Theo Inglis has been thinking about mid-century modern graphic design for quite some time now. The writer and designer’s latest work, handily titled Mid-Century Modern Design sees the RCA graduate returning to a site of previous academic pilgrimage.
“Its genesis was actually a dissertation I wrote on the same subject back when I was doing my BA,” Theo says. “At the time I’d noticed a lot of designers and illustrators citing ‘mid-century modern’ as an influence, which made me want to dig deeper into what they meant by it, why it was suddenly so popular and the factors that influenced the graphic aesthetic of the original mid-century designers.”
Somewhat surprisingly for someone who’s just penned a book-length treatise on the concept, Theo says he’s wrestled with the term “mid-century modern”, describing it as “a retrospective invention,” that is, “like all historical categories,” open to almost limitless interpretation.
Compiling a vast array of record sleeves, book covers, posters, and adverts, Theo turns that interpretive spirit to his advantage, curating a comprehensive overview of an aesthetic moment which tended – in a display of post-war positivity – toward the “playful, bold, and colourful.”
When pushed, politely of course, Norwich-based Theo -– who regularly designs gorgeous poetry pamphlets for South London literary collective Clinic, and also had a huge hand in the creation of British Rail Designed: 1948-97 a masterpiece of rail writing if there ever was one – notes that we can begin to work towards a concrete definition of mid-century modernism by considering the “increasing ascendency of photography, the combination of text, illustration and photography into one integrated ‘image’,” as a major hallmark of what makes a work mid-century.
He goes on to say that: “The kind of work I’m showing in the book is also complicated in terms of the modernism vs post-modernism overview of design history, most of the designers included would have called themselves modernists, but were producing work that is very different from the rigid, grid-based graphic design against which post-modernism rebelled.”
No mere assemblage of imagery – and given the strength of work on display, it wouldn’t necessarily be a shame if this was all that Mid-Century Modern Graphic Design was – the book can be read as an extension not just of Theo’s undergraduate work, but as a solidification of everything he learned on the MA in critical writing programme he graduated from last summer.
Crucial to this was ensuring that he produced a text that supported and complemented an “accessible graphic design book that explained how and why the graphics of a specific era look the way they do.” One of those rare books that’ll give the layperson a formal education and still entice the self-professed experts, Mid-Century Modern Graphic Design has got INT wanting to invest in a time machine ASAP, journeying back to a cheerier and more colourful past.