The Royal College of Art’s Graphics RCA: Fifty Years retrospective show looks back on 50 years of work by its alumni since the influential Dick Guyatt led the graphics school, but that school – now run by seminal graphic designer Neville Brody – was founded some 66 years ago in 1948.
Meanwhile, in Fifty Years of Illustration, by their own admission illustrator Lawrence Zeegan and writer Caroline Roberts cover ‘a mere slice of the discipline’s rich heritage’ in the wighty tome. There was no real beginning or about-face in graphics 50 years ago, but there clearly was a mood of change that set the tone for the design we have seen since.
The new Christian Dior marque designed by Neville Brody
Most though would trace the origins of graphic design as we know it back to the 1960s. It was then that graphics arguably split from advertising on both sides of the Atlantic and it was then that legendary supergroups like Fletcher Forbes Gill and Wolff Olins were born. Paul Rand, Milton Glazer and Bob Gill were meanwhile plying their trade in the US creating seminal identities for global corporations. Names blatantly displayed over the door heralded a cult for celebrity that has been dissipated since as the notion of ‘team’ has overtaken the idea of a master at whose feet eager acolytes sit.
So who were those masters and how have they shaped graphics over time? For me it has to start with Alan Fletcher, the sadly departed Pentagram founder who injected ideas and wit into commercial art in a way few have managed to emulate. Nor can you forget Michael Wolff, who with the late Wally Olins factored corporate identity into business life and in his 80s continues to bring delight to visual communication.
Over the years graphics has manifest in various guises, each with its own predominantly male creative heroes. Book design has long been championed by doyen Derek Birdsall, and by successive art directors at Penguin and its like. Magazines and newspapers have seen greats like David Hillman, also a Pentagram man, followed by Mike Dempsey, Neville Brody, Mark Porter and Simon Esterson as print technologies have changed and new communication channels have emerged.
A retrospective on photographer Terence Donovan designed by David Hillman
There are some exceptions to the men-only rule though, the most notable being Mary Lewis. A graphic designer with a background in advertising, she has set the agenda for elegant packaging and branding.
The burgeoning music scene has made names and generated challenging sleeve graphics that have inspired generations of creative. Particularly famous are Storm Thorgerson, Peter Saville, art director of Factory Records from the late 1970s, Malcolm Garrett, Mark Farrow and Tom Hingston. In some instances, as with Farrow and the Pet Shop Boys, designers have collaborated directly with the artists; in others, like Saville with Factory and Vaughan Oliver with 4AD Records, they have worked with the label.
Wayfinding has emerged as a discipline, adding strategy to the old signwriting trade and what Olins promoted as corporate identity is now universally known as ‘branding’, covering all visual elements of a brand from logo to pack and environment. ‘Corporate’ agencies have made it a near science, but Morag Myerscough and others continue to inject place-making with fun.
The Temple of Agape by Morag Myerscough and Luke Morgan
Perhaps the biggest change on the graphics scene has been in moving image, manifest back in the day as film titles and TV idents ahead of the digital surge. Screen graphics owe much to the likes of Martin Lambie-Nairn, Graham McCallum of Kemistry and Bob English and Darrell Pockett in the UK and the BBC heritage many of them shared. They followed on from US greats like Robert Brownjohn and Saul Bass.
This is but a glimpse of some of the trailblazers in UK graphics. Here are 25 influential individuals who, in my opinion, are pioneers in graphic design. But who would you add from more recent generations to make it 50? Tell us who you admire and why and your nominations will be put forward for The Drum Designerati, which will identify the top 100 people in design when it is published next year.
Lynda Relph-Knight's 25 graphics greats:
Derek Birdsall – BDMW; Omnific Design
Mark Bonner – The Partners; Carter Wong & Partners; SAS; GBH
Neville Brody – The Face; Arena; Brody Associates (formerly Research Studios) and Royal College of Art
Tony Brook – Spin Studio and Unit Editions
Mike Dempsey – William Heinemann; William Collins & Sons; Carroll Dempsey Thirkell; CDT Design; Studio Dempsey
Jonathan Ellery – Browns and Browns Editions
Simon Esterson – Blueprint; The Guardian; Tate Publishing; Esterson Associates and Eye Magazine
Mark Farrow – Farrow Design
Alan Fletcher – Fletcher Forbes; Fletcher Forbes Gill; Pentagram
Ken Garland – Ken Garland & Associates
A Ken Garland letterpress print from a platen press
Malcolm Garrett – Assorted Images; AMX; I-mmersion; Applied Information Group (now Applied); 53k; Images & Co
David Hillman – Pentagram; Studio David Hillman
Tom Hingston – Research Studios; Tom Hingston Studio
Michael Johnson – Wolff Olins; Sedley Place; Smith & Milton; Billy Blue; Emery Vincent; Dentsu; Johnson Banks
A recent Johnson Banks rebrand of Unicef UK
Martin Lambie-Nairn – BBC; Rediffusion; London Weekend Television; Robinson Lambie-Nairn; Lambie-Nairn & Company; Tutssel St John Lambie-Nairn; The Brand Union; Heavenly; M L-N
Mary Lewis – Lewis Moberly
Graham McCallum – BBC; Kemistry
Morag Myerscough – Studio Myerscough
Vaughan Oliver– 23 Envelope; v23
Mark Porter – Guardian News & Media; Mark Porter Associates
Lucienne Roberts – LucienneRoberts+
Lucienne Roberts' exhibition graphics for the Women Fashion Power show at the Design Museum, as photographed by David Shaw
Peter Saville – Factory Records; Peter Saville Associates; Pentagram; Frankfurt Balkind; The Apartment; Peter Saville Associates
Storm Thorgerson – Hipgnosis (with Aubrey Powell and Peter Christopherson); Greenback Films
Michael Wolff – Wolff Olins; Addison; The Fourth Room; Michael Wolff & Company
Lynda Relph-Knight is The Drum's consulting design editor. Now it's up to you to tell us which graphic designers you believe merit recognition by completing a short survey for The Drum Designerati.