Today marks the 100th birthday of modernist master, Tom Eckersley. A pioneer in poster design for more than six decades, Eckersley’s distinct style pairs minimal, flat forms with bold colors and contours. His talent for whittling down subject matter with deceiving ease continues to inspire designers around the world.

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Eckersley began his career in 1934 when he moved to London as a freelance poster designer. His emphasis on geometric shapes and heavy contrast – often resembling paper cut outs – paired well with workplace safety posters. He quickly became known for masterfully transforming bland public information signs into works of art.

Throughout his career, his artistic approach attracted global brands including the United Nations, the Worldwide Wildlife Fund, Guinness, Gilette, Unicef and London Transport.

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After working as a cartographer for the Royal Air Force and a poster designer for the Public Section of the Air Ministry during World War II, Eckersley turned his efforts to education. In 1954 he started the UK’s first undergraduate graphic design course at the London College of Printing (now the London College of Communication). Some of his most notable students include famed Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas illustrator Ralph Steadman, advertising executive John Hegarty, and agency mogul Charles Saatchi.

While Eckersley passed away in 1997, his legacy lives on. Often celebrated as the “godfather” of modern graphic design, his work gracefully separated communications from commercial art. His ability to break down complex messages in a digestible and visually appealing way is something that communications professionals still strive for.

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As Lawrence Zeegen, Dean of the School of Design at LCC, stated in a press release earlier this year for their centennial exhibition of his work:

“As 21st century communication design and media races ever onwards, finding a moment to pause and reflect upon the discipline’s past, amidst the barrage of multi-disciplinary, multi-platform, multi-layered visual messages, is increasingly relevant. It is crucial in our understanding and appreciation of communication design’s past, present and future.”

We’ll cheers to that!

Are you familiar with Tom Eckersley? Which contemporary designers do you think he’s influenced?