Strike Action

Graphic designer Sarah Boris tells us about a very personal design hero, whose collection of match books intrigued her as a child and whose book binding has influenced her work today. 

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A selection of matchbooks from Boris's grandfather’s collection

There were two glass towers in my grandfather's flat, they appeared gigantic to me as a child. They kept attracting my curiosity. At each visit I peered through the towers without ever daring to touch their contents in fear of breaking the thin glass walls. I was intrigued by these miniature books, their colours, their slogans, the different fonts and illustrations on them, their smell too. All I ever did was observe the stacks within the towers.

We are not heroes by sitting behind a computer and creating beautiful graphics... My design heroes are people that inspire me in their way of being,

When my grandfather died I was already living in London and in the early days of my career, working as in-house graphic designer at the Barbican Centre. And, following my grandfather’s death came the painful time when my father and his two brothers had to empty his flat and sell it. I was taken by surprise when my father explained it was my grandfather's wish that each one of his grandchildren chose one object from his collection. I hesitated, should I empty one of the glass towers, browse through the match books and pick one? 

My memory kept drifting from one object to another, what was the object that would remind me of my great and amazing grandfather and that could symbolise how much he had meant to me and in shaping who I am today?

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One-off Illustration and design for the book Rose des Vents, leather marquetry, letterpress, bookbinding by Michel (left); A tribute screenprint by Sarah Boris, made during her 2014 residency at East London Print Makers (right)

My grandfather never talked about the past, there were only traces here and there of things he made and things he collected. He had many hobbies and one of them was bookbinding. He bound books beautifully with collected leather, hand-painted endpapers or paper patterns by William Morris. 

In the end, I picked a book from his library: Rose des Vents, Philippe Soupault. What I liked about the book wasn’t the story, I had never read it. I liked it as it reminded me of my grandfather’s bookbinding and graphic skills, which I had specifically noticed on this cover with his design of the 'rose wind', the intricate leather marquetry and carefully typeset and foiled title. It also reminded me of the care he had for everything he owned. When he particularly liked a book he would design a cover, create a slip-case, select the endpapers — usually hand-painted ones from local artists. He always saved the small remains of leather from a previous project and was able to recycle these for the Rose Wind design. 

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Match books for hotels

You may be wondering why I am talking about all this in the design hero section and what a design hero is for me. I admire many designers, that are famous for their work, but to me they are not heroes, a hero must be someone that I admire for his character and actions beyond design. For example, the art students behind May 68 posters are more design heroes to me than the best design studio around today that you can read about in the design press. They collectively engaged to defend a cause using their skills and putting much else of their life on the side.  

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Lifestyle match books

My grandfather engaged in the French Resistance when he was only 18. He never talked about it either, he was always looking forwards but the little I know about what he did at that time certainly taught me that we are not heros by sitting behind a computer and creating beautiful graphics. My design heroes are people that inspire me in their way of being, first and foremost, in their approach to life and others, their ethos, their humbleness in what they make, their inspiration, which in turn, inspires me as a designer and has impact in my everyday design practise. 

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Match books for airlines (top row); and Cuba (bottom row)

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Aspirational and propaganda match books

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Thank you match books