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Professor Rick Poynor

  • Convenor, 'Design Thinking' undergraduate module
  • Supervisor, BA and MA dissertations, PhD theses


Room B3, Typography & Graphic Communication

Building location

Whiteknights campus (Building 21, TOB2)

Areas of interest

My goal, for more than 30 years, has been to contribute to raising the discourse surrounding graphic design. This aim has determined my work as journalist, editor, critic, author, lecturer, curator and academic. I have written design criticism and history, launched a quarterly review of graphic design, Eye, which is still running, and co-launched a website, Design Observer, as a platform for discussion about design. I have published numerous essays about the purposes of design criticism and the need to develop graphic design history as a discipline.

This background (see further details below) informs my current concerns as a researcher and writer. I have broad cultural interests and I am particularly engaged by forms of graphic communication in which the designer achieves an unusual degree of agency and autonomy through self-initiated and self-authored projects. My monographs on the music graphics designer Vaughan Oliver (2000), Herbert Spencer’s Typographica magazine (2001) and the Dutch radical designer Jan van Toorn (2008) all deal with figures who were able to bring graphic techniques and a graphic sensibility to bear on concerns and content of their own.

The critical overviews I have published, such as No more rules: graphic design and postmodernism (2003) and Communicate: independent British graphic design since the sixties (2004), extend this discussion. My most recent book, David King: designer, activist, visual historian (2020), continues my investigation into graphic designers’ self-initiated projects and the practice of graphic authorship.

Other recent writing has focused on photography’s role in graphic design as an essential component of the meaningful graphic image. My columns about photography have appeared on Design Observer and in Eye. I am researching the history and development of the relationship between photography and graphic design, both in theory and practice, in the field of print.

Postgraduate supervision

I welcome opportunities to supervise doctoral research focused on British and international graphic design history, editorial design and publishing, self-directed forms of graphic practice, politically motivated graphic communication, theoretical positions in graphic design, and investigations of the relationship between graphic design and other cultural practices, especially art, photography, illustration, music, literature and film.


I lecture across undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. I teach graphic design history in Part 1 of the BA programme and convene the Part 2 ‘Design Thinking’ module, which examines key ideas and tools for understanding graphic communication. I have developed and taught themes on graphic design criticism, graphic design and society, and decolonising graphic design.

Research projects

Archival research into British graphic design history has been the focus of my most recent completed projects while at the University of Reading.

National Theatre Posters. From 2016 to 2017, I conducted research in the archive of the National Theatre (NT), London into the history of posters used for public communication by the theatre. These have been the responsibility of just five designers since the theatre’s founding in 1963; I interviewed the three surviving designers and former NT personnel involved in poster production. The project’s outcomes were a survey exhibition in the Wolfson Gallery at the NT and a monograph, National Theatre posters: a design history (Unit Editions, 2017).

David King. In 2020, I published four years of research into the private archive of the late David King in my monograph David King: designer, activist, visual historian (Yale University Press). As the title suggests, King’s practice was multifaceted: he was designer, writer, photographer, collector and author. The project involved extensive interviewing of King’s former colleagues. To accompany the book and continue my research, also in 2020, I launched a website about King’s work in partnership with the designer Simon Esterson. I write regular articles for the site’s blog about aspects of King’s practice and output not covered in the book and update the site with content from King’s archive.


I have worked as a design writer for more than three and a half decades. In the late 1980s, I was deputy editor of Blueprint magazine, where I wrote about architecture and all forms of design. In 1990, I was the founding editor of Eye, the international review of graphic design, which I edited for seven years. I have written the Critique column for Eye since 1999 and a regular essay column for the American magazine Print from 2000 to 2017. In 2003, I was co-founder of the Design Observer website and a regular contributor until 2016. My writing has appeared in many British and international publications, including Frieze, Icon, Creative Review, I.D., Metropolis, Étapes and Domus.

In the late 1990s, I was a project tutor at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht, and I have twice been a visiting professor at the Royal College of Art, as well as a research fellow there. I was a regular guest lecturer in design criticism at the School of Visual Arts, New York. I have curated a number of exhibitions, including ‘Communicate: independent British graphic design since the sixties’ (Barbican Art Gallery, 2004), ‘Uncanny: Surrealism and graphic design’ (Moravian Gallery, Brno, 2010) and ‘National Theatre posters: a graphic design history’ (National Theatre, 2017). A frequent speaker on design issues, I have lectured at design schools, design institutions and public events all over the world. I joined the University of Reading in 2016.

Academic qualifications

Honorary MA, University for the Creative Arts, 2006

MPhil, Design History, Royal College of Art, 1997

History of Art, University of Manchester, 1975–1977

Selected publications


Poynor, R. (2022). Ed Fella’s flyers blur the lines between design and art. AIGA Eye on Design (online) 10 March

Poynor, R. (2022). Widgets from the graphic unconscious. In David Cabianca (ed.) Ed Fella: A Life in Images. pp. 344–361. Unit Editions, London. ISBN 978 1 9164573 7 9


Poynor, R. (2021). The evolving legacy of Ken Garland’s First Things First manifesto. AIGA Eye on Design (online). 12 August

Poynor, R. (2021). Two commentaries. In Andrew Krivine (ed.) Reversing into the future: new wave graphics 1977-1990. pp. 93, 241. Pavilion, London. ISBN 978 1 911663 95 9

Poynor, R. (2021). Alan Aldridge (1938–2017). In David Cannadine (ed.) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online). 14 January


Poynor, R. (2020). David King: Designer, Activist, Visual Historian. Yale University Press, London

Poynor, R. (2020). Seven commentaries. In Andrew Krivine (ed.) Too fast to live too young to die: punk and post-punk graphics 1976-1986. pp. 181, 288, 297, 301, 320, 329, 341. Pavilion, London. ISBN 978 1 91164 136 0

Poynor, R. (2020). Eye’s early years. Eye 25 (100). pp. 124–127. ISSN 0960 779X


Poynor, R. (2019). Brick haikus. In Fry, P. (ed.) Brick index, CentreCentre, London. ISBN 978 1 9164121 1 8

Poynor, R. (2019). The new complexity: digital posters in the 1990s. In Lippert, A. (ed.) Designing through the wall: Cyan in the 1990s. pp 12–21. Poster House, New York

Poynor, R. (2019). Two cheers for publishing. Eye 25 (98). pp. 100–101. ISSN 0960 779X


Poynor, R. and Seago, A. (2018). Where is this Pop? In search of the British Pop poster. In: Massey, A. and Seago, A. (eds.) Pop art and design. pp. 187-205. Bloomsbury Academic, London. ISBN 978 1474 22619 6

Poynor, R. (2018). The birth of modern typography. In: Bradbury, D. (ed.) Modernist design complete. pp. 258-261. Thames & Hudson, London. ISBN 978 0 500 51842 7

Poynor, R. (2018). Exposing the menace (about David King’s posters). Eye 24 (95). pp. 54–63. ISSN 0960 779X


Poynor, R. (2017) National Theatre posters: a design history. Unit Editions, London. ISBN 978 1 9164573 7 9

Poynor, R. (2017) Foreword. In Jamieson, C. NATØ: narrative architecture in postmodern London. pp. xi–xiii. Routledge, London. ISBN 978 1 138 67481 3


Poynor, R. (2016) Graphic anarchy in the UK. In: Oh so pretty: punk in print 1976-80. pp. 18–23. Phaidon, London. ISBN 978 0 7148 7275 9

Poynor, R. (2016) The prospects and limits of connection. In: Meltzer, B. and Von Oppeln, T. Rethinking the modular: adaptable systems in architecture and design. pp. 58-69. Thames & Hudson, London. ISBN 978 0 500 29235 8

Poynor, R (2016). Take my concept (about Boris Bućan). Eye 23 (92). pp. 28–37. ISSN 0960-779X

Poynor, R. (2016). Boris Bućan's early posters. In: Bonjeković Stojković, K. (ed.) Boris Bućan: breakfast at the printer's. pp. 14–25. Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb. ISBN 978 953 7615 94 9

Poynor, R. (2016). Clash of specialisms: the writer as photographer. In: Blamey, D. (ed.) Specialism. pp. 91–99. Open Editions, London. ISBN 978 0 949004 01 7


Poynor, R. (2015). Postmodern typography: remaking the alphabet, dismantling the page. In: Hoeks, H. and Lentjes, E. (eds.) The triumph of typography: culture, communication, new media. pp. 122–32. ArtEZ Press, Arnhem. ISBN 978 90 8989 628 5

Poynor, R. (2015). The typographic voice. In: Williams, S. and Kubel. H. New perspectives in typography. pp. 70–72. Laurence King Publishing, London. ISBN 978 1 78067 306 6

Poynor, R. (2015). Foreword. In: The debate: the legendary contest of two graphic design giants (Wim Crouwel and Jan van Toorn). pp. 7–12. Monacelli Press, New York. ISBN 978 1 58093 412 1


Poynor, R. (2014). Slips, shifts and dislocations. In: Poynor, R. (ed.) Sergei Sviatchenko: collages. pp. 6–12. Schlebrügge.Editor, Vienna. ISBN 987 3 902833 65 5

Poynor, R. (2014). Pay close attention (about Project Projects). Eye 23 (89). pp. 50–63. ISSN 0960-779X

Poynor, R. (2014). The retoucher's accidental art. Eye 22 (88). pp. 12–19. ISSN 0960-779X


Poynor, R. (2013). Introduction. In: Brittain, D. Eduardo Paolozzi at New Worlds: science fiction and art in the sixties. pp. 8-18. Savoy Books, Manchester. ISBN 978 0 86130 128 7

Poynor, R. and Rock. M. (2013). What is this thing called design criticism? Parts 1 (1995) and 2 (2011). In: Rock, M. (ed.) Multiple signatures: on designers, authors, readers and users. pp. 227–40. Rizzoli, New York. ISBN 978 08478 3973 5

Poynor, R. (2013). Screen prints (about RCA film posters). Eye 22 (85). pp. 28–35. ISSN 0960-779X


Poynor, R. (2012). Out of the studio: graphic design history and visual studies. In: De Bondt, S. and De Smet, C. (eds.) Graphic design: history in the writing (1983-2011). pp. 282–93. Occasional Papers, London. ISBN 978 0 9569623 0 0

Poynor, R. (2012). DSH's typestracts: horizons and spirit levels. In: Simpson, N. (ed.) Notes from the cosmic typewriter: the life and work of Dom Sylvester Houédard. pp. 32–41. Occasional Papers, London. ISBN 978 0 9569623 3 1

Poynor, R. (2012) Graphic images. In: Bell, J. (ed.) 39 steps to the genius of Hitchcock. pp. 119–21. British Film Institute, London. ISBN 978 1 84457 534 3

Poynor, R. (2012) Utopian image: politics and posters. In: Van Adrichem, J. and Martis, A. (eds.) Stedelijk Collection Reflections. pp. 429-40. Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. ISBN 97 8946 208 002 7

Poynor, R. (2012) The useful art of graphic design. In: Reeve, O. (ed.) The perfect place to grow: 175 years of the Royal College of Art. pp. 104–15. Royal College of Art, London. ISBN 978 1 907342 51 6