William Morris gets a makeover from Pentagram
The design agency draws on one of the Arts and Crafts Legend's own prints when creating new society identity
How do you update William Morris? The work of this British Victorian decorative artist and influential member of the Arts and Crafts Movement, who commanded his followers to “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful,” was so sharply defined very much by the circumstances of his day.
As EH Gombrich puts it in his canonical book The Story of Art, Morris and his followers hated the decline in craftsmanship brought about by the Industrial Revolution and “dreamt of a thorough reform of the arts and crafts, and the replacement of cheap mass-production by conscientious and meaningful handiwork.”
While mass manufacturing may have triumphed, Morris's work and ideals live on, not least in the form of Britain's William Morris Society, which was founded in 1955 to preserve his memory by introducing his ideas on creative work, leisure, conservation and politics to new generations.
To mark its 50th anniversary the Society appointed the Pentagram design agency's London partner Angus Hyland and his team to create a new visual identity, to bring about some much needed coherence. Over the preceding decades the society had used four separate logos in eleven variations.
This new emblem is hand-drawn and inspired by Morris' own Bird print, which the society owns. “The emblem is particularly fitting for the society’s outputs,” says Pentagram, “It evokes the visual language of the publisher's colophon and is an expression of Morris’ artistic and literary sensibility.”
Pentagram's colours are also in keeping with the pigments Morris favoured. The new identity – which will be featured on all communications as well as the obligatory pencils, tea towels and tote bags – might not be entirely free from industrial influence, but it certainly seems to meet Morris's criteria of beautiful and useful.
For more on Pentagram take a look at our books by the agency's founder Alan Fletcher; for more on Morris and co take a look at our book on the Aesthetic Movement, and for more on Morris's place in the greater sweep of art history get EH Gombrich's The Story of Art.