Romek had such an incredible and full life that really we just have to thank him, for not only enriching our lives but for also transforming the nature of graphic design education and its impact across the industrial world. When Romek came to Hornsey, graphic and book illustration was seen as a rather narrow activity, still set in the arts and crafts tradition. Romek changed all this, transforming it into a broad, modern discipline appropriate to an emerging world of mass communications. Romek contributed significantly to developing design education at Hornsey into a major influence in the wider world, along with his personal reputation as an international designer. We were so fortunate to have him working with us developing Hornsey and the subsequent Faculty of Art and Design at Middlesex University. Fundamentally, he was kind and loveable – a lovely person to know and work with, so charming and profuse, but, of course, so strong under the surface charm. Generations of students owe him a great debt.
Emeritus Professor and friend
I approached teaching with the same enthusiasm as my design work. I always thought it was good to have a mixture between my freelance design and teaching. It kept me abreast of the movements of the time and kept me younger. What I found is that every few years young people search for a new identity of their own. Also, as I was getting older, the staff was getting younger.
I had the advantage of working for a wide variety of clients so I knew many professionals that I could call upon to teach a course for a few days, weeks or months. I brought in art directors, photographers, designers, illustrators and even people from the editorial side. I think this was very important because exposing students to a wider range of influences and experiences from outside the faculty offered new opportunities and outlooks.
On graduation, these external relationships were equally important as professionals would ask for students that I could recommend, or if there were students who I thought would fit a certain design group, I could help them to get easier access. Many students went on to very successful careers in design and television.
I expanded the course to include three-dimensional work, film, illustration and computer graphics. Middlesex became one of the pre-eminent centres for computer design in the UK. Seeing students’ work gave me enormous pleasure, especially at the end of the year at their final show. I was always surprised by the ideas that students produced.
One forms very strong relationships with staff and they provided different approaches to the students and the course. Some had great virtuosity in their work; others provided sanity, others, in contrast, anarchy. This is what gives a department a flavour. On the whole, full-time staff were administrative. Teaching was almost all done by part-time members of staff. Students react much better to people who are also professionals. On the other hand, there were members of staff who didn’t do much commercial work but they had great skill, such as photography, printing and three-dimensions, which is hugely valuable. Those people are very important to a course. They concentrate very hard on an area that interests them and they didn’t just see it as a job. Their level of expertise was exceptional.
I was very relaxed with my students: when I first started I was called ‘Sir’ – at that time the normal mode of address. By the time I left, the students all called me Romek.
Consultant Head of Department of Graphic Design
BA Graphic Design, BA Information Design, Scientific Illustration & Technical Illustration
Romek Marber’s appointment in 1967 as Consultant Head of Department of Graphic Design at the then Hornsey College of Art coincided with a period of radical experimentation and expansion in arts education. Shortly after his appointment, in May and July 1968, Romek found himself helping to manage the Hornsey student protests and an occupation of the campus. Indeed, the ‘Hornsey Affair’ remains a notorious episode in British Higher Education with the administration of the college being taken over by students – the effects of this action stimulating similar protests at various other colleges around the country. At that time, arts education was heavily influenced by the British decorative arts and crafts with little, but growing, focus on design. Romek refreshed the Hornsey curriculum with an enlightened view of the value of design in its widest applications – teaching in design and illustration also included some of the first courses in the UK specialising in information design and in scientific and technical illustration.
In subsequent years, Romek worked as an External Examiner to many departments of art and design and undertook many reviews for the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA) examining the quality of arts and design courses throughout the UK. He was made an Emeritus Professor on his retirement from Middlesex University in 1989 and an Honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of Brighton in 2007.
Emeritus Professor and friend
John Lord remembers: I was first aware of Romek Marber in the 1960s when I bought the 7-volume set of The Pelican Guide to English Literature with his elegant cover designs. I first met him at one of the BA Graphics Association meetings in 1973. Read more