The Daily Heller: Romek Marber’s Cover Stories

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The year has not been going well. As if today’s global crises are not enough pain, this year’s graphic design losses include the UK-based Romek Marber, who recently passed away at 95 (Nov. 25, 1925–March 30, 2020). He did, however, build a long and exemplary career producing work with a timeless yet modern aesthetic and enviable style.

The Economist magazine hired the Polish-born Holocaust survivor in 1961 to produce a series of covers. As The Guardian described Marber and his work, he was “one of those who would shake up the restrained visual landscape of postwar Britain … catching the mood of the time and providing a fresh perspective on its major political and social events, not least with some classic covers on the tense relations between John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev during the period around the Cuban missile crisis.”

Marber’s output at The Economist brought him to the attention of Germano Facetti, the art director at Penguin books, and Facetti hired Marber to revitalize the cover designs of the Penguin Crime series. The subsequent system was based on three traits: “continuity with Penguin’s visual history, an underlying grid that brought consistency and clarity, and challenging images that were mostly dark and enigmatic.” High contrast (or Kodalith) became one indelible signature element of the ’60s, and the so-called Marber Grid “came to be considered a classic of its kind; sustaining a consistent series identity, it also allowed for the use of strong graphic images on each cover.”

In the mid ’60s he designed animated film titles using similar high contrast techniques, which helped define English film in the same signature ways that Saul Bass did in the U.S.

In 1967 Marber became consultant head of graphic design at Hornsey College of Art in north London while continuing his design studio work. The college was one of Britain’s most vibrant pipelines for creative talent, and within a year of joining he became involved in a well-publicized sit-in of students who were protesting the way that art was being taught.

The material below was generously provided by Ewa Satalecka, head of New Media at the Polish-Japanese Academy of Information Technologies, which mounted an exhibition in the Krakow Jewish Museum (it was originally produced in London by Bruce Brown and David Jury; Tomek Strug curated it, together with Brown and Marber’s wife, Orna).

Angus wilson a bit off the map
The Stain on the snow
The premier
Death of a stray cat
The incredulity of Father Brown
Red harvest
Maigret and the old lady
The case of the rolling bones
The case of the caretaker's cat
The case of the substitute face
Our language
New society
New society
The economist
The winds of change

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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →