Herbert Spencer


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(1924–2002) A highly influential British communication and typographic designer, Spencer disseminated his ideas through his work, his commitment to design education, his involvement with the pioneering magazine Typographica and the Penrose Annual, and highly perceptive writings in the field.

Born in London Spencer became interested in printing as a child, an interest that was further developed as an RAF cartographer during the Second World War. Having joined the London Typographic Designers in 1946 he embarked on a career in design. He built up a design and consultancy business from 1948, with a client list that was to include the Post Office, British Railways, Shell, and the Tate Gallery. From the late 1940s onwards he travelled in Europe, meeting many influential figures such as Max Bill and Piet Zwart who enhanced the breadth of his design thinking and knowledge. Over many years he disseminated in Britain his familiarity with European typographic innovation.

Spencer exerted considerable influence through a commitment to publishing and writing. He had a close relationship with the Lund Humphries company who began publishing the Typographica journal, which he founded in 1949, editing it until it ceased in 1967. It embraced avant-garde ideas from typography to photography, its own format often taking on fresh ideas. From 1964 to 1973 he also edited the highly respected print-focused Penrose Annual 1895–1982, also published by Lund Humphries. Furthermore, Spencer wrote a number of books that have proved influential in the profession, including Design in Business Printing (1952), The Visible Word (1966), and Pioneers of Modern Typography (1969). His national and international reputation was reflected by his role as Master of the Faculty of RDI (Royal Designers for Industry) from 1979 to 1981 and International President of AGI (Alliance Graphique Internationale) from 1971 to 1974.

For three decades he played an important role in graphic design education, influencing several generations of students. From 1949 to 1955 he taught typography at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London, and in 1966 was appointed Senior Research Fellow in the Print Research Unit at the Royal College of Art and was made Professor of Graphic Arts at the RCA from 1978 to 1985.

From A Dictionary of Modern Design in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.

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