In design, as in all education, students are often more aware of cultural shift than are their tutors – even if they can’t at first articulate them.
As the course progressed we began to recognise some of the tensions in the world of design. The college was well entrenched in the Bauhaus tradition of ‘form follows function’. We budding graphic designers soon discovered the world of what was known as ‘Swiss style’ design. This was clean and minimalist with much use of ranged left Helvetica. I embraced it and thanks to my Armin Hoffman manual was soon ahead of my contemporaries in applying the style. As this fitted well with the college design ethos, I progressed comfortably. In this atmosphere decoration and illustration was frowned upon. Anything not strictly necessary to the function was to be excluded.
Examples of designers we were meant to admire and emulate included the legendary Jock Kinnear and Margaret Calvert, whose work on transport signage had resulted in the new motorway signs we still benefit from today. Our senior tutors and lecturers wore suits and white shirts, reflecting the general thrust of design desperate to be taken seriously as a profession on a par with architecture.
But other forces were coming into play. Pop Art was making its influence felt in such areas as record sleeves and posters. The hippy culture brought with it decoration and eastern influences, and from the US the underground press with garish type and strong illustration was now evident. The media where these forces were most manifest were those evident in pop culture, the culture of the young – our culture.
Slowly Swiss style design was becoming less dominant in the work of students. Colour became more important, especially the ‘pop’ palette of orange, magenta and cyan. Discord was appreciated. Fetchingly ugly typefaces like Cooper Black and Cable were revisited. Decoration was unashamedly applied.