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 campaigns.
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 courses.
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 and typography.
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 that legacy.”
—Tribute to Philip B. Meggs, PRINT, LVII:I, 2003