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Ken Briggs and his iconic designs for the National Theatre

The typographic designs produced for the National Theatre by Ken Briggs are not only iconic and depict the Swiss typographic style of the time, but remain a key example of the creation of a cohesive brand style.  

Ken (Kenneth) Briggs was a lover of modern jazz, had an interest in French painting and enjoyed watching Japanese films. He was born in 1931 in Derbyshire, during the Great Depression in the United Kingdom and at the age of 16, he attended the Chesterfield School of Arts & Crafts. After finishing his studies, he obtained a scholarship to study in London, at the Central School of Arts & Crafts, on the Book Design and Production course. He studied alongside famous British designers such as Ken Garland, Colin Forbes, Alan Fletcher and Derek Birdsall. All, of which played a major part, in the history of British graphic design.

After graduating and spending two years conscripted to National Service, Ken started his career as a typographer in an advertising agency called Everetts (1955), a job he disliked, not only the work, but also the people. After a year at Everetts, he left the business and worked as a designer for the National Trade Press, a job he much preferred, but later was fired, due to a conflict in options with the editor.

In the late 50s Ken was commissioned by various clients including the Arts Council and Rathbone Book and began teaching part time alongside his design work. During the 1960s he was asked to pitch for the design contract for The National Theatre by Stephen Arlen, (one of Kens previous clients). And as the winning applicant he was appointed to design the posters, programmes and other printed matter for the National Theatre. His application featured a photographic element and carefully composed Letraset, which set the basis of the future designs for the National Theatre.

Here’s a few examples from the archive of the programme designs by Ken Briggs.

National Theatre - Booking 1976 -Ken Briggs
National Theatre – Booking 1976 – Ken Briggs
National Theatre - Booking 1976 -Ken Briggs
National Theatre – Booking 1976 – Ken Briggs
National Theatre - Booking 1976 - Ken Briggs
National Theatre – Booking 1976 – Ken Briggs
SCAN 0000s 0004 Scan 29
SCAN 0000s 0005 Scan 28
SCAN 0000s 0011 Scan 22
SCAN 0000s 0018 Scan 13
SCAN 0000s 0019 Scan 12
SCAN 0000s 0016 Scan 16
SCAN 0000s 0012 Scan 21
SCAN 0000s 0009 Scan 24
National Theatre - BlaC - Ken Briggs
SCAN 0000s 0014 Scan 18
SCAN 0000s 0021 Scan 10
SCAN 0000s 0017 Scan 14
SCAN 0000s 0013 Scan 20
SCAN 0000s 0007 Scan 26
SCAN 0000s 0015 Scan 17

Interested in hearing more about the collection or using the archive? 

You can sign up to the design archive newsletter here http://eepurl.com/hkBeHP

Further info and references 

The Master Builder, Talking with Ken Briggs by Sara De Bondt and Fraser Muggeridge

National Theatre Posters A Design History [Unit 33] by Author: Rick Poynor


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