“To design is much more than simply to assemble, to order, or even to edit: it is to add value and meaning, to illuminate, to simplify, to clarify, to modify, to dignify, to dramatize, to persuade, and perhaps even to amuse. To design is to transform prose into poetry.” —Paul Rand
By invitation, I once brought Agincourt to a group of graphic designers—emphasis on the word “invitation”, because I try to not stuff the Agincourt Project down the world’s collective gullet. You also know full well how unsuccessful I’ve been; if I had been, you’d see evidence here. I was unable to persuade anyone in the aforementioned group to participate in the project.¹ [Ordinarily I’d ask a rhetorical question at this point, except you might actually answer.]
Graphic style—the ways we shape out letters and configure our words on the page; the number and placement of non-verbal material; the palette of colors and textures— all of these give graphic images their unique character. And that uniquity (I just invented a word, on purpose) helps to establish a sense of time and place. Certain advertising pieces have become iconic, representative of moments in history. I think of British railway posters, from a time before the nationalization of their system when competition was a factor, and the artists who created them.
Frank Brangwyn, for example (Belgian-British artist who I think of working in oil-on-canvas, etchings, and lithographs, as well as ceramics and carpets) was enticed to prepare this powerful image for what I’m guessing may have been the fastest route for travel from London to Scotland. It would be interesting to do a forensic analysis of Brangwyn’s poster, which is rich with imagery that references multiple aspects of British history, well beyond a “simple” message to “take the train to Scotland”.
But Brangwyn was not the most prolific contributor to the genre of advertising art. Another popular graphic artist was Fred Taylor, “whose work … features block colours, thick black lines and a strong focus on shadow and light.” For a selection of his work, visit this Pinterest page.
Consider also A. M. Cassandre’s Jazz-era advert for Dubonnet, a French aperitif. Any of these three components might stand alone, but together they make a three-second movie suggesting the effect Dubonnet will have on your body, not to mention your outlook.
Cassandre was the pseudonym of Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron, born in Ukraine of French parents and a prolific designer of advertising pieces such as this.
Another graphic-in-motion is the opening credits of Otto Preminger’s 1965 film “Bunny Lake is Missing” by graphic designer Saul Bass. This is still one of my all-time favorite films and I think part of its success for me is the integration of this wonderful introduction, pairing the graphics of Bass and the musical score of Paul Glass. [A remarkable rhyming pair, don’t you think?]
Agincourt only succeeds to the extant that others come to play in the sandbox of history.
“Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.” —Joe Sparano
¹ Indeed, from where I was standing, I’d never experienced a response so underwhelming. Very discouraging—but not enough to stop me.