Ian Noble Tribute
  • Nick Long
  • It was an Icograda conference at a Leicester square cinema in the late 70s. A venerable German type designer was remonstrating on the importance of reaching ‘good gestalt’. Inevitably some sniggering amongst the student audience ensued. It was not a word that had much currency with British nineteen year olds at the time. In this instance, Zapf meant that the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.

    21 years ago Ian Noble and I went for the same job. I had heard his name mentioned in dispatches, but we had never met. We both passed stage one of the interviews. That left us head to head for part two. It was clear at the rather awkward lunch, that the panel thought Ian was the smarter, better qualified, and more dynamic educator. Unfortunately, so did I.

    After lunch Ian made a quiet call to his existing employer. When he put the phone down he turned and said, “This one’s yours mate, I’ve been persuaded to stay put”.  He really was a smart boy.

    21 years later, that job is still paying my mortgage. In the intervening years my initial feelings of inferiority subsided, as I grew to realise that this fellow wasn’t just a bit good at what he did, but several heads and shoulders above virtually every design educator I had ever encountered.

    What made Ian so very special? That’s almost certainly related to that elusive quality that Swedish film directors call persona, the British call character, and our American cousins call charisma.  If there was a seating plan at a design conference, and you had a choice, sitting at Ian’s table would be the box most would tick.

    He was also a humanist. Although he could use his wit to satirise everything and everyone, fundamentally he was not a cynic. He believed education was the great leveller, and he would donate time and energy to achieve that goal.

    Treating people as individuals, and that is surely the baseline for any good educator, was a natural act for Ian. It was the student’s interests that lay at the heart of his teaching strategy. He never pulled rank and never used his formidable intellect to suppress or manipulate the ideas of others. Instead he invested his efforts in developing what lay dormant. As a result, there are a generation of designers in his debt. They know who they are, and they loved him for his time, support, warmth and humour. I am proud to be counted in that number.

    There is a tendency when someone passes from this mortal coil to reach for the spectacles with warmer tints. Successes become magnified and faults airbrushed. We need not apply these tools to Ian’s memory. He was simply one of the finest design educators of his generation and the very embodiment of good gestalt.

    Nick Long, Programme Leader, Visual Communication and the Applied Arts. Southampton Solent School of Art & Design, Southampton Solent University.