y., home in the 1970s as a way of taking on freelance assignments that interested him.

Among his most famous work was that done for Dansk International Designs, the European tableware designer that he took on as a client while still at CBS. The catalog Mr. Dorfsman created for the company became such an object of art in itself that orders became too overwhelming to fulfill. He subsequently designed a scaled-down version that the company could more easily supply.

Few projects were closer to both CBS Chairman William Paley and Mr. Dorfsman than the Museum of Broadcasting, which to a large extent was a repository of CBS history. In exchange for his ongoing consultancy work for the Museum of Broadcasting, Mr. Dorfsman received the permanent use of office space in the museum building at 25 E. 52nd Street.

Mr. Dorfsman also served as board member and chairman of the International Design Conference, Aspen, Colo., and was trustee of the New York Institute of Technology and the Cooper Union. Over the course of his career he received 13 Gold Medals from the New York Art Directors Club, 50 Ad-of-the-Year Awards from various groups, and numerous Clio and Emmy awards; in 1978 he was inducted into the Art Directors Hall of Fame.


Born in New York, April 24, 1918; graduated from Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science & Art, 1939; named art director, CBS Radio, 1951; promoted to creative director, CBS Television Network, 1960; promoted to VP-creative director, CBS Broadcast Group, 1969; retired from CBS, but remained active through his own company, Lou Dorfsman Design, 1987.

In this article: