In comparison to other design fields, graphic design is a fairly new profession that only acquired serious professional status during the 1950s and 60s. Since then, however, there have been a myriad of designers who have created their way into the industry’s Hall of Fame (or at least onto this remarkable and bona fide list, which is basically the same thing).
Similarly, with the countless number of agencies among a gargantuan commercial industry—not to mention an extraordinarily colossal arts and culture scene, New York City is arguably one of the best cities in the world to nurture these creative professions. Consequently so many graphic designers from around the world are relocating to The Big Apple as a constructive career move.
Paving the way for modern design since the profession was first recognised, these graphic designers of New York have changed the way we view the discipline in the contemporary world. And as a graphic design student, it’s imperative you get acquainted with these names.
Long after his death in 1996, this Brooklyn-born art director and graphic designer remains one of the best in the world. During a time when the world was barely aware of his craft, Rand defined visual culture in America and pioneered a fresh, modern approach to selling goods; he was credited as one of the originators of the Swiss Style of design. He went on to teach at Yale in 1956 and was inducted into the New York Art Directors Club Hall of Fame in 1972. The ad man with the uncanny skill for marrying commerce and art, who was said to have brought intelligence and ideas to advertising where there was no semblance of thought before him, is most well-known for his corporate logo work. Having convinced some of the nation’s largest corporations that great design meant great business, he went on to craft indelible logos for giants like the ABC, UPS, Westinghouse, and IBM—all of which we instantly recognize today.
Among the most notable of graphic designers responsible for the Modern Movement achieving serious popular acceptance in the visual arts during the 50s and 60s is the prolific Saul Bass. Born in the Bronx, NY, in 1920, this graphic designer and Academy Award-winning filmmaker followed his love for film along with a job offer at a major advertising company and relocated to Los Angeles in 1946. His career rapidly skyrocketed and soon he was doing classic LP sleeves like the Tone Poems of Color for Sinatra and posters for Charlie Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux. Bass was credited for inventing the titling of movies at the beginning or end as well as creating print-graphic identification for the films. Becoming a go-to for prominent filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Otto Preminger, and Martin Scorsese, Bass did the titles for Exodus, Ocean’s 11, Spartacus and Psycho in 1960 alone. He is also responsible for the iconic animation of the heroin addict’s arm for Preminger’s The Man With the Golden Arm, in 1955. His graphic design work didn’t stop at films however, and much of his corporate roles produced many iconic logos for the likes of Continental Airlines, United Airlines, AT&T, Warner Communications, and Quaker Oats, just to name a few.
The man behind the prolific I *heart* NY logo (refer to the head image at the top of the article if you’re still scratching your head), Glaser is to many the embodiment of American graphic design during the last five decades. Born in New York in 1929, this modern Renaissance man initially trained in classical fine art before co-founding the New York-based Pushpin Studio in 1954. After international acclaim and many immediately recognizable works from the studio, including the iconic 1966 Bob Dylan poster (above), Glaser eventually left in 1976 and created his own company, Milton Glaser Inc.. With a major interest in publishing design (he also co-founded New York Magazine in 1968), he went on to establish a magazine and design studio called WBMG, with the former art director of Time, Walter Bernard. Among his publication credits are Esquire, Fortune, L’Express, and The Washington Post. His other eminent works include Mad Men’s swirling, technicoloured promotional ad for its final season, the Brooklyn Brewery logo, and the DC Comics logo.
Born in Austria in 1962, this intriguing designer and typographer moved to New York at the age of 15, after having received a Fulbright scholarship to study at the Pratt Institute. Known for his provocative and unorthodox designs, Sagmeister has created brand identities for household names and iconic album artworks for his favorite musical acts like Lou Reed, Mick Jagger, David Byrne, Talking Heads, and Jay-Z; he also received two Grammy Awards for his work. Always one to push the envelope of indecency, he famously had the text for an AIGA lecture poster in 1999 carved into his nude body by his assistant and photographed himself; as well as gaining twenty-five pounds in 2003 by eating a hundred different junk foods and taking before and after photos for his Sagmeister On A Binge exhibition poster. His company Sagmeister Inc. which he founded in 1993 is now renamed to Sagmeister & Walsh, after making his twenty-five year-old designer employee, Jessica Walsh a partner in 2012.
Massimo Vignelli (1931-2014) had always strived to achieve design that was “visually powerful, intellectually elegant, and above all timeless.” Born in Milan, Italy, the architecture student first visited America in 1957 on a fellowship and returned to New York in 1966 with the hopes of promulgating a design aesthetic motivated by their ideal of functional beauty. Credited for introducing a European Modernist point of view to graphic design in America, he, along with six other designers, founded Unimark International, which became one of largest and most recognizable design firms in the world. It was also among the first to create corporate identities through design. Vignelli then went on to open his own firm, Vignelli Associates, with wife Lella in 1971. It then became Vignelli Designs in 1978. Among many corporate identities he was responsible for creating, including that of American Airlines, Ford, Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue and Xerox, his most memorable work was his dramatic redesign of the New York City subway map in 1972.