Abram Games OBE, RDI (29 July 1914, Whitechapel, London – 27 August 1996, London) was a British graphic designer.
Born Abraham Gamse in Whitechapel, London on 29 July, the day after World War I began in 1914, he was the son of Joseph Gamse, a Latvian photographer, and Sarah, a seamstress born on the border of Russia and Poland. His father anglicised the family name to Games when Abram was 12. Games left Hackney Downs School at the age of 16 and went to Saint Martin’s School of Art in London. Disillusioned by the teaching at Saint Martin’s and worried about the expense of studying there, Games left after two terms. However, while working as a “studio boy” in commercial design firm Askew-Young in London 1932–36, he was attending night classes in life drawing. He was fired from this position due to his jumping over four chairs as a prank. In 1934, his entry was second in the Health Council Competition and, in 1935, won a poster competition for the London City Council. 1936–40, he was on his own as a freelance poster artist.
The style of his work – refined but vigorous compared to the work of contemporaries – has earned him a place in the pantheon of the best of 20th-century graphic designers. In acknowledging his power as a propagandist, he claimed, “I wind the spring and the public, in looking at the poster, will have that spring released in its mind.” Because of the length of his career – over six decades – his work is essentially a record of the era’s social history. Some of Britain’s most iconic images include those by Games. An example is the “Join the ATS” propaganda poster of 1941, nicknamed the “Blonde Bombshell” recruitment poster. From 1942, during World War II, Games’s service as the Official War Artist for posters resulted in 100 or so posters. His work is recognised for its “striking colour, bold graphic ideas, and beautifully integrated typography”.
1946, he resumed his freelance practice and worked for clients such Shell, Financial Times, Guinness, British Airways, London Transport and El Al. He designed stamps for Britain, Ireland, Israel, Jersey and Portugal. Also, he designed the logo for JFS situated currently in north-west London. There were also book jackets for Penguin Books and logos for the 1951 Festival of Britain (winning the 1948 competition) and the 1965 Queen’s Award to Industry. Evidence of his pioneering contributions is the first (1953) moving on-screen symbol of BBC Television. He also produced murals.
Between 1946 and 1953, Games was a visiting lecturer in graphic design at London’s Royal College of Art; 1958, was awarded the OBE for services to graphic design; 1959, was appointed a Royal Designer for Industry (RDI). In the 1950s and of Jewish heritage, he was known to have spent some time in Israel where, among other activities, he designed stamps for the Israeli Post Office and taught a course in postage-stamp design. He also designed covers for the Jewish Chronicle and prayer book prints for the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain. In 1960 Games designed the poster known as Freedom from Hungar for the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.
Games was also an industrial designer of sorts. Activities in this discipline included the design of the 1947 Cona vacuum coffee maker (produced from 1949, reworked in 1959 and still in production) and inventions such as a circular vacuum and the early 1960s portable handheld duplicating machine by Gestetner. But the duplicator was not put into production due to the demise of mimeography.
In arriving at a poster design, Games would render up to 30 small preliminary sketches and then combine two or three into the final one. In the developmental process, he would work small because, he asserted, if poster designs “don’t work an inch high, they will never work.” He would also call on a large number of photographic images as source material. Purportedly, if a client rejected a proposed design (which seldom occurred), Games would resign and suggest that the client commission someone else.
In 2013, the National Army Museum, London, acquired a collection of his posters, each signed by Games and in mint condition.