Design practise in context 2, Ken Garland essay.

Ken Garland is a highly renowned British graphic designer, author and game designer born in 1929. He was educated at the London central school of arts. From here Design magazine hired him as editor for 6 years, this meant he had tremendous responsibilities designing and writing. His reputation soon started to grow within the graphic design industry as more and more of designs become published. He then started to contribute ideas to the toy manufacturing company ‘Galt Toys’. For this company he designed some large wooden toys, which then turned to games. Ken was the brain behind the successful game ‘Connect’. In 1962 he became his own boss and established his own studio ‘Ken Garland & Associates’. At this stage of his life he had already been massively successful through his designs and writing however it wasn’t until 196 until Ken wrote and proclaimed, “First things first manifesto”. The manifesto is the main reason I am interested in Ken as a practitioner as it argues a strong argument that I agree with myself.

The manifesto is in favour of the more useful, democratic and lasting forms of communication such as environmental, social and cultural crises. It draws upon ideas shared by Critical Theory, the Frankfurt School which is a social and political philosophical movement of thought located in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. The First Things First manifesto was written at a time when the British economy was booming. Demanding a “Reversal of priorities in favour of the more useful and more lasting forms of communication.” Garland claims for a ”society that will tire of gimmick merchants, status salesman and hidden persuaders”. It strongly disagrees with the consumerist culture, whereby people are obsessed with buying and selling. The signatories wanted to make a clear distinction between design as a form of communication (conveying information) and design as a persuasion (trying to get consumers to buy things). It also highlights a Humanist dimension to graphic design theory.

The manifesto was backed by over 400 graphic designers and was signed by twenty-one other visual communicators, if I had the chance I would be the twenty-second. Four hundred copies were published in January 1964. Some of the signatories were well-established figures such as Edward Wright and Anthony Froshaug a typographer of great influence. Others were students, teachers, photographers and up and coming designers.

The main message I feel Ken was trying to transcribe within his writing was how “There are pursuits more worthy of our problem-solving skills”. This has inspired my career as a graphic designer to not settle for commercial work. It may pay the bills but design should not be powered or generated for wealth but for love and with passion behind the subject matter.

I believe the manifesto-stimulated discussion in all areas of visual communication. As in 2000 thirty-three other visual communicators renewed it. The new version “First things thirst manifesto 2000” was published in 1999 in Adbusters (Canada), Emigre (Issue 51) and AIGA Journal of Graphic Design (United States), Eye magazine no. 33 vol. 8, Autumn 1999, Blueprint (Britain) and Items (Netherlands). Katherine McCoy an American graphic designer who signed the new manifesto said, “We have trained a profession that feels political or social concerns are either extraneous to our work or inappropriate.“

As I strongly agree with Ken Garland’s ideas as a graphic designer I wanted to base this project upon him as I was keen to know about his life in greater depth than the basic facts on Wikipedia. Before I started to design my icon book, I researched many existing icon books. Firstly I looked at “The Introducing… series and the …For Beginners series. These are two book series of graphic guides covering key thinkers and topics. They take a classic approach to icon books combining text with image. The lexis used is informative with tendencies of whit.

After studying the classic approach to icon books I started to look at graphic designers who have published contemporary icon books. Stephen McCarthy tells the story of the English riots using pictograms. The entire story is told without words. Personally I was intrigued by the contemporary approach to icon books. The classic approach I found rather unexciting and longwinded, they didn’t ignite any form of interest towards the key thinker/topic. This is when I started to draw a basic timeline of Ken Garland’s key life events; I wanted to simplify my research to a very basic form with the intention of making my icon book easily understood and not to overwhelming. Unlike Stephen McCarthy’s approach to icon books I still wanted to combine text with image.

Expanding my knowledge of Ken Garland and his work I watched his lecture entitled “Word and image” at The TYPO London 2012 International Design Conference. “TYPO inspires, offers insights and experiments, encourages the exchange of knowledge and is a creative playground for communication professionals.” Within the lecture he visits the original conjunction of spoken word and image. Watching the lecture I was inspired by the repetition of the word “quirky”. Ken Garland said, “I am a bit quirky” on numerous occasions. Through his quirkiness he has gained a lot of respect within design, therefore this small comment made me yearn for an alternative approach to my own icon book. What can I do to make my icon book stand out?

During his lecture word and image Ken captivated the audience by reading out a sequence of short poems. The very last poem told the story of a young boy dressed in a black vest and a pair of shorts. The young boy incessantly rings his front doorbell. The unique and personal atmosphere Garland manages to create is admirable and very delightful to watch. It amazed me how poetry had such power and dexterity. The audience looks mesmerized within the video clip. At this stage of my research is when I decided to play around with poetry myself. I had already decided I wanted to take a quirky approach to my icon book, therefore I thought it would be clever to educate people about Ken Garland in the form of a poem.

After deciding upon the facts from my research I thought were key to include about ken Garland within an icon book, I started to put together rhyming sentences. Soon sentences started to generate, I put them together to form a poem. The poem tells a short story of his life events starting from his education at the London central school of arts to his later work including his First things first manifesto and his own studio ‘Ken Garland & Associates’. I am very happy with the finished poem, I think informing people with this style of writing will attract a larger target audience. The simplicity of it will make the icon book be easily read and understood by a younger age range as well as an elder one. Presenting his life in the form of a poem I think will also encourage people to read and learn, as the typical icon book style can be quite overwhelming. The poem adds playfulness and a quirky edge, which is exactly what I set out to achieve.

To inspire the aesthetics of my icon book during my research firstly I looked at the first comprehensive monograph devoted to the entire career of Ken Garland. It was written by Adrian Shaughnessy, a graphic designer and writer based in London. Within the book he includes rare personal photographs from Kens collection, interviews with Ken himself and touches on many aspects of Garlands career: the ethical and political designer; the writer; the teacher; the photographer. However I wasn’t studying the book for its context but I was closely looking at the design decisions Adrian Shaughnessy made. I wanted to see how other designers have presented Ken Garlands life, what colour schemes they have chosen and the typeface they have used. The layout of the book is extremely modernist following a grid system, colour is minimal and all text is black on a white background. On many pages text is minimal too, images are large covering sometimes a two-page spread. These are all design choices that helped inspire me as a designer.

The make-up of the icon I feel is just as important as the context. After vivid research I decided I wanted my icon book to endure simplicity but also be visually compelling. Ken Garland is a highly regarded graphic designer therefore his life story should not need jazzing up with an array of bright colours and images. To add to the playfulness of the poem I wanted to illustrate his life story with my own drawings. The brief stated to produce a 5 page icon book therefore I cut up my poem into 5 sections. On each page I drew illustrations to denote the stage of Ken Garlands life in the poem. My illustrations are very basic with just a black outline giving them a cartoon aesthetic.

The process I followed to illustrate my poem was firstly I drawn up storyboards exploring different possibility’s. Once I had finalized my idea I had drawn it neatly using a fine black pen. When I was happy with the illustrations I scanned them into my computer and put then in an In-Design document to work on top of. In-Design is where I started to add colour, I only added yellow and red to keep it simple. Red was a common colour that Adrian Shaughnessy used when designed his monograph of Ken Garland. The images are not large creating a lot of blank white space. Therefore like Adrian Shaughnessy’s monograph my icon book has a modernist aesthetic.

I laid the images in line with text giving the page structure and order. The typeface I used for the text was ‘Helvetica’. I decided to use ‘Helvetica’ because it’s a simplistic legible sans-serif font that is extremely well known. ‘Helvetica’ is among the most widely used sans-serif typefaces. It was developed in 1957 by Swiss typeface designer Max Miedinger with Eduard Hoffmann. As it is such a highly recognized typeface I thought it would be greatly suitable to represent Ken Garlands life story, as he is such a commendable character. Just like Ken Garland ‘Helvetica’ is undoubtedly as successful.

The design of my icon book is unarguably different to “The Introducing… series and the …For Beginners series that I had studied in my research yet shares tendencies of design with the more contemporary icon books I looked at. Like Stephen McCarthy my illustrations are minimalistic and layered upon a plain white background. I do not have much interest in the traditional style of icon books what so ever, which is why I followed a contemporary design route.

Through intense research and planning I am profoundly happy with the finished icon book I have produced. It is successful in educating people about Ken Garland’s life in a stimulating manner. The use of a poem and unique illustrations, adds a fun twist to the icon book compelling people to read. With further experimentation I feel the aesthetic qualities could be improved, I could research modernist design in even further depth and maybe look at an even wider range of existing icon books. However the text I included and design choices I made as it stands, I feel are well educated. The strongest aspect of my icon book I feel is the poem I wrote, as it is unique to me. Quirkiness is a quality that will get you recognized in the design industry as companies are constantly looking for new ways to stand out.


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