“He was successful and he thoroughly enjoyed that success—to the hilt. Fast cars. Expensive clothes. Unique houses. He was a collector, with a capitol C, of art and objects which he displayed in extraordinary arrangements and exquisite taste. Gifted with an almost terrifying fund of energy, Robert Miles Runyan engaged in design and living with an intensity that few could match.” Dick Coyne wrote these comments in a 1987 article in Communication Arts.
In 1959, Robert Runyan designed a ground-breaking annual report for Litton Industries, Inc.—a departure from the usual staid and stuffy representative of the corporate world—and it has influenced the content and design of most annual reports since. It had a tremendous impact on the financial community and very accurately communicated the objectives and future of the client.
Litton was less than six-years-old with sales of $125 million, but the report strove for a feeling of success, solidity and utilized the theme of technology, old and new. The props for the theme were collected by Runyan from museums, antique stores and private collections. The modern equipment, product and facility photos were mounted prints and arranged with the other props and shot as a single photo. The final result was a truly outstanding design solution.
Bob was born in Nebraska, did a wartime hitch in the Marines, studied at Chouinard and the Art Center on the G.I. Bill and opened his own studio in the mid 1950s.
An astute judge of design talent, Runyan surrounded himself with first-class expertise. His team of highly capable designers included many of whom went on to create their own design offices. Unlike most successful designers, Runyan spent little time on the “board.” He felt his time was of the most value to the organization in analyzing and art directing and his designing was confined to thinking, verbal expression and occasional scribbles. He was also a supersalesman of his firm’s capabilities.
Designer Jim Berté, summed up his experience, “The Runyan office at times could be a frustrating mad house and at other times a complete joy. His greatest virtue was his ability to find talented designers and then leave them alone.” “He always seemed like a larger-than-life figure to me,” said designer Doug Joseph. “It’s not that he was physically big; it was his presence in a room. I owe a tremendous amount to Bob and the experience I acquired working for him.” Designer Rik Besser added, “It was a great opportunity for me to work with Bob. It was my first job out of school and it was a hell of an eye opener. The experience shaped my career. He had a presence, a bravado that instilled confidence. Clients would hand him the reins, and he wouldn’t hesitate to take them.” Business manager Sandra Dyer worked for Bob for eighteen years: “He was a demanding, unrelenting perfectionist, yet counterbalanced with humor, kindness and loyalty to his staff that produced their best for him.”
Runyan received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Los Angeles Art Directors Club presented to him in 1989 by the club president, Gary Hinsche, his former partner. “He was the best art director I have ever worked with. He always improved the work, taking a good idea/concept and making it great. Our presentations were spectacular and they sold. A client never told RMR what to, or how to, design. The clients we worked for understood the value of good design and rarely questioned our direction. That was part of the magic of Bob Runyan.”
After retirement, Runyan restored a 150-year-old Mexican hacienda in the little town of Ajijic on Lake Chapala in México. He died there in July 2001. ca