Changing an entire industry is by no means a small feat. The list of designers below still managed to profoundly changed the graphic design landscape as we know it. They helped shape the discourse of branding, the fundamental theories of design and did it all with an acute understanding of the cultural backdrop they tried to represent. Here’s how the greatest famous graphic designers made their mark on the world.
1) Paul Rand
Paul Rand could arguably eclipse all the below designers in fame and legacy. The American Modernist’s ground-breaking designs for IBM, ABC and the original UPS logos have stood firm throughout the century. However, it is his theories on design expressed in his legendary books which will stand the test of time. He flipped American advertising on its head when he was named Art Director of advertising agency William H. Weintraub & Co, a position previously held by the copywriter. Donald Albrecht, curator of the 2015 exhibition on Rand’s work Design Is Everything, claimed Rand flipped the approach to advertising on its head. Instead of allowing the copy dictate the design, Rand u-turned perspective and made graphic design the forefront. “He thought he was bringing art to advertising”.
In essence, Rand is responsible for telling the world that design is, indeed, everything.
2) Neville Brody
Neville Brody faced criticism early in his career after studying at The London College of Printing during the 1970s. His designs were untried and strove for a new form of magazine art which sharply contrasted with the school’s traditional printing and design methods. The designer, brand strategist, and typographer gained his inspiration from the biggest push in his career, the Punk movement. “London has a particular set of politics and cultural influences that has been absolutely instrumental in developing the work that I do” he described in an interview with Dezeen. He wanted his work to reflect and represent the changing landscape of London, politics and music; letting all designers know that taking inspiration from the current climate can help shape you as a designer.
3) Milton Glaser
Milton Glaser is utterly unstoppable in his campaign to be crowned the most celebrated graphic designer of all time. His psychedelic approach to the iconic Bob Dylan poster is reflected in his more recent approach to the Mad Men titles, and his stylistic direction leaks into his approach to typography. Although Glaser warned in his monograph Milton Glaser Graphic Design that he is “not a type designer”, his Baby Teeth typeface which was designed for the Dylan poster encouraged designers worldwide to experiment with different forms.
His influence is deeply felt of course in the Big Apple, but stretches beyond New York. Not only does the napkin on which he originally drafted the I Heart NY logo permanently reside in the Museum Modern Art, but in 1976 he also designed the entirety of the restaurant which resided in the World Trade Centre, Windows on the World. “I had no idea why it became an icon not only for New Yorkers”, said Glaser, “but for the whole bloody world.”
4) David Airey
Now as renowned for his incredible blogging skills as well as his remarkable design portfolio, David Airey has made a name for himself as one of the modern masters of Graphic Design. His book Logo Design Love has emerged as a powerful brand all by itself, with a twitter following reaching 110,000 in its own name. His speciality resides in building brand identity through design with companies tripping over themselves to get a slice of his expertise. One of the many marks he has left so far is the value of self-promotion in the digital age for graphic designers, and the sheer power of the internet as a platform to excel your career. “Without my blog, I doubt you’ll know about my work” he recently claimed in Design M.ag, “The Internet can open so many doors, and it’s up to each one of us to tread our own path”.
5) David Carson
Texan born David Carson has certainly earnt his right in the Graphic Design Hall of Fame and did it with no regard for the rules. Experimental and bold describe his ruthless determination to break the mold of typography and magazine design, and inspired a generation of young designers to think differently about typography theory.
Clean cut typefaces were scrapped for distorted lettering that challenges the viewer, and his work in magazines Ray Gun and Nine Inch Nails are used as works to study on courses around the world. However, his most vital lesson is geared towards teaching graphic designers to trust themselves. “One of the early criticisms of my work was that it was ‘self-indulgent’” he told Huck Magazine, “and I’d say, ‘Hell yeah it is, I’m totally into it, I’m totally absorbed in it, and part of me hopes it gets recognised and I wouldn’t want somebody working for me who wasn’t just as into it.”
6) Stefan Sagmeister
Outspoken and unapologetic, Stefan Sagmeister is an integral figure in modern pop & art culture. His true passion is expressed through album covers, which he believes is the ultimate conundrum for graphic designers. "I do believe that music is ultimately the most emotional of all the arts. To be able to create the visual that comes out of that emotion and attach it to something that is inherently non-visual is an incredibly interesting endeavor."
The immaculate blend of photography and typography shape his astonishing portfolio and incorporating people into his design relentlessly captures emotion. His striking style indeed captured the interest of Mick Jagger, Lou Reed and David Byrne, and with a platform of such celebrity his work, along with his design philosophy is deservingly celebrated. “Try to touch the heart of the viewer”.
7) Aleksandr Rodchenko
Although not a common household name, Aleksandr Rodchenko helped define attitudes to modern day design in huge ways. He was a Russian artist and graphic designer who was pivotal in the Constructivism movement of the Russian Revolution. Born in 1891, Rodchenko demanded that classic theories of design were altered. The “Constructivists” saw design as something to be engineered, regardless of gender and classical art principals. His designs are almost scientifically calculated with a restricted colour palette, and it was the first time the world had seen typography and photographic elements presented in such political work.
8) Saul Bass
Perhaps one of the most household names on our list, Saul Bass’ work is immortalised within universally recognisable classic film posters. He reimagined how films were represented by portraying iconic scenes through a more abstract pattern defined by symbolism and shapes. His logo designs on average, have a lifespan of a whopping 34 years before they are even considered a redesign, and even then the most minimal variations are applied. His true influence resides in the transformation of opening sequences in films. Before Bass came into the picture, title film sequences were stagnant and dreary. In an interview with Herbet Yager, Bass described the birth of movie titles as we know them. As part of my work, I created film symbols for ad campaigns. I happened to be working on the symbols for Otto Preminger’s Carmen Jones and The Man With The Golden Arm and at some point, Otto and I just looked at each other and said, “Why not make it move?”
9) Adrian Shaughnessy
London-based design Adrian Shaughnessy spent 15 years as Creative Director of design studio, Intro before he became an independent designer and writer. His design instinctively is inspired by the patterns and forms of music, and he approaches each design with bearing in mind its ubiquitous presence in daily life. His designs balance purpose with beauty, experimenting with type and colour whilst ensuring practicality remains intact. “Most of what we see is vacuous, or worse, a sort of commercial hysteria. But there are also many good and worthwhile uses of graphic design; usages that make our lives better.”
10) Ivan Chermayeff
Ivan Chermayeff’s work is peppered across the US. Pan Am, NBC and Mobil are titans of clients, and who’s name will carry Chermayeff into the VIP arena of design forever. Minimal, identifiable and prominent designs. From corporate logos to charity identity, Chermayeff serves as a reminder that sometimes in graphic design, heading back to basics with bold shapes and recognisable colours will create successful logos that last.
Paula Scher spent almost 20 years in Pentagram as a partner in their New York office. Her passionate method to accentuate the emotion behind design started to form after seeing Kathy McCoy talk about design, and claiming the best compliment a designer could receive is that your work is ‘clean’. “C’mon, there’s gotta be more than that” she stresses “What about expression, what about emotion, what about feeling? ... If you could be neat, it seemed that you could achieve it…If anybody can achieve it, why bother to do it, why don’t we all do it ourselves?”
12) Annie Atkins
Wes Anderson’s films are renowned for their distinctive design and unique, almost surrealist style. Working as a graphic designer on Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, Annie Atkins carved her own take on the director’s vision. When working in films usually, graphic designers take a script and mark anything which may fall under their creative freedom. For the The Grand Budapest Hotel, Atkins soon realised the entire film could fall under her artistic responsibility. The film, with its reliance on graphics and aesthetics truly allowed Atkins to reinvent graphic design for cinema.
13) Massimo Vignelli
Visionary Italian designer Massimo Vignelli shaped his career by applying European Modernist view to the American design landscape. A self-branded “information architect”, Vignelli has integrated his vision so inextricably from everyday life, from the New York Subway system to American Airlines and Ford. He saw design as a method to express information that is hard to comprehend. His legacy is summarised by leading graphic designer Tom Geismar; “What always amazes me about Massimo is his ability to take lots of information and somehow clarify it”.
14) Alvin Lustig
Alvin Lustig is the King of book cover design. Pastel colours that offset beautiful typography thread throughout his work, and he was well aware that in the first half of the 20th Century – fairly early days for graphic Design - he was at the dawn of an industry about to boom. “The basic difference between the graphic designer and the painter or sculptor,” he writes in his essay titled Graphic Design, “is his search for the ‘public’ rather than the ‘private’ symbol.”
Conveying literature through graphic design was a knack Lustig had down to a T, and the usage of symbol throughout his work is a tenancy that designers will be influenced by for ages to come.
15) Max Miedinger
Born in Zurich in 1910, Max Miedinger created one of the most widely used typefaces in graphic design history; Helvetica. The font is so ingrained within our daily lives that few even recognise its ubiquity. In fact, Miedinger has probably designed the world’s only typeface to have a feature length documentary made about it. The world first has Eduard Hoffman to thank, who commissioned Miedinger to design the sans-serif typeface, which was named Helvetica not until 1960.
16) Armin Hoffman
Originally a lithographer, Hoffman soon became one of the most renowned theorists behind graphic design that ever lived. A strong current of space and structure frame cultural and social issues that helped drive the “Swiss Style” movement. Designers Journal claimed that without Hoffman, modern graphic design would be unrecognisable. “The readability and cleanliness of the style as well as its asymmetric layouts, use of a grids and sans-serif typefaces have helped define how we design today.”
17) Max Bill
Maybe one of the most unusual designers we’ve seen, Max Bill brought his own unique style to paintings, architecture, sculpture as well as graphic design. Colourful geometric patterns are utilised in his poster work which contributed to the Swiss Style again. Attention to detail, innovative type and construction of layout were the building blocks of the 30’s Swiss movement, and redefined our attitudes to graphic design.
18) Anton Stankowski
Famous German-born graphic designer Anton Stankowski was originally a church decorator, who later became one of the first graphic artists to create a Theory on Graphic Design. Not only did he create logos for massive corporations such as the Deutsche Bank, but his carefully calculated structural design inspired a new way of thinking.
19) Wally Olins and 20) Micael Wolff
During the 1960’s, Wally Olins and Michael Wolff formed one of the most pioneering design studios the UK had ever seen. Wolff Olins was the most recognised commercial branding agency in Britain. They used the globalisation of companies as a basis to form their branding, and his passion for cultivating the trust of brands shines through his work. “Brands and branding are the most significant contributions that commerce has ever made to popular culture” Olins boasts in his book Wally Olins on Brand, and their efforts to craft successful brands from BT to London itself, that people return to time and time again.
Of course, this is just a selection of some of the ways famous graphic designers have stamped their mark upon the world. The true scope of influence graphic designers throughout history stretches infinitely, and we have them to thank for the way we think about design today.