A graphic designer’s role should be more like a consulting doctor than an artist

Gallery Libby Sellers is currently showcasing the extensive body of work by Richard Hollis, a graphic designer, author and teacher. The exhibition, curated by Emily King, includes work made by Hollis in the 50s to the present day, ranging from stationary and books to posters and a painting. Some of the designs are explained in a separate room, through slides complimented with audio commentary. And if you take a closer look on the letterheads, you can get a more personal insight to Hollis flair and wit in his writing to Grey.

Hollis is a major influence, not only through his design of journals such as Modern Poetry and his coherent communication system for Whitechapel Gallery, but also through his writing about design in books such as Graphic Design: A Concise History and Swiss Graphic Design. Everything he does is a result of his extraordinary passion, devotion and rational.

I interviewed Hollis for my dissertation, which was about how typography can be used to invigorate the content. Something Hollis mastered with his setting of Ways of Seeing, which is built upon John Bergers scripts from his BBC television series. The design of the book is the result of a close collaboration of Hollis and Berger. The inspiration came from Chris Marker‘s book Commentaires, which consisted of Marker‘s film commentary, with images inserted into the text, which made the two almost interchangeable. Hollis used particularly bold type to emphasis this equal importance further. He also used big indents to distinguish smaller parts, extend a punctuation‘s pause and align images. The text’s spoken attribute is intensified by this setting, which enhances the rhythm of speech.

This consideration of staying true to the content along with the conscious choice of reference and close collaboration with the client, is something typical of Hollis. As an admirer of Swiss modernism and concrete art, everything is intentional. He believe a graphic designer’s role should be more like a consulting doctor than an artist.

I also find it typical of Hollis to want to teach the viewer – to explain design. He used to love teaching at London College of Printing, with the attitude that the students also taught him. He never told them what to do, but asked instead ‘what are you trying to do‘. He also told me that the standard of his work became very high, because he didn’t want to do something bad that could be seen by his students. This could be seen as selfish, but it is also a sign of respect and an understanding that his students one day could become fellow designers and clients. Which leads to Hollis ongoing interest in meeting other designers and artists.

He used to travel to visit people such as Josef Müller-Brockmann and the De Stijl artist Georges Vantongerloo. This openness to influence and dialogue with fellow designers is something I think we should all adapt – to more than our blog posts and tweets.

Look out for the compilation of Hollis’s writing titled ‘About Graphic Design’, which will be published by Occasional Papers this April.