Tony Mann was born in England in 1927. He trained as an industrial designer at the London Central School of Arts and Crafts, graduating in 1951, and practiced as a consultant exhibition and graphic designer in London before emigrating to Toronto in 1962. His interest in modern architecture had led him to believe that a new formalism was needed to systematise asymmetric typography and the first issue of the magazine Neue Graphik, in 1958, showed the existence of a cohesive new functionalist tradition, linking Modern Swiss and German design with the International Style.
It was difficult to find clients in England who were ready to accept the philosophy behind this approach, but in Canada he found a more receptive attitude to new ideas. The pioneering work of Ernst Roch and Rolph Harder in Montreal had already achieved recognition and Ernst’s corporate identity program for CN, which he did with James Valkus, was becoming identified internationally with modern Canadian design.
After a short period as a designer at CBC Tony was hired by Cooper & Beatty, Typographers, to replace Allan Fleming as creative director. Alan had built upon the early work of Carl Dair in creating a corporate identity for the company which had great influence upon Canadian design and regularly won recognition throughout North America. From this privileged position Tony was able to work consistently in the International Style, redesigning the corporate image and through the active advertising program reaching a wide design audience.
He joined a dedicated group of typographic designers meeting regularly as the Type Directors Club. Although most of them were committed to a more classical typography, they were generous in their acceptance of him and discussion his ideas and he was sorry to see TDC disbanded in favour of the wider graphic design concerns of the GDC.
In 1966 he approached Roch and Harder with the idea of forming an inter-disciplinary design group and together with Al Faux, a Canadian industrial designer, they opened offices in Toronto and Montreal under the name Design Collaborative. The Toronto office tended to concentrate more upon 3D projects but Tony continued to design for C&B and to develop information graphics projects, working mainly with architects, planners and government.
His 40th birthday prompted a review of his role in design. He had become disillusioned by the way in which much of the early idealism of post-war design had been lost, and realized that design was only as good as the use to which it was put by the client. He reluctantly resigned from the group to find a new direction.
When he was offered the chance to set up a new design program at the Nova Scotia College of Art he accepted the position of Chair of a separate Design Division and assembled a team of leading designers, direct from practice, who were also interested in finding a more socially responsible role for design education. After long involved discussion the Division introduced a four-year Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Design,the first Canadian design degree in an English-speaking college.
The focus of the program was upon information design geared to the local needs but soon included a new Environmental Planning department based upon the need for long term development in Nova Scotia. Both were driven by a shared sense of social responsibility and the programs initially shared core courses. The graphics faculty included Frank Fox (from James Valkus), Gerhard Doerrié (from Paul Arthur) and Horst Deppe who had already been running typographic design courses at the College. Ludwig Sharfe (from Design Collaborative Montreal) and Jurgen Hoffman (from Bill Newton) also joined the full-time faculty, which uniquely shared the same design philosophy with a strong typographic bias within the International Style.
Tony concentrated upon teaching first term and general courses and he developed a Design History course which traced the development of the modern movement. But when Hanno Ehses joined the faculty (from Germany) in 1974 he challenged the idea of teaching of any one particular formalism and persuaded the team that the program should concentrate upon the process of communication itself and the appropriate use of visual rhetoric. Under his leadership semiotics became the basis of the teaching and Tony revised his history course to provide an overview of graphic design styles in the 20th Century, analysing their origins and usages, investigating the isolates, sets and patterns through which they could be understood, discussing the social and technological. influences which informed them.
The typographic focus was relaxed and students were encouraged to use styles and media appropriate both to the message and to the audience. Design was seen as a discipline in its own right, irrespective of areas of practice, opening up the program to other disciplines involved in form-giving and communication.
After 1974 Tony continued to teach at NSCAD for the fall term, while spending the rest of the year making toys and automata for adults and public installations until, in 1998, he finally retired from teaching and returned to his homeland of England where he engaged in making one-of-a-kind automata, surrounded by sheep in the depth of the English countryside.
Tony passed away on 19 April 2013 after a brief battle with Leukemia.