Jonathon Barnbrook

Jonathan Barnbrook was born in 1966 in Luton, United Kingdom, and still works there today. He is a graphic designer, filmmaker, and typographer. He spent 8 years at college and he says his education was free. He studied at Luton’s Barnfield College, Croydon College, Saint Martin’s School of Art as well as Royal College of Art. He came from a poor, single-parent household and says he was pushed to start designing by his art teacher (“Q&A”). He opened his first studio immediately to feel as though he would be more employable with one. He now has this studio founded in 1990 named Barnbrook and throughout his career has worked with activism, graphic design, typeface design, industrial design, and motion graphics(“Q&A). Barnbrook also founded his own font company in 1997 named VirusFonts which has led his typeface Mason to be his most successful font released in 2010 and eventually became one of the first digital acquisitions of the Museum of Modern Art, New York (Barnbrook). In 2017 he was awarded the Grammy for Best Recording Packaging for David Bowie’s Blackstar album. 

Barnbrook says that “design shapes the way we perceive the world and can facilitate social change” (Burton) and has been involved with many movements within the graphic design world. He has been involved with the activist group Adbusters that fights for artists and designers in the corporate world and also created a billboard for them in 2001 called Designers, stay away from corporations that want you to lie for them. He states that the reason he stands by them is that “they told the universal truth about consumption being bad and design being complicit in that actual evil act”(Burton). He was also involved in the First Things First 2000 Manifesto that “proposed a reversal of priorities in the way graphic design was used commercially” (Barnbrook). 

What I was most interested in when studying this artist, in particular, was his involvement with the designing of album covers for musical artists. His most famous cover was for David Bowie but has also worked with John Foxx. I will talk more about the Bowie album in my other post, but this is something that I am personally interested in so this intrigued me as an artist. As I mentioned before, the packaging for this album won a Grammy and I am very much interested in studying this more closely. 

Barnbrook is a politically involved designer. He has no problem speaking on and associating himself with politics or campaigns of that sort. Many designers feel that they will lose support or business due to voicing their opinions, but Barnbrook states “the absolute decision to be a graphic designer is a political decision. Graphic design is at the heart of capitalism. It’s at the heart of encouraging consumption – you are consenting to that as a graphic designer”(Burton). 

It is very important to recognize Barnbrook’s overall role in the graphic design industry. He not only creates great works, as many do, but he also  takes on an active role in advocating for the best possible professional life for designers. He wants them to be not only taken seriously but for them to take themselves seriously. To this day he pushes for the integration of the political and professional lives of artists in terms of their works. He advocates for an open discussion of politics in design as well as the discussion of how capitalism has and continues to affect the art world.

 

Bibliography

Burton, Lucy. “Graphic Design Is Political: Jonathan Barnbrook on How We Can Build a Better Industry.” It’s Nice That, 10 Sept. 2020, www.itsnicethat.com/features/jonathan-barnbrook-in-conversation-graphic-design-100920. 

“Jonathan Barnbrook.” Barnbrook, 18 Oct. 2016, barnbrook.net/about/jonathan-barnbrook/. 

“Q&A.” Barnbrook, 30 Jan. 2017, barnbrook.net/education/qa/.