KEN GARLAND INTERVIEW:
AOS: You’ve gained fame as the originator of the First Things First manifesto (1964). How did that come about?
KG: The manifesto was written in the heat of the moment. I was at the back of a conference room when there was a sort of debate going on about why younger designers should join the Society of Industrial Artists (SIA). I went along because some of my chums were going, but all I wanted to join was a trade union. I joined the National Union of Journalists, and then the National Union of Teachers. I had been a founding member of D&AD in 1962 but I left after the first year because I thought the advertising people were taking over. It wasn’t that I didn’t like advertising, I just didn’t feel part of that scene.
The manifesto was meant to be an alert to the fact that monies, which were pouring into visual communications of all sorts, seemed to be going down the wrong channels. There were all sorts of things that we could have been about and we weren’t. I hardly expected it to raise any interest but I got this terrific reception.
AOS: Coming back to your own design work, would you say that over your career your style moved away from Modernism?
KG: At one time I would design exclusively with asymmetric typography and tended to favour sans serif – I still like it very much and use it in quite a lot of my books – but later I saw that that was too prescriptive a way of designing, and that one could design in different ways according to the subject matter. I certainly didn’t reject Modernism but I didn’t agree with those who said there’s only one way to design, and that is asymmetrically, using, preferably, Helvetica. That seemed to me terribly narrow-minded and over-simplified. I still think so, of course. And I think they think so now too, probably.
AOS: Have you been influenced by any other designers?
KG: I would name one: that’s Hans Schleger. Hans Schleger was a Modernist to his fingertips, but he also loved using features that you might well have thought belonged to the past. One of the most influential books for me was a book written and designed by Schleger and published in 1946 called The Practice of Design. I came to know him and be his friend later, but long before that he became important as a guy who seemed to have the cue for modern design.
Saul Bass and Karl Gerstner were also important to me. I wouldn’t say Karl’s design work was so much a model; I liked the way he flourished his ideas. Swiss graphic design to a large extent avoided intellectualising – it was concerned with formalising. Karl liked to formalise but he also liked to intellectualise. I regarded Hans Schleger like an uncle, and Karl Gerstner more like a brother, and Saul Bass I suppose a bit between the two.