See how the RCA celebrates a half century in graphic design

A major retrospective of the RCA's fifty-year contribution to graphic communication gets underway this week in London

Today sees the opening of a major new exhibition which reveals the rich history of graphic design at the Royal College of Art.

‘GraphicsRCA: Fifty Years’ illustrates how the RCA has been at the forefront of all major developments in graphic communication for the past half century.

The exhibition features original, rarely seen works from the RCA archive, including designs made at the College by RCA alumni who have gone on to become leading practitioners.

Other exhibits include RCA Film Society Posters, stamps commissioned for the Royal Mail, the infamous student magazine Ark, typographic experiments, the rise of interest amongst students and staff in social issues such as sustainability and consumerism, and early examples from pioneers of digital design and print.

Image: Ray Gregory, RCA Football Club poster, 1971

In 1963 the first ever exhibition of graphic design took place at the Royal College of Art.

GraphicsRCA: Fifteen Year's Work of the School of Graphic Design looked back to the founding of the School in 1948, and a period when the School taught some of the most recognisable names in the profession – amongst them Alan Fletcher, Ridley Scott, David Gentleman and Len Deighton.

The 1963 show aimed to capture the new direction of the craft as it emerged from its Victorian roots in the pre-industrial world, and adapted to the new professionalised landscape. It also marked the culmination of a pivotal period in British history, where Modernism gave way to Pop, and the beginnings of the rise of Post-Modernism.

Image:Thelma Roscoe, Poster for original GraphicsRCA: Fifteen Years exhibition, 1963

Over 50 years later, graphic design education and the profession finds itself at a crossroads once again.

The complexity of the contemporary social and technological landscape means the role of graphic design has by necessity evolved.

GraphicsRCA: Fifty Years tells the story from the point where the 1963 exhibition left off and traces the development of the School, through the impact of digitisation, the influence of RCA graduates on the creative industries and the role of graphic design in the future.

Image:Brian Denyer, RCA Film Society Poster for Summer with Monica, 1964

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Featured works in the exhibition include John Pasche’s 1971 lips and tongue logo for the Rolling Stones, Jonathan Barnbrook’s typographic experiment from 1990 using early font design software, Morag Myerscough’s 1988 student designs for Henry James book, Turn of the Screw and FUEL’s (Peter Miles, Damon Murray and Stephen Sorrell) newspaper from 1992 – a social commentary on President Yeltsin’s era of free enterprise Russia (pictured).

Further graduates selected for the exhibition include established studios such as Graphic Thought Facility, Why Not Associates, Kerr Noble, Studio Dumbar, and Sophie Thomas through to a new generation of designers.

Image:Triple poster shown in London Underground for Young Contemporaries exhibition by Mike Foreman, 1963

The significance of the role that tutors and professors have played in fostering a unique and creative experience for students will be acknowledged within the exhibition.

Many staff members have been at the forefront of design practice, critical debates, and education, from Richard Guyatt and Abram Games in the ‘50s; Bob Gill, Jock Kinneir and Anthony Froshaug in the 60s; Ken Garland and Herbert Spencer in the 70s; Gert Dumbar, Derek Birdsall and Margaret Calvert in the 80s; and Dan Fern in the 90s and current Dean of School, Neville Brody.

Image:RCA Film Society poster for The Ipcress File

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“Graphic design surrounds every aspect of our daily lives – packaging, road signs, newspapers, album covers, websites,” said Rector of the RCA, Dr Paul Thompson. “Everyone has an opinion about what makes good design. But we rarely know the names or faces of the designers behind such memorable work."

"This exhibition recognises the huge amount of talent that has emerged from the RCA in the last 50 years and shows the breadth of graphic design practice that makes it the most visually accessible medium in the world.”

Image: Nigel Robinson, poster for a lecture by Peter Blake, 1990

Professor Neville Brody, Dean of School of Communication, praised the 'remarkable tradition' of graphic design at the RCA.

“The College, under various illustrious heads of department, has produced many of the leading and most innovative practitioners of the modern era,” he said. “We take great inspiration from the past both in the way we run the programme today and in our determination to create the dangerous minds of the future. This show will demonstrate how rich the heritage we draw on is.”

Image: Morag Myerscough, The Turn of the Screw, book of the libretto, 1988

The free exhibition has been curated by staff and students from the RCA School of Communication and opens today at the Upper Gulbenkian Gallery in Kensington in London.

There will be a series of events and a publication to accompany the exhibition, which will run until the 22nd December, 2014.

Image: Dave Ellis, Vote Labour poster, 1987. Ellis formed Why Not Associates with fellow students Andy Altmann and Huw Greenhalgh

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Image:Jonathan Barnbrook, A Typography Experiment, design for a font called Bastard 1, Poster Print, 1990

Image:John Pasche’s 1971 lips and tongue logo for the Rolling Stones, commissioned by Mick Jagger whilst Pasche was still a student.

Image:Malcolm Goldie, The Phonecard as an Art Form, Silk Screen poster for the Design Museum, 1992

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Image: Mark Bonner, Definitive Stamps Multiplication Table, 1992.

Bonner formed studio GBH with fellow students Jason Gregory and Peter Hale and is now President of D&AD.

Image:Gill Bradley, RCA Funkapolitan party poster, 1982