Much of the process of finding your own style in graphic design involves surveying what has come before you and building upon it, as well as getting to grips with the fundamentals of the craft as taught at graphic design school and figuring out which rules you can bend.
In the spirit of standing on the shoulders of giants, here are five famous graphic designers who are just that: giants in the industry who have changed the playing field forever with their iconic works.
As far as graphic designers go, Milton Glaser is up there with the most iconic names in America. Don’t know his name? You’ll recognize his work , and it demonstrates what we mean when we say that Glaser is the living embodiment of New Your City: he designed the “I <3 NY” campaign. But it doesn’t stop there. Glaser also created the main DC Comics logo used between 1977 and 2005, as well as the cursive B logo for the Brooklyn Brewery (which is still used today and for which Glaser received shares in the company on its creation in 1984.) Oh, and he also cofounded New York Magazine, a publication that is still enjoying a four-decade long run where similar lifestyle magazines have fallen.
Another NYC luminary, and arguably the most famous female graphic designer on the planet, the award-winning Paula Scher is as much celebrated for her individual design work as she is for her revolutionary overhauling of theatre promotion standards behind the scenes.
Almost single-handedly, Scher gave a fresh identity to such institutions as the New York City Ballet, Metropolitan Opera, The Public Theater, and the New York Shakespeare Festival. Her work on the Museum of Modern Art’s unified logotype – seen above – is perhaps the most famous across the entire global museum industry.
On top of all this, she is also renowned for her poster and album artwork, which finds itself rooted in the aesthetics of Russian Conservatism (something we’ve covered previously on this blog.)
With a 40-year career that created some of the most recognizable company logos of his era, as well as movie work which permeated into many corners of pop culture, the late Saul Bass is one of the most revered graphic designers of the 20th century (and quite rightly so.)
Bass became very well known for creating film title sequences with Alfred Hitchcock and others, and practically invented the art form of having title sequences to illustrate the credits before the movie began. Viewable above was Bass’ innovative sequence for 1955’s The Man with the Golden Arm, which elevated the young designer to the public eye and matched the film’s controversial subject matter.
“Design that needed guts from the creator and still carries the ghost of these guts in the final execution.”
Austrian-born Sagmeister has long been known for his memorable work in the music industry, having rose to prominence in the early 90s, creating conceptual artwork for the likes of Lou Reed (below) and The Rolling Stones.
More recently, Sagmeister has decided to branch out. Alongside continuing his musical work, he is now devoting his talents to science, social causes, and the wider art world.
It’s entirely arguable that the above four names owe their careers (or at least a large portion of it) to Paul Rand.
It is impossible to summarize Rand’s century-spanning career in the space we have here, but suffice it to say that it was he alone that brought the idea that good graphic design is essential in the world of business and branding. As fellow designer Louis Danziger puts it: “He, more than anyone else, made the profession reputable. We went from being commercial artists to being graphic designers largely on his merits.”
Rand was not only an unparalleled graphic designer, but also a professor, contributing a wealth of theoretical advancements to the craft that are still taught as fundamentals at graphic design school today. Working long into his nineties, one of his last projects was in collaboration with the notoriously difficult-to-please Steve Jobs, who referred to Rand as “the greatest living designer.”
Over to you. Know of any other famous graphic designers that should feature here? Let’s get some discussion going down in the comments below!