I was very sad to hear about the death of designer David King last week. He was one of the greats of British graphic design and if you don’t know his name you certainly know his work, and may even have some of it in your house.
King was art editor at The Sunday Times Magazine from 1965-75 when it published serious, hard-hitting photojournalism by great photographers like Don McCullin (instead of the celeb/lifestyle fluff it goes in for now). King was always more interested in telling a story and getting a message across than he was in pretty design frippery so his layouts have a directness that still packs a punch today.
While working at the magazine King also designed album sleeves for Track Records. Just a little earner on the side that happened to produce at least two iconic classics.
The Electric Ladyland cover only took 36 hours from concept to completion, and King’s intention was to produce an anti-Playboy image showing women as they really are in all their unpolished beauty. For his efforts, Jimi Hendrix said he had no idea what it was all about and the sleeve was banned in the USA.
When he left The Times, King channeled his political beliefs into work for the Anti-Apartheid movement and Anti-Nazi League. It was his work for the latter that had the most impact and is probably the best remembered today, especially if you were around in the late 70s when the ANL teamed up with Rock Against Racism to help fight the influence of the NF on young people.
King attempted to create a visual language for the Left in England that was bolder and more memorable than the usual hand-made, photocopied flyer. Like his magazine work, these posters didn’t fuck around with niceties and instantly grabbed your attention. There’s no doubt that his posters helped the visibility of the ANL and RAR and you can still see their influence in the typography on placards at demos in London.
He brought the same bold style to his covers for London listings magazine City Limits which he designed for a year in 1982. Heavily influenced by Russian Constructivists like Rodchenko, he made the most of the limited budget the magazine had to produce eye-popping covers that leapt off the newsagent shelves.
King quit the design business in the 80s — not surprising, given his politics and the superficial, glossy turn graphics took that decade — to concentrate on building his collection of Revolutionary Soviet design and photography which he published several acclaimed books of.
The collection grew to be the biggest of its kind in the world and David licensed images to other publications. Because of this I had the pleasure of speaking with him on the phone about 10 years ago when I needed an image for a magazine article I was designing about an obscure Russian writer. His collection wasn’t online and you had to call David and ask him for the image which he’d mail you a slide of — that was old school even then. He couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful, and it did give me a chance to tell him how much I’d loved his work over the years.
The first band that comes to mind when I think of the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism is this lot.
Download: Ain’t Gonna Take It – Tom Robinson Band (mp3)