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Bradbury Thompson is one of the design icons of the 20th century, and his contribution to the practice of graphic design is exceptional. Born in 1911 in Kansas, Thompson picked interest in graphic design studying at Topeka high school. According to Clifford (2014), by the time he graduated from Washburn College (now Washburn University), he was all set to commence a career in visual communications despite that he pursued an economics major. Being in college, he designed the college’s mascot and edited the Washburn Yearbook, among other publications. In his professional practice that spanned over half a century, Thompson’s mastery and astuteness in graphic design and art direction left indelible marks on mediums such as books, magazines, and postage stamps. This paper explores the political, social, and economic significance of the design work of Bradbury Thompson as well as discusses the formal characteristic of some of his famous works.
The operating environment exerted immense influence on the design works of Bradbury Thompson. In his autobiography, he acknowledges that the combination of his interest in graphic design work and in everyday life activities entirely influenced his practice (Thompson, 1988).
Moreover, he underlines that historical, social, economic, and political contexts significantly influenced his design work. After World War II, American Society experienced unprecedented tranquility and economic vibrancy that gave people from different walks of life a good environment for experimentation. Similarly, the design works of Bradbury Thompson displayed exceptional experimentation with both traditional and modern mediums. The subject matter and the design techniques employed in several pages of the Westvaco Inspirations and several other publications depict his sensitivity to the different aspects of his environment.
With this in mind, it is possible to say that conditions under which he worked and the stage of development of art at that period of time were the important factors that promoted the appearance of original ideas. Bradbury’s approaches influenced the development of design practice greatly. His book The art of graphic design introduced a great number of ideas and regularities, which became an integral part of the whole world of designers. The thing is that Bradbury Thompson had a fresh perspective on some traditional approaches and suggested the usage of forms and colors, which was not peculiar to the art of his period of time. That is why his works and ideas influenced the creation of new styles and approaches in design
Moreover, it is impossible not to mention the great historical and cultural significance of his works and ideas. There are three most significant creations which are still discussed even nowadays. They are Alphabet 26, Washburn College bible, and postage stamps design of which was created by Thomas Bradbury. These works changed the traditional image of some things and made people see their other side. With this in mind, it is possible to say that the cultural importance of Bradbury’s ideas and work cannot be overestimated. He added some new meaning and colors to the art of the middle of the 20th century, trying to make it livelier and more understandable at the same time.
Additionally, Bradbury Thompson and his creativity can be taken as the phenomenon of culture, which can serve as the main characteristic of the middle of the 20th century. His unusual usage of colors and their interaction can be admired even nowadays, and, moreover, modern designers try to follow this pattern, doing their works in accordance with the regularities created by Thomas Bradbury.
As we have already mentioned, his unusual ideas and approaches to some traditional issues can be seen in his most significant and important works. There is no use denying the fact that reforms, which led to the development of the monoalphabetic, also known as Alphabet 26, can be taken as one of the most outstanding manifestations of his exemplary experimentation with typography. The simplified alphabet consists of only 26 characters, whereby size determines the case rather than coming up with totally new characters.
As pointed out by Clifford (2014), development of the Alphabet 26 was influenced by Thompson’s observation of the strain that his son went through trying to discern the differences between the words “Run” and “run.” Nevertheless, as Thompson argues, typography should be more concerned with the aspects of utility and beauty (1988). Even though modern designers have to borrow some aspects of the graphics of past centuries, depicting the spirits and needs of present times is more important than blindly copying the techniques of the design masters of the past.
However, there is another unusual aspect of his creativity. Being rather an innovative person, he saw the possibility of creating a new approach to the Bible. The Washburn College Bible is the embodiment of this idea. It is arguably the epitome of Bradbury Thompson’s design work. It is also considered to be the most profound reassessment of the Bible’s typography since 1445 (Bradbury Thompson, n.d.).
For the Bible project, Thompson incorporated the flush-left and the rugged right technique peculiar to modern typesetting (Bradbury Thompson, n.d.). He also broke the text lines into independent phrases as per the speech cadences doing the reading and listening to Bible summons easily for users. The project highlighted Bradbury’s ability to integrate traditional typography to the prevailing themes and techniques. Like in the Smithsonian periodical, Thompson used the Old Style typeface to enhance readability in the Washburn College Bible (Meggs & Purvis, 2012). His creative use of photographic illustrations can also be seen in the opening chapters of the Bible.
Additionally, the postage stamps were another medium where Bradbury Thompson’s mastery of design was manifested. He designed more than ninety postage stamps. In addition, while consulting with the US Postal Services, he influenced the design of a great number of other postage stamps (Meggs & Purvis, 2012). Thompson integrated different design elements to come up with some of the most outstanding stamp designs that are still common in the country. Among the most common postage stamps that are associated with Thompson’s design expertise is the education stamp Learning Never Ends and Love. The love stamp has the letter ‘V’ creatively substituted with a heart (Clifford, 2014).
Throughout his career, Bradbury Thompson influenced many design professionals as well as students. His bold experimentation with photographic reproduction, color, and typography was his major contribution to the history of design. Thompson’s vast portfolio, which features the pages of Westvaco Inspirations, numerous books, magazines, and the Washburn College Bible, displays his sensitivity to the prevailing political, economic, and social conditions of the time in which his works were produced. Resting on these facts, it is possible to say that Bradbury Thompson’s works inspired a great number of different artists and can be taken as a very important stage of the development of art and design.
Bradbury Thompson. (n.d.). Graphic design archive online. Web.
Clifford, J. (2014). Graphic Icons: Visionaries who shaped Modern Graphic Design. Berkeley, California: Peachpit Press. Web.
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Meggs, P.B. & Purvis, A.W. (2012). Megg’s History of Graphic Design. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. Web.
Thompson, B. (1988). The Art of Graphic Design. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Web.