Robert Brownjohn was a hellraising graphic designer working in the ad industry in the ’60s. An American living mostly in London, and for years a heroin addict, Brownjohn is famous for pulling a Saul Bass and designing the credits for Goldfinger and other films. Among his several business partners over the years were Chermayeff and Geismar.

Robert Brownjohn: Sex and Typography is the ill-titled retrospective by Emily King. His career really wasn’t about “sex and” anything. Recall that the field of graphic-design biography, which King has pioneered, is something Heller decried, more or less because it hadn’t occurred to him, meaning he missed his big chance to corner that market along with every other one. King’s style here is one of almost unadorned quotes from the people who knew him, an oral-history approach I’ve always liked.

Two items are of interest.

  1. Designers know more than the sum of the facts

    In other words, Doug Bowman is going to know more about Web design than Google programmers.

    When this [peace] poster was reproduced in Typographica 2 (December 1960), it was prefaced with an introduction written by BCG’s fellow New York designer Gene Federico: “The aware designer’s intuitive and acquired knowledge invests in him a more reliable sense of his times and the needs of the people. Sensing these, he is able to ‘talk’ directly. He knows intuitively the language of his day.” [p. 132]

  2. “Personal work” was impossible before the Web

    It was promoted with a postcard-sized print on which [Edward] Booth-Clibborn quoted Brownjohn saying “I’m not a painter or a sculptor. I’m a graphic designer. I’ve got to have a client. I can’t just sit down and work because I feel like it.” [p. 235]

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2009.07.31 14:58. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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