Path buddy and all round gentleman Mr Steve Kirkendall bought Unit Edition's volume on graphic design ground-breaker Ken Garland recently. I'm delighted to say he agreed to write a guest blog entry on the book. I asked Steve to tell us a bit about himself first:
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The film is about to start. The lights dim, the screen darkens. Out of the void you hear a voice, mature, quick, warm. It says:
"I've always thought it was terribly important to be able to say to someone: 'You don't need this – you can do without this symbol or you can do without this sign.' I think graphic design will only come of age when it can take on these sorts of questions, and sometimes answer them by saying, what you need here isn't graphic design it's whatever else. Or maybe nothing."
The words 'Ken Garland: Structure and Substance' appear on screen in Folio Medium Extended, range left and reversed out. They fade and the film begins.
Sadly, we'll have to wait for that particularly piece of heaven; this film doesn't exist. However, we do have the book. Ken Garland: Structure and Substance by Unit Editions is, unbelievably, the first ever monograph of one of our leading graphic designers. It may come as no surprise to learn that although only issued late last year, it's already on its second printing.
Part of the post-war generation of designers that included Alan Fletcher, Colin Forbes and Derek Birdsall, Garland is not as celebrated as his contemporaries. Maybe it's because he rarely entered his work for design awards and steered clear of any professional design body (although he helped to found D&AD, he left when he felt advertising started to dominate). Early in his career, his dissatisfaction during a meeting of the SIA (now the Chartered Society of Designers) led to the creation of his famous manifesto 'First Things First', where he called upon designers to use their skills to create 'lasting forms of communication' for 'worthwhile purposes'. With the applause that followed came the image of Garland as the design world's 'Mr Ethics' – something he always refuted. Though nobody doubts Garland's integrity.
Whether designing for Galt Toys, Paramount Pictures or the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, he never imposed his personal style or opinions onto his clients, preserving his own views for his books and many articles for the design press. A deep mistrust of homogenisation steered him away from corporate design (he famously turned down IBM) and stopped him from fully embracing the rigour of the Swiss, feeling that they prized form over content. Instead he felt the best way was to meld Swiss cool with American warmth – a philosophy described in his 1960 essay 'Structure and Substance' from which this book takes its title.
And what a book this is – whether, like me, you're a fan of Garland or are interested in the part he played in the birth of modern British graphic design, it will not disappoint. Everything is here – his design, logos, photography, lists of lectures, articles and books. Recommended, go buy!
P.S. Unit Editions are hosting Ken Garland: A graphic celebration at the St Bride Library in London on Tuesday 12 February. Unfortunately, it's sold out. However, Ken Garland will be signing copies of his book afterwards, you might want to pop along and see you if can get a cheeky autograph.