White Stuff

Geoff White has made an amazing contribution to educating and inspiring generations of young designers. Tony Pritchard celebrates one of graphic design's great unsung heroes who has just received the highest honour from the ISTD.

Large dadf5a25 bddc 46c9 b2d3 4fcd0a9012c7

Cubist Paris: a poster designed for Ravensbourne College of Art and Design advertising a year one lecture

Geoff was born in 1928 and is part of a generation of post-war British Modernist designers. He studied at the Central School under Victor Pasmore, Herbert Spencer and Anthony Froshaug alongside Peter Wildbur, Ken Briggs and Colin Forbes. Geoff has been profiled in the journal Octavo and the book ‘Drip Dry Shirts’ by Lucienne Roberts.

Geoff left school at fifteen and began his working life as a messenger boy in the same firm that future Pentagram partner Colin Forbes was employed at. Geoff often recounts the time that he and Colin were nearly hit by a ‘doodle-bug’ bomb during a World War Two lunchtime raid on London. Quadragram doesn’t have the same ring to it. It was Colin Forbes that suggested Geoff apply to the Central School which he attended in 1949.

During the early 1960s, Geoff joined the design agency Dewar Mills, where he was able to adopt a more Modernist approach not current in the agencies of the day. Through 1961–62 Geoff started to combine professional work with teaching at the London College of Printing.

Geoff had long been motivated by a sense of ethics within the discipline and during 1964 was one of the signatories of the First Things First manifesto. Geoff joined the Labour Party aged eighteen in 1946. The personal, the professional, the political, society and the individual’s contribution were all connected in Geoff’s mind.

Large ad75f41a a5ae 4172 bc67 5455ef4ac9ed

Ian McLaren, Talking Graphics. A poster for a series of talks given at London College of Communication

Large a89d701f 78a7 4fe8 89ad c3556f4de034

1975 degree show poster for Ravensbourne College of Art and Design

Large 96ee976d ff66 4975 8034 d54a29794229

Cover designed for notes on geometry for Design students

Large 39d8fed3 625c 4d5a 8f6b bbfa6eaecd5b

Colour wheel introduced to Geoff White whilst he was a student at Central School

It was Ken Briggs that recommended Geoff White to Ravensbourne, an institution he is primarily associated with. This connection began in 1966 on a part-time basis and then eventually full-time from 1971.

The combination of teaching with professional practice suited Geoff’s temperament. He favoured the approach taken at Ravensbourne, which was influenced by the Bauhaus and the Ulm school. As a year one tutor, Geoff was able to collaborate with others to continue the development of a unique education in basic design and typography. The spirit of Modernism flourished within the studios at Ravensbourne and began to influence a new generation of designers emerging through the 1970s, 80s and 90s. The use of sans serif typefaces such as Univers within a strict hierarchy of sizes and weights and structured to an underlying grid system became prevalent within the work of Geoff and his students. Geoff has kept an international perspective, and has keenly observed and integrated within his own practice the influences of experimental designers such as Wolfgang Weingart.

During the mid 1980s Geoff enlisted Hamish Muir and Simon Johnston of the newly formed 8vo in their first teaching roles.

Large 5611e9cb 8c46 49b8 83f6 00899c3e9fdb

Large 0958dbef 175d 4e2a 9d78 f8a4ef9bf86f

Poster advertising a year one lecture at Ravensbourne College of Art and Design

Large 92b968a2 5e40 49de 8645 196da11fc269

1976 degree show poster for Ravensbourne College of Art and Design

Large b42abe59 9057 4c48 a096 66ea30d934bc

Signs designed to identify the various departments at Ravensbourne College of Art and Design

Large a78e36fa ab06 48f0 bb72 0f340f346f19

Leaflets advertising various departments at Ravensbourne College of Art and Design

Large 3a406dfd 3f5e 4006 9828 f1254958ee9b

Leaflet produced whilst a designer at Dewar Mills

Over his working life Geoff has produced a prodigious body of work. Peter Werner, the head of department, commissioned the graphic design work associated with Ravensbourne. Geoff designed posters, invitation cards and leaflets for the college. This exuberant work focused on teaching by example.

He has built up a wealth of teaching material, much of it originated and compiled by himself, which he has shared openly. Geoff doesn’t pontificate or strive to promote himself, rather he genuinely hypothesizes, based on his lifetime of knowledge and experience. For many within education Geoff has become a benchmark of good practice to be followed.

Between 2008 and 2009 Geoff developed further his practice as a graphic designer through his poster work for the Talking Graphics series at London College of Communication. Working either by hand or on a computer Geoff continues to explore new visual languages to extend the possibilities within his work.

Colin Banks once described typography as a lifelong apprenticeship that you never quite master. Geoff White exemplifies this continuous striving to learn, develop and discover more. He is the perfect candidate and unsung hero to be recognised by the ISTD for his selfless contribution to British graphic design and British graphic design education.

Large 1064caea dc68 4db2 9770 cd43b1913b52

Geoff leading a session discussing posters at London College of Communication in this academic year 2016/17

Tony Pritchard is Course Leader Postgraduate Certificate and Diploma Design for Visual Communication at the London College of Communication, and a board member of ISTD.