Emily King on the Graphic Designer Richard Hollis

‘Hollis’s great skill is to reconcile frugality with generosity’

Cover to John Berger's Ways of Seeing, 1972, designed by Richard Hollis. Courtesy: BBC, Penguin Books and Richard Hollis 

Cover of John Berger's Ways of Seeing, 1972, designed by Richard Hollis. Courtesy: BBC, Penguin Books and Richard Hollis 

My enthusiasm for John Berger’s Ways of Seeing (1972) dates back to my days as an art history student in the 1980s, but my enthusiasm for the book’s designer, Richard Hollis, began in 1992 when I read an article on him by Robin Kinross in the fifth issue of frieze. At the time, I was studying for an MA in design history and had a predilection for the combination of word and image that was dismissed by some of my teachers as, literally, superficial. When Hollis’s Graphic Design: A Concise History was published in 1994, it felt like vindication. Hard to imagine now, but it was the first cogent account of the discipline.

In 2012, thanks to the gallerist Libby Sellers, I had the chance to curate a Hollis retrospective. Spending several weeks perched in the corner of his studio, doing my best not to distract him from his twin tasks of writing and typography, I had the pleasure of trawling his archive. During that time, I picked up many insights, among them these four: word and image must make sense of each other; a book’s physical construction is as important as its layout; you can get a very long way printing in only two colours; a professional designer should aim to save the client’s money. Hollis’s great skill is to reconcile frugality with generosity.  

Emily King is a London-based writer and curator with a specialism in design.

Issue 200

First published in Issue 200

January - February 2019

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