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Graphic design's best-known historian and a beloved educator.
Philip B. Meggs charted new territory in the field
of graphic design history. His authoritative survey A History
of Graphic Design was the first attempt at creating a
definitive and linear history of the graphic design profession,
charting its progress from the marks found in the caves of Lascaux
to experimentation with digital media in the late 1990s. The book
quickly became standard reading for young designers and for many
still, it provides their first introduction to the exciting
back-story of their chosen profession.
Meggs's love for type and letterforms became apparent at age 16
when, in the afternoons after high school in his hometown of
Florence, SC, he would hand set metal type.
After college, Meggs worked as a senior designer at Reynolds
Aluminum, and then as art director of A.H. Robins Pharmaceuticals,
where he designed posters, booklets, packages, a quarterly
magazine, exhibitions, annual reports, and advertising
In 1968, upon his former teacher's invitation, Meggs began to
teach at the Communication Arts and Design Department at Virginia
Commonwealth University. In 1974 he was appointed chair of the
department and during his 13-year tenure the enrollment doubled,
and the graphic design program was augmented with new majors and
In 1995 Virginia Commonwealth University awarded Meggs its
annual faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching, Research, and
Service. Meggs was an innovative and respected educator who was
devoted to his students. He continued to teach, even after the year
2000 when he was diagnosed with acute Myelogenous Leukemia until
his death two years later.
During Megg's first semester of teaching, a fruitless search for
information about design history, theory, and creative methodology,
convinced him that there was a desperate need amongst design
educators for these materials. In 1974 he began teaching a course
in the history of visual communications and started to work on his
first book A History of Graphic Design. The first edition
of this 500-page book was published in 1983. It received an award
for excellence in publishing from the Association of American
Publishers. A History of Graphic Design has been
translated into Chinese, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish.
Since this first book that provided an essential touchstone for
all future graphic design history scholarship, Meggs went on to
write a dozen books and more than 150 articles and paper on design
Meggs is survived by his wife, the illustrator and art director
Libby Phillips Meggs, and their two children.
“Phil Meggs died last November 24, succumbing to complications
resulting from leukemia and, in reviewing his life in an obituary I
write for the Times, I realized just how much I, and the
profession, are indebted to him. Take away his epochal book and
subsequent writings and lectures and there would have been far
fewer design history classes, symposia, and books than there are
today. How many educators have used ”the book“ as required reading?
How many students have come across Lissitzky, Cassandre, and Rand
for the very first time in Phil's narratives? How many design
scholars have cited Phil in their own research? And at how many
conferences did Phil bring his special insight to all of us hungry
for knowledge? Phil laid more than a groundwork; he built a
monument to graphic design's legacy. Now he is an integral part of
—Tribute to Philip B. Meggs, PRINT,
The distinguished AIGA Medal is awarded to individuals in recognition of their exceptional achievements in the field of design.
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