Part of the ‘outsider’ generation that transformed graphic design in the UK in the mid-century era, many of Tom Eckersley’s designs remain instantly recognisable today. The graphic designer and poster artist was one of the key contributors to the explosion of visual print culture in Britain during the 20th century.
A subject leader in graphic design communication at Central Saint Martins and owner of Folkestone-based Rennies Seaside Modern, a shop that specialises in British 20th-century art and design, Paul Rennie is well placed to write about Eckersley’s impact on the modern world.
Published by Batsford, his new book is a fascinating exploration of Eckersley’s life and work, from his northern upbringing and early career, through to his pioneering work during the Second World War, and his central role in mid-century graphic design in the decades that followed.
Over 200 designs from throughout Eckersley’s career are featured in the book. It showcases his signature style of bold, bright colours and flat graphic shapes, as seen in designs for clients such as the BBC, British Rail and Gillette.
The publication also examines how he helped to transform design education in the UK in the 1950s and 60s, in turn opening up graphic communication to a wider audience and directly impacting British society.
For Rennie, against the backdrop of today’s digital era, there has never been a better time to revisit Eckersley’s work and its influence on the historical development of graphic design in Britain.
“Today, we take the presence of intelligent communication design for granted. But it’s worth remembering that it wasn’t always like that. Tom Eckersley helped to establish the templates for intelligent and modern graphic design in Britain,” he writes in the book’s introduction.
“One of the criticisms levelled at design, by the cultural commentator Peter York for example, is that design-land has a tendency to speak to itself,” Rennie continues. “Eckersley’s work was always public-facing and was characterised by modernist economy (always conforming to the idea that less is more) leavened through the expression of a typically English sense of humour. The combination of a modernist sensibility with a light touch is well worth celebrating in itself.”
Tom Eckersley: A Mid-century Modern Master is published by Batsford; pavilionbooks.com