Summer 2009

Sampling the Modern

Bill Mackay's lucid work for GF Smith established a design tradition now continued by SEA

When SEA Design’s Bryan Edmondson began working with GF Smith in the late 1990s, he discovered an extraordinary design archive, compiled by the paper merchant’s retired sales director, Ray Earle. Most of this 1960s and 70s treasure trove is the work of Bill Mackay, now retired, of Carlisle-based Mackay Benzies and Associates, GF Smith’s design consultants for the best part of three decades.

The 1960s was a time of rapid expansion in design education, so GF Smith was keen to target students and young practitioners, via visits and lectures, and by providing advice in the form of printed promotional packages. Mackay’s lucid design helped develop a professional fan-base for his client.


Working with two successive sales directors (Peter Frank and John Alexander), Mackay set out to demonstrate the various ranges through an experimental use of print techniques, using dots and stripes, die-cuts, duotones, overprinting and colour mixing (coloured ink on coloured stock), along with paper folding and engineering. He also rendered iconic images in an illustrative style akin to hip clip art.

Mackay’s creative risk-taking, born of an edgy DIY attitude, produced a coherent, colour-saturated identity that was perfectly in tune with the cultural climate of the 1960s and 70s, and filled the client’s brief by emphasising the educational and inspirational value and collectability of the paper samples he designed...

First published in Eye no. 72 vol. 18.

EYE 72 cover 1000 pixels

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions, back issues and single copies of the latest issue. You can also browse visual samples of recent issues at Eye before You Buy.