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CA Position: Jonathan Barnbrook

Visual languages for David Bowie

Public lecture

Jonathan Barnbrook
visual languages for David Bowie
Thursday 2 March 2017
17.45 – 20.30

RSVP @ Facebook

Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts, School of Art and Design

Aktionshalle, Building 745, Viscosistadt
Nylsuisseplatz 1, 6020 Emmenbrücke
Train S1, S9 from / to Lucerne main station to Emmenbrücke, 5 min.
Bus 2 from / to Lucerne main station to Emmenbrücke, 15 min.

5 min. walk from Emmenbrücke station to building 745.


Evert Ypma and Max Bruinsma
Visual Communication – Camera Arts
(Post-)photography and visual media in the contexts of art, design and society

Supported by the study programmes of the Lucerne School of Art and Design: Visual Communication – Graphic Design; Design Management International, MA Design

Jonathan Barnbrook is a contemporary British graphic designer, typographer, type designer and filmmaker. He is best known for designing David Bowie’s albums covers and publications. 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.

No doubt this public analysis of a bespoke visual language for Bowie will be a starting point for addressing Barnbrook’s own strong belief in visual communication as a “weapon for social change.” In his cheerfully subversive practice, the activist is never far away, for instance in his typeface designs such as Nixon (1997), “a font for telling lies with”) or in a giant billboard in Las Vegas, addressing 3000 graphic designers on the 1999 convention of the AIGA (the US graphic designers association) with a quote from Tibor Kalman: “Designers, stay away from corporations that want you to lie for them.”

He introduced his typefaces through the California innovator Émigré and followed with his own font company Virus in 19967. His most widely known font Mason appeared in 1992, becoming one of the first digital acquisitions of The Museum of Modern Art.

A collaborator with Adbusters, designer of books for Damien Hirst and a prolific type designer, Jonathan Barnbrook is a text-book example of the designer as ‘cultural agent,’ who’s work focuses on sensitizing and activating its recipients. Barnbrook likes to provoke and poke fun at established ways of working in design, but at the same time he’s a very accomplished craftsman with a deep knowledge of the history and development of type and design through the ages.



Jonathan @ wikipedia.org

Jonathan Barnbrook (London) is world famous for the remarkable work he did for David Bowie albums and publications since 2002, but his design work spans a much broader spectrum. From type design to art-direction, animation, book- and identity design, Barnbrook has always considered design as critical practice within today’s visual culture.


At the Lucerne School of Art and Design, Barnbrook will talk about his projects for David Bowie, focusing on his design of visual languages for albums and publications, such as Blackstar, Bowie’s last album, which won recently five Grammy Awards! One Grammy has been awarded for the design by Jonathan Barnbrook.
The iconic pop star has always crossed boundaries of style, performing arts and media, and so the challenge for Barnbrook was to design visual strategies that were fitting Bowie’s ambiguity while at the same time being a consistent communication tool within a variety of media and cultural contexts.

The lecture will be followed by a panel discussion with Jonathan Barnbrook, Sarah Owens and Evert Ypma which is moderated by Max Bruinsma.


Max Bruinsma is a design writer and critic, curator and lecturer.
Prof. Dr. Sarah Owens, Head of MA Visual Communication / Design theory and visual cultures, Zurich University of the Arts.
Evert Ypma is a conceptual strategist, design researcher and Head of BA Visual Communication – Camera Arts.


Album design for David Bowie’s last album, Blackstar. Jonathan Barnbrook, 2016

Poster designs for David Bowie’s album, The Next Day. Jonathan Barnbrook, 2013

Artwork for the CD and vinyl release of David Bowie’s album, Heathen. Jonathan Barnbrook, 2002

Artwork and catalogue design for the exhibition David Bowie is, at the V&A. Jonathan Barnbrook, 2013

Further projects:

Art and Politics Now. Book contemporary artists whose works address the political, published by Thames & Hudson. Jonathan Barnbrook, 2014

Design and art direction for the ‘Apocalypse Soon’ issue of the Canadian anti-advertising magazine, Adbusters. Jonathan Barnbrook, 2006

Logo for Occupy London, a movement for a new political and economic system that puts people, democracy and the environment before profit. 2011

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