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St George’s Day – Looking Back At Iconic British Graphic Designers

April 21, 2017

St George’s Day is here again and it’s time to get patriotic. Raise the flag and celebrate our Patron Saint, a truly Great British icon, a dragon slayer and the saviour of a fair maiden. But, in fact, he wasn’t English, there was no dragon to slay or a fair maiden to rescue but all that is another story.

For this particular St George’s Day I thought we could look at other iconic Britons, but within the graphic design world. A world that is familiar to me and one that I have loved for many years. There are so many great designers to choose from so I’ll pick a few of my favourites.

Harry Beck

First on the list is the awesome Harry Beck, without this guy, there would be a lot of confused Londoners wandering around the tube station! Harry Beck created the iconic London Underground Tube map in 1931. He designed the map in his spare time as a side project and based it on an electrical diagram rather than a more traditional geographical design. He believed that customers were more interested in how to get from one station to another and where to change trains rather than geographical references.

harry beck london underground

When he pitched his ideas to London Underground, they were received with a lukewarm response but they tentatively introduced the radical new map to the general public in a small pamphlet in 1933. It was immediately popular and the rest is history. Harry continued to make sketches and drawings of the map until he passed away in the 1970s. Although the map has changed quite a bit since Harry’s original design the overall concept remains the same.

Abram Games

abram games

I’ll continue with Abram Games one of the 20th Century’s most influential graphic designers. A designer whose work has spanned over 60 years. He is well-known for his posters and use of vivid colour, bold ideas, and well thought out typography. Many of Britain’s most iconic images include those by Games. For example,  ‘Join the ATS’  recruitment poster of 1941, ‘Grow your own food poster’ a campaign to get people to grow their own food during the war. He has worked with many clients including Guinness, BP, The Times and Shell, although he wasn’t a fan of the commercial world working with such clients gave him large scale recognition but his true passion was designing social posters, posters with a reason.

Peter Saville

Next on the list is Peter Saville, a real favourite of mine as I love many of the bands he has worked with. He was born in Manchester and he’s famous for working on many record sleeves for Factory Records, most notably for New Order and Joy Division back in the 1980s. ‘Unknown Pleasures’ by Joy Division features a solid black cover with a waveform on it. The waveform is from CP 1919 the first pulsar from deep space. It’s likely that this graphic waveform came from the Jodrell Bank Observatory which ties in well as it is local to Manchester and Joy Division. For me this has to be one of the most iconic and recognisable album covers ever designed. I still have the t-shirt!

peter saville

Other clients Peter Saville has worked with include, Selfridges, EMI and Pringle. He’s still going strong so keep an eye out for more amazing work.

I know this is such a short list and there are many other iconic British designers I could have chosen, Alan Fletcher, Vaughan Oliver and Peter Sullivan to name but a few.




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