Here young Ken, with his sister, Nancy, had something of an idyllic childhood and he recalled : "I had a great link with the country. A farm was next door and I would haunt the farm. If I hadn’t gone into art I would have gone into farming as I just loved everything on the farm. I started off wanting to be an illustrator. I'd been, like so many of us in graphic design were, when we were children, 'the artist of the family' and the thing you do is to draw people doing things, children usually. So, I naturally assumed I would become some kind of illustrator"."As a child of eight, I was a devoted patron of 'Lilliput' from its launching. The monthly ritual of unveiling the array of 'doubles' is a keenly remembered delight to this day; and I was surely not the only future graphic designer or photographer to be so entranced by them".
The doubles in question which delighted the young Ken were two pictures, that resembled each, other placed side by side in the spread with a caption under each to reinforce the editorial purpose. Sometimes they had visual similarity as in 'Australian' and 'Australian' and sometimes a themetic one, such as 'Man's idea of the human body' and 'Nature's idea of the human body'. Later, in the 1960s, when he was in his thirties, he published two essays that spelt out his thinking on magazine layout and a thought process that can be tracked back to this early infatuation with 'Lilliput'.'Most of my school fellows thought only of playing rugger and becoming fighter pilots, if only the War lasted long enough. They didn’t have much time for our Art Master, ‘Snooker’ Smith, a tubby, perpetually disheveled person with a strong Yorkshire accent which sounded to us as though he was from another country altogether!'
'One morning in October Snooker arrived at class with a beaming smile, clutching a paper bag with great care. He laid it gently on his desk and said to us, "Lads, there’s soom reet treasures here. Take a luke at these beauties. Nature at its glorious best!" He reached into his bag and drew out a few dead leaves, holding them up for our inspection. He twiddled them round between finger and thumb. As he did so a sunbeam shone through the classroom window as if by order, and pitched on the green, red and gold of the leaves. They gleamed magically "Garland", said Snooker, "take these round t’class". Oh God, the embarrassment! Everyone was looking at me, smirking. Snooker’s pet, they were thinking. But as soon as he handed me the leaves I forgot about that. I felt as though I had never looked at fallen leaves before. Soon I no longer cared about the smirks and mutterings of my class mates. I was even proud to be the Holder of the Leaves and must have conveyed something of the solemnity of my task. When one member of the class handled a leaf roughly, causing it to crumble in his hand, I frowned so expressively that he even murmured an apology - which, being the class bully, he wasn’t used to doing.
So the showing of the autumn leaves became a sort of ceremony, brief though it was and soon forgotten. Except, it seems by me; for here I am after all these years, telling you about it; and more than that, I am in the process of putting together a little book of my photographs entitled ‘A close look at fallen leaves’.‘I did a rather lowbrow two year course called commercial design. It consisted of trying to imitate reality in very elaborate paintings. For example, a representation of a bucket that looked exactly like a bucket’.
It was here, at the age of 17, that Ken gave an early demonstration of his determination to question the status quo which is more reminiscent of the 1960s rather than the mid 1940s. The Academy did not provide life drawing classes which, to the energetic and ambitious Ken, was intolerable. He recalled : ‘Like most people who go to art school I had assumed there would be life drawing. Naked ladies, stuff like that. But there wasn’t. As a result I became disillusioned quite early on in that course and led a 'sit-in'. It must have been one of the first, we’re talking here of the 1940s. With some of my fellow discontents we decided we were being shortchanged by the Art School. We wanted to have some more of what other art students had and we conducted a sit-in, as a result of which we were suspended. Eventually I was taken back and allowed to do life drawing as a concession, but the other students weren’t, so I discussed it with them and they said, "Go ahead, we weren’t that keen anyway"'.
As soon as Ken graduated from the Academy at the age 18, he was conscripted into the Army for his two years National Service in the Parachute Regiment and thoroughly enjoyed it. Seen here, between fellow conscripts, he recalled : "I was immersed in the routines and excitement of military behavior and I became super fit". The experience had broadened his education : 'I had met and talked with many fellow soldiers from Glasgow, South Wales, Liverpool, Newcastle and Birmingham, and knew a lot more about the condition of the working class in Britain than I had before. Also, I had seen through the pretensions of the officer class’. At the time Britain was half way through the reforms of Atlee's post-War Labour Government and it may well have been at this time that Ken adopted, what would become, his life long adherence to socialism.'In addition to a legacy of physical fitness, traces of the military mind can also be detected in his behavior. He has a briskness that occasionally becomes brusqueness, and a love of plain speaking that might be characterised as militaristic: emails are answered promptly and anyone who turns up late for an appointment is given a kindly but disapproving look'. 'I discovered London via the Underground diagram. Because that’s what I could relate to as a new-comer; it was the first thing I saw that made sense. I came off a boat from Holland – actually I was a little soldier in the army. Originally I come from North Devon and I never went to London and when I was in the army I had never visited London either. I happened to have leave from the army; so, from Germany, I decided to go to London. I arrived off the boat at Liverpool Street Station and I wondered, ‘My god, where can I go?’. Then I saw this diagram and thought, ‘Right that’s the thing, go down there, get on this Tube and then get up at Picadilly Circus, or wherever’.
'So, I discovered London via the Underground Connection. A lot of people did this and also a lot of people feel it is the great friendly thing in London – the Underground diagram'. Almost 30 years later he paid homage to its designer, Harry Beck, when, in 1994, as an established designer himself, he published 'Mr. Beck's Underground Map'.
He now applied to continue his studies at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London, but was rejected and instead spent two years at Sir John Cass College in London, studying for a National Diploma in Design. "There was an inspiring teacher called James Broome-Lynne. He convinced me that my future should be in graphic design rather than in illustration. This was the first time I had heard the phrase ‘graphic design’. He urged me to switch from the John Cass to the Central School of Arts and Crafts, which I did, for the last two years of my four-year course. I was welcomed there by the head of department, Jesse Collins, who became a most significant influence".‘the Savonarola of typographic design', were to have a formative influence on his development as a graphic designer. Once again, he was conscious of the need to break new ground and thought, along with his contemporaries there was an urgent need to be ‘getting into modern design and extricating ourselves from a strangely isolated design attitude that had existed in Britain up to then’.
In 2020, a frail 90 year old Ken looked back on years in art education and said : "I did six. I'm so grateful. What I did was to meld from being a student into being a graphic designer. I enjoyed myself enormously in Art School , apart from anything else I met my wife Wanda". Wanda was a fellow student who was born in Krakow, Poland and had moved to London at the age of 14 and they married while they were both students when Ken was 23 in 1952.
When he graduated in 1954 he had no desire to form his own studio and Jesse found a job for him as Art Editor of a trade magazine called 'Furnishing', with a salary of £5 a week. It proved to be a baptism of fire : ‘I didn’t know how to scale up a photograph, I didn’t know how to brief a photographer, I had to learn all these things. It was tough, it really was, and the editor was very demanding and seemed to think I ought to know all sorts of things that I didn’t know. There really wasn’t anybody to help me so I learned on the job’.This apprenticeship lasted 18 months and then, at the age of 27, he applied to 'Design Magazine' : ‘I had an interview with the fairly new editor, Michael Farr. He had what he later told me was a test question. He said, “Do you know what cybernetics is?” And I kind of made a stab at it, not a bad stab. He thought it was adequate, and he said, “Hmm, well, not many designers know about that.” I think he decided then I had the job, on that flimsy evidence. So I became Art Editor of Design magazine’.
In 1962 he left the magazine to start his own studio, 'Ken Garland & Associates', he said he deliberately chose 'Associates' : "in order to signify that the outfit didn’t consist merely of one designer. Those who worked with me between 1962 and 2009 have always been designers designing – no secretaries, no typists, no donkey-workers. There were never more than three of them at any one time".
At the age of 33 in 1962, Ken undertook a commission to produce a poster for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament for its Easter March to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment at Aldermaston, which he later considered to be one of the "most significant" in his career. https://vimeo.com/118329018#t=23m31s"a devoted adherent to the campaign" and found it "quiet impossible to refuse anything to Peggy Duff, the Organising Secretary of CND". The poster was done over a weekend and printed in two days. "These posters, they were fly posters, illegally put up. They tried to get them shown in the London London Underground, but the people who ran it said they couldn't use it "because it was 'inflammatory'". I can't see what is inflammatory about this. It's just a march, but I think that the idea of this regular row of banners marching like that excited them a bit".
Referring to 1963, he recalled : "I decided t produce some banners which were to be standard. They were on poles of the same length, they were on sheets of black material, the same width and they were printed by stencil. I got a letter from the Chairman of CND saying : 'We're so happy. What a wonderful idea of yours. Thank you so much'. I was not happy because I thought that what was wrong with them was that they were too successful. They reminded me very much of the Nazi banners these big gaudy things with a white circle and black swastika in the middle. There's such a thing as having a piece of graphic protest that, in its own right, was too successful. I decided it was not a good idea to have lots and lots of identical things. So I persuaded them never to do this again and we never did it again".
In 2014 at a talk given in Warsaw, Ken recalled the CND Easter March in 1963 which he took part in that year from the nuclear research plant at Aldermaston to London when the marchers "toured" into Windsor on the way "to where we thought the Royal Family were staying and we surrounded Windsor Castle. They must have been inside there, looking out and wondering the Revolution was about to take place and I like to think our Royal Family were cowering there and shitting a brick at the idea of us invading Windsor Castle. No we didn't we went to London". https://vimeo.com/118329018#t=25mo3s
1963 was also the year that Ken started a process that was to catapult him into the national limelight. He recalled : "It started in December 1963. Something I wrote at the back of a hall where a symposium was going on. Quite a different subject and I wasn't very interested in that subject and I thought what am I interested in ? In graphic design what am I interested in ? And I wrote this :
Graphic designers, photographers and students who have been brought up in a world in which the techniques and apparatus of advertising have persistently been presented to us as the most lucrative, effective and desirable means of using our talents. We have been bombarded with publications devoted to this belief, applauding the work of those who have flogged their skill and imagination to sell such things as : cat food, stomach powders, detergent, hair restorer, striped toothpaste, aftershave lotion, slimming diets, fattening diets, deodorants, fizzy water, cigarettes, roll-ons and slip-ons.
By far the greatest time and effort of those working in the advertising industry are wasted on these trivial purposes, which contributes little to our national prosperity.
At the end of the meeting the Chairman asked : "Has anybody got anything else to say ?" Ken recalled : "I thought, 'well why not ? Why not give them a bit of this ?' So I held my hand up and he knew me and he said : "Oh, I don't know what were in for here, but anyway, come forward Ken" and I came forward from the back of this hall and I started reading this out, just in an ordinary voice and it seemed to be going rather well, although it was written very hastily. It wasn't thought about. Just off the top of my head and people began to pay close attention and I began to realise I was into something here and it got louder and more demonstrative, as though I was in some kind of play and at the end of my proclaiming it : huge applause. I was amazed and anyway people came up to me afterwards, "We'd like to know more about this. Are you going to publish it ?"
When it was published Ken's statement had now become a 'Manifesto' called 'first things first' and in addition to this now had an additional 21 signatories. Ken said : "I carefully arranged for it to be signed by a wide variety of people. Some were students, some were mature teachers, some were photographers, some were experienced graphic designers. I wanted to pick a wide variety of people'.
When the Manifesto stated : 'We are proposing a reversal of priorities in favour of the more useful and more lasting forms of communication. We hope that our society will tire of gimmick merchants, status salesmen and hidden persuaders, and that the prior call on our skills will be for worthwhile purposes’. Ken had in mind activities such as designing public signage and instruction manuals.
It now received immediate backing from an unexpected quarter. One of the signatories passed it to Caroline Wedgwood Benn, wife of the Labour Member of Parliament, Anthony Wedgwood Benn who reprinted it in its entirety in his weekly Guardian newspaper column. He wrote : 'The responsibility for the waste of talent which they have denounced is one we must all share. The evidence for it is all around us in the ugliness with which we have to live. It could so easily be replaced if only we consciously decided as a community to engage some of the skill which now goes into the frills of an affluent society'. This publication, in turn led to Ken appearing on the BBC’s popular, nightly current affairs TV programme, 'Tonight'. He later said : "I went along and chanted my manifesto to millions. How many of them were interested, I do not know. But enough. Enough."
Between 1963 - 66 Ken worked on the next commission which he considered to be the most significant in his career when he created the house style for Race Furniture. He recalled : 'We worked with Noel Jordan, the Managing Director, and Alec Gardner-Medwin, the Sales Director, to produce a complete house style which covered all print matter, vehicle livery and signs for showrooms. We had a free hand and an appreciative client. The only thing lacking was money, but we made the most of what there was and enjoyed the challenge'."We started designing wooden toys for them, then games, on the basis of : We present you with the idea and if you like it we do it and if you don’t, don’t worry. They would produce the game under licence from us and pay us royalties. If we ever had a Friday afternoon where there didn’t seem much to be doing, one or other of us would start thinking up another idea for a game or something".
In addition to his work as a designer, for the best part of 30 years, Ken was a charismatic, part time, university tutor and lecturer and tutor at the University of Reading from 1971-99 with 5 years at the Central School of Art and Design from 1986-91 and 10 years the Royal College of Art 1977-87.The designer John Morgan, a former student of the 'BA Typography & Communication' course at Reading in the 1990s, when Ken was in his sixties recalled : '‘He didn’t look like the other staff members, he wore a small colourful hat, the sort you might pick up in Camden market, and his language was peppered with ‘fucks’ and ‘fucking’. He once walked into the room to find me doing an impression of him (I was wearing a hat substitute and swearing). I was of course very embarrassed. Ken coolly said : “As you were saying”. He certainly and rightly gave me a side-ways look from then onwards'.“I can remember one of his projects, it was to make typographic hats, with a fashion show at the end of the day. He was always up for people having fun. He sometimes wrote the briefs backwards – he could do mirror writing with chalk on a blackboard and he’d do things like stand on a table”. In 2010 when he gave a keynote lecture as part of the Cardiff School of Art and Design and the Arts University College Bournemouth one student took the time to sketch him.
Ken said :
"If I talk of ‘form’, ‘balance’, ‘harmony’, I could easily be talking about typography, or I could be talking about gymnastics. I’d argue that the thread that makes us designers is deeper than typography or image-making. It is concerned with us being the modern day story tellers. So in many ways a graphic designer is no different to early man, huddling around a fire, swapping stories".