Jonathan Barnbrook is a popular contemporary British graphic designer, typographer and filmmaker. He is best known for designing David Bowie’s album Heathen in 2002. Currently, he runs his own studio Barnbrook Design which he founded in 1990.
Born in 1966, Jonathan Barnbrook was raised in Luton, United Kingdom. He received his formal art education from Saint Martin’s School of Art. Later he attended the Royal College of Art in London from where he graduated with distinction. He has become a multifaceted practitioner of graphic design, typeface design, motion graphics, activism and industrial design. He introduced his typefaces through the California innovator Émigré and his widely known typeface Mason appeared in 2010. The typeface became one of the first digital acquisitions of The Museum of Modern Art. In 2002, he produced the album cover for David Bowie’s album Heathen. In the album he incorporated his ‘Priori’ typeface which he used for the first time for the commercial purpose. Bowie requested him to design cover art for other albums including Reality and The Next Day which hold a rather controversial reputation.
According to Barnbrook, record cover artwork designing is possibly one of the factors that attracted his attention toward graphic design. Besides designing album covers, Barnbrook has created multiple fonts such as False Idol, Exocet, Newspeak, Awe, Infidel, Sarcastic, Shock and Moron. Most of these fonts have emotive and controversial titles, which is indicative of the fact that they clearly reflect style and themes of his work. Additionally, he collaborated with a young British artist, Damien Hirst on a book project. They worked together mainly on layout, design and typography of his strangely titled book I Want To Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now. In fact, they also handled the artwork related to the curiously named restaurant, Pharmacy.
Barnbrook’s graphic designs follow a recurring thematic pattern based on his personal responses to political events. His inner anger is his response to all the unfairness that is in this world driven his work. Barnbroonk set it as his goal in life to use his talent of graphic designing as a weapon for social change and justice. He was one of the signatory among 33 other signers to the First Things First 2000 manifesto. The manifesto required the graphic designers to pledge their sense of social justice to their job. The signatories made a commitment to put their skills to worthwhile use and address the unprecedented social, cultural and environmental crises. In 2001, Barnbrook adapted one of Tibor Kalman’s quotes for his eponymous work, Designers, stay away from corporations that want you to lie for them. The quote was transformed into a large-format advertising billboard. It was first displayed during a convention for members of AIGA, in Las Vegas.
A graphically-designed magazine, Adbusters, devoted to political and social causes sought his designing skills for the magazines. Furthermore, he also served as an art director for the magazine that aims to advance the new social activist movement. Barnbrook’s work is quite well known in Japan as his studio created the corporate identity for the largest post war development in Tokyo, Roppongi Hills. An exhibition of his work, entitled Friendly Fire, was mounted at the Design Museum in London, in 2007. The exhibition displayed example of his typography and work in response to the first and second Iraq conflicts. Jonathan Barnbrook is currently based in London.