While best known for his title sequences for the James Bond films From Russia with Love and Goldfinger, Robert Brownjohn had a short but influential career, which integrated design, advertising, film, photography, and music. A major figure in the New York advertising and design scene of the late 1950s, he later moved to London, where he was at the epicenter of the burgeoning music, art, and fashion scene of London’s “swinging ’60s.”
Born in New Jersey to British parents, Brownjohn later moved to Chicago, where during the mid-1940s he studied under former Bauhaus teacher Laszlo Moholy-Nagy at the Chicago Institute of Design. He quickly caught the attention of his teachers, who later brought him on as an instructor at the school. After moving to New York in 1951, he spent five years as a freelance designer for clients including George Nelson and Bob Cato. In 1956, he formed a partnership with Ivan Chermayeff, a designer and son of the modernist architect Serge Chermayeff (with designer Tom Geismar joining a year later). Brownjohn, Chermayeff & Geismar quickly grew into one of the most innovative design and advertising firms in New York. Brownjohn’s many personal problems, caused primarily by the heroin addiction that later claimed his life, ultimately soured his New York relationships, precipitating his move to London in 1960.
In London, Brownjohn rapidly established himself as a designer of note. While working for the firm McCann Erickson, he designed the opening credits for the second James Bond film, From Russia with Love, his first foray into film. The following year he directed the film titles for Goldfinger. For both title sequences, he employed a surprising and attention-grabbing approach in which the credit texts and scenes from the films were projected onto scantily clad women, initiating the long-running Bond film tradition of elaborate title sequences featuring seductive women. Brownjohn’s treatment of type as dynamic, abstract forms in the title sequences illustrated both his mastery of graphic design and the enduring influence of Moholy-Nagy’s use of type and photography. His combination of sexually suggestive images and wry humor was a fitting accompaniment to the James Bond mythos. The broad acclaim he received for the Bond film titles led to more film and commercial work for clients ranging from Pirelli to Midland Bank to the Rolling Stones. Though he continued to produce original and challenging work, in the latter half of the 1960s, his life became increasingly unstable. He was moving from one partnership to another until he died in 1970, at the untimely age of 44.
Introduction by Paul Galloway, Collection Specialist, Department of Architecture and Design, 2016