2014 marks 100 years since the birth of Abram Games, the UK’s most accomplished graphic designer of the 20th century. Through his prolific career that stretched 60 years, Games produced a body of work that would prove to be one of the most influential graphic design portfolios of all time, and his World War 2 propaganda posters have become some of Britain’s most iconic images. Taking a look back on his success, here are seven lessons that every graphic designer would do well to learn from his experience…
Abram Games designing posters in his London studio. © Estate of Abram Games
- Keep it simple
Games worked to the personal motto of “maximum meaning, minimum means”. It gave his work the symbolic quality that makes his images so powerful and so successful. By stripping his designs back to their bare essentials, his posters were able to succinctly convey a powerful message which made him the desirable go-to poster designer for so many big name projects.
Games’s bold, visual style remained consistent, as this anti-smoking poster designed at the end of his career, demonstrates. © Estate of Abram Games
2. Get an education
It is commonly believed that Games was a self taught designer, as he dropped out of London’s famous St Martin’s School of Art after just 6 months. However, while working as a studio boy for the London-based design agency Askew-Younge between 1932 and 1936, he attended night classes in art, including classes in life drawing. His studies of drawing the human form came in to play in much of his poster art throughout his career.
- Stand out from your contemporaries
Games’s bold designs used striking colour and visual ideas that were unique to his work alone. His original minimalist style of poster design came to be one of the most recognisable, and the most influential, of the 20th century. Games researched and planned each piece meticulously and took inspiration from thousands of different sources. As his ideas came from so many roots, his work was highly original and stood out from the work of other poster designers of his time.
- Successful design is in the planning
Games was a meticulous planner and for every poster he would produce up to 30 individual designs, combining two or three into a final draft. He famously would work on a small scale, reasoning that if the poster designs “didn’t work an inch high, they will never work.”
After sketching the final draft he would either get a photographer to blow it up to full size or blow it up himself. He would let the finished design sit in his studio for a whole week before giving it his seal of approval and adding his signature to the top corner.
Games was the leading World War 2 propaganda poster designer for the British Government, producing hundreds of public service posters like the one above. © Estate of Abram Games
- Enter competitions
After success in graphic design competitions early on in his career, Abram Games became a well known figure in the London design scene. In 1934, while still employed at Askew-Younge, he placed second in the Health Council Competition and in 1936 won a poster design competition held by London City Council, placing him firmly on the radar of potential employers.
- Be prolific in your output
Abram Games is most remembered from his work on World War 2 propaganda posters. Between 1942 and 1946, in his position as Official War Office Poster Designer, he created over 100 posters. It is clear that his prolific output was due in part to him feeling that his work was necessary. In 1948 he wrote in the popular arts magazine ‘Art and Industry’: “I feel strongly that the high purpose of the wartime posters was mainly responsible for their excellence.”
Abram Games’s most famous (and controversial) World War 2 propaganda posters were his designs for the ATS. © Estate of Abram Games
After his time in the military, Games became a freelance graphic designer. The clients he worked for during this time include Shell, The Financial Times, Guinness, British Airways, London Transport and Penguin Books. He designed stamps for Britain, Ireland, Israel, and Jersey, the symbols for the 1951 Festival of Britain and the 1965 Queen’s Award to Industry. In 1953 he produced the world’s first moving on-screen symbol for BBC Television.
Abram Games became the go to poster designer for many British companies including the Financial Times. © Estate of Abram Games
- Believe in yourself
While it might be suggested that Games’s ego was a downside to his personality, the confidence he had in himself as a designer allowed him to focus on the task at hand rather than doubting his ability. Of his work on World War 2 propaganda posters, he was certain of his ability to sway the public opinion and said: “I wind the spring and the public, in looking at the poster, will have that spring released in its mind.”
- Take a multidisciplinary approach to design
Although Abram Games is most remembered as a poster designer, he also achieved some success as an industrial designer. In 1947 he designed the original Cona vacuum coffee maker and, in the early 60s, a handheld duplicating machine. The duplicating machine never went into production but the coffee maker lasted until 1959 when Games’s original design was reworked.
Games was also a keen drawer and, after attending night classes in life drawing, he continued his studies of the human form by visiting the Royal College of Surgeons with his sketchbook.
You can see more of Abram Games’s work at an exhibition titled Designing the 20th Century, on at the Jewish Museum in London until the 4th of January 2015.