Sometimes you can know a person but not really KNOW that person. I have known or known of the veteran British designer Ken Garland for ages. But not until now, with the publication of his stunning monograph, Ken Garland: Structure and Substance by Adrian Shaughnessy, through his publishing company, Unit Editions, did I truly KNOW him and his enviable body of work.
My introduction to Garland was as an agent provocateur, the author in 1964 of the first First Things First Manifesto, which attempted to radicalize designers who were lazily serving the more dubious needs of consumerist culture. It gave rise to the 2000 version (which I signed). I knew Garland for his anti-nuke and anti-war work, and as the quintessential troublemaker, a role I admired, rather than as a world class midcentury modern designer, which he was. I had no exposure to his exceptional identity work for Galt Toys, his covers for Design magazine, or his various geometric improvisational pieces for the Everyman label of RCA Records.
Monographs may not always be critical, but they certainly are definitive, more or less. Paradoxically, First Things First does not seem to be mentioned at all. But work spanning over sixty years—graphic design, logos, photos, books—and a useful, concise biography round out the portrait of this octogenarian’s life in design that I now have the pleasure of knowing.