“I’ve been carrying the Brownjohn archive around in metal trunks for 40 years”

Eliza Brownjohn, daughter of US graphic design great Robert Brownjohn, has created a website dedicated to her father’s work.

Robert Brownjohn was born in the US in 1925. After studying under Bauhaus co-founder Lázló Moholy-Nagy, he worked on title sequences for Bond films, album covers for Columbia Records and identity and campaign work for clients including Pepsi-Cola and Kit-Kat. He died in 1970 at the age of 44.

The site features famous Brownjohn projects including the titles for From Russia With Love, the Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed cover and moving graphics for Midland Bank, as well as less well-known work such as cigarette packaging and identities for architects and shopping centres.

We speak to Eliza about setting up the site and preserving her father’s graphic legacy.

Robert Brownjohn
Robert Brownjohn, 1925-1970

Design Week: Where did the idea for the new website come from and how long have you been working on it?

Eliza Brownjohn: I have wanted to do a Robert Brownjohn website for a long time. After the Design Museum ‘s 2005 Brownjohn exhibition and the MoMA ‘s acquisition of 226 Brownjohn works for its collection, there was such a buzz that I realised I had to do it.

The site has taken me four long intense months to put together (with nearly 1,000 images!) but now it is finally done.

KitKat campaign, 1964
KitKat campaign, 1964

DW: Who worked on the design of the new site and what were you trying to create?

EB: First of all I designed the website myself – it was a momentous task but I was the only one that could do it because I knew his work so intimately. I had a vision that I wanted it to be pure, full of as much work as possible and inspirational.

I really wanted to capture the essence of BJ’s life and work in one place.

Towson Plaza vertical tower, 1950s
Towson Plaza vertical tower, 1950s

DW: How easy was it to pull together the Brownjohn archive for the new site?

EB: I have been travelling throughout the world for the last 40 years with the entire Brownjohn archives in metal trunks!

When BJ died in 1970 I became the gatekeeper of his work and I have taken that responsibility very seriously ever since.

K+G Architects and Engineers identity, 1950s
K+G Architects and Engineers identity, 1950s

DW: What new or rarely seen pieces of work are on the site?

EB: There is so much of his early work from New York in the 1950’s that no one has ever seen – I just never realised how much he had produced in those years. They are all on the site.

BJ Peace Poster, 1969
BJ Peace Poster, 1969

DW: Do you have a favourite piece?

EB: One of my favourite pieces is  the BJ Peace poster –  simple and powerful – I love that one. It is also one of the MoMA’s favourites.

Pepsi-Cola World magazine, 1959
Pepsi-Cola World magazine, 1960

DW: What do you think Robert Brownjohn’s work means to designers today and can you see his influence in contemporary work?

EB: I can only tell you that over the years I have had so many designers say how inspirational Brownjohn has been in their work and how it has freed them to think completely out of the box.

I see his influence on design almost every day.

The Robert Brownjohn website is at robertbrownjohn.com

There are four limited-edition prints of Brownjohn’s work available on the site’s shop: BJ Peace poster, Obsession and Fantasy poster and Let it Bleed Rolling Stones back and front cover. These have not been produced since the 60s and they are made from Brownjohn’s original artwork.

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