We stand on the shoulders of giants

Within graphic design, our kind are not as widely celebrated as high achieving individuals from other creative industries, despite our contribution to the visual environment. There are no widely publicised awards shows with red carpets and little statues, or major articles devoted to the work we do, with our names and faces splashed across the pages.

However, most of you will be familiar with the creative output of some of those with a higher profile – the pioneers in our field. And today we want to focus on the stars that shone bright, often far from the spotlight, the ones whose work needs to be discussed, pawed-over and mined for inspiration.

Although our industry is relatively young, there is a rich pool of talented lumineers from recent history that we can all draw upon for daily creative cues. Let us introduce you to twelve designers who have a far greater influence over current graphic styles than many people realise.

Paul Rand (1914 – 1996)

Even after his passing, Paul Rand endures as one of the most influential graphic designers in the world. To a certain degree, his renowned corporate identity designs for companies like IBM, ABC, UPS and Westinghouse are the reason for such status within the design community.

Rand began his career designing covers for Direction magazine, where he embraced and honed the Swiss Style of graphic design, a practice developed in 1950s Switzerland and known for its emphases on clean lines, readability and objectivity. He was inducted into the New York Art Directors Club Hall of Fame in 1972.

Saul Bass (Born 1920 – 1996)

Mr Bass was primarily a graphic designer but is best known for his work on animated motion picture title sequences, for Psycho, Anatomy of a Murder, Spartacus and The Man with the Golden Arm. These are the best examples of his film work and of the style at large.

He was responsible for memorable logos like the AT&T globe, Minolta, United Airlines, The Girl Scouts and later he would also produce logos for numerous Japanese companies. In addition to this enviable portfolio, Bass designed the pared back poster for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games and several Academy Awards shows.

Milton Glaser (Born 1929)

The name may not be familiar to most but the many iconic works he created are still being worn to this day – his ubiquitous I Heart NY shirt), or well-thumbed through (New York Magazine). Then there is the psychedelic Bob Dylan poster and the DC comics logo. Mr Glaser’s work is consistently characterised by simplicity and originality.

Not only did Milton Glaser create a visual feast for successive generations of designers, he also spoke succinct, wise words that all creatives can use as a modern day mantra – “The real issue is not talent as an independent element, but talent in relationship to will, desire, and persistence. Talent without these things vanishes and even modest talent with those characteristics grows.”

Massimo Vignelli (1931 – 2014)

Massimo Vignelli tells us that “if you can design one thing, you can design everything”. And his life’s work is a testament to these inspiring words. His portfolio includes packaging design, furniture design, interior design, architectural and exhibition graphics, product design and last but not least, graphic design.

Vignelli’s most familiar work however was his design for the NYC Subway system and the DC Metro system signage. He also imparts his wisdom teaching and lecturing on design in the major cities and universities in the United States and abroad.

Deborah Sussman (1931 – 2014)

Deborah Sussman was best known for leading the team that created the environmental graphics of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. The team created bold, brightly colored “supergraphics” – large scale designs that were shaped around the built environment and gave the urban landscape a vibrancy and the architecture a much needed makeover. This characteristic technique that she pioneered and “more is more” mantra has since gone mainstream, allowing other designers to realise information signage in non-traditional ways.

Her bold graphics reflected her unspoken dialogue with clients, best articulated here: “Several people have told me over the years ‘just give them what they want’ with regards to clients, and I can’t bring myself to do it, I have to inspire them, and that can sometimes be a very dangerous attitude to have because you can lose yourself a lot of money”.

Ruth Ansel (Born 1938)

As the visionary art director of prestigious titles such as Harper’s Bazaar in the 1960s, The New York Times Magazine in the 1970s, Vanity Fair and Vogue in the 1980s; she has collaborated with nearly every icon of magazine publishing including Diana Vreeland, Annie Leibowitz, Bruce Weber and a whole lot more. But all of this was only part of her creative output during an illustrious career. She also directed fashion ad campaigns for Versace, Club Monaco and Karl Lagerfield.

Paula Scher (Born 1948)

Femme fatale Scher began her graphic design career as an art director for record covers at both Atlantic and CBS Records and became known as an innovative typographer, shunning the ever present Helvetica.

This wild side is balanced with her corporate identity work for iconic brands like Tiffany & Co., Citibank, New York City Ballet; Bloomberg, Coca-Cola, the Metropolitan Opera, and MoMA. She is now continuing her legacy, shaping young minds as an educator at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York.

David Carson (Born 1954)

Rough, rugged and raw, Carson, once considered an upstart in the design world, rose to prominence in the grunge era. Known for his anti-swiss style, through an abstract cut and paste aesthetic that could even be described as noisey. A style he started in Transworld Skateboarding and perfected with Ray Gun magazine.

His experiments with design have led him to break widely observed graphic design rules in regards to grids, typography and its interplay with imagery. This playful technique of freeform creation in various mediums has ensured a vitality and a longevity for his career.

Neville Brody (Born 1957)

Neville Brody’s meteoric rise began with his incredible art direction of cult UK magazine The Face between 1981 and 1986, establishing it as a doyen of culture and style. And as the creative force behind Arena magazine his stature within the publishing world was cemented.

This master typographer used type as a primary element of the hero image, even creating the image itself entirely from letterforms. Although the magazine was his bread and butter work he often stepped away from the printed page to design record covers for artists such as Cabaret Voltaire and Depeche Mode to name but a few.

Stefan Sagmeister (Born 1962)

Enfant terrible, only in the best kind of way, Stefan Sagmeister pushes the boundaries like no other designer. Most notably is the 1999 poster for AIGA where he had his assistant carve the letters into his torso with a knife, photographing the bloody mess for all to see.

Born in Austria, he now lives in New York City where he dabbles in the music scene, designing album covers for Lou Reed, OK Go, The Rolling Stones, David Byrne and Aerosmith.

Chip Kidd ( Born 1964)

Primarily a book jacket designer Chip Kidd has freelanced for many of the major publishing houses such as Penguin, Amazon and Random House; working with noted authors like Bret Easton Ellis, Haruki Murakami, Cormac McCarthy, Frank Miller and David Sedaris. He has often devalued the importance of his designs, expressing of his role, “I’m very much against the idea that the cover will sell the book.” We disagree, and feel it is the perfect introduction to an undiscovered author.

Because, you can tell a book by its cover, at least when Kidd is at the helm. He has a way of arresting the reader’s gaze, with art that speaks volumes for the printed word inside with one single image. His striking style has sometimes transcended the literary world, to be featured on marketing material for the film adaptation of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park novel.

Deanne Cheuk (Born 1975)

Although our very own Deanne Cheuk now resides in New York she is native to Perth, Western Australia. She has many design arrows in her quiver – illustrator, designer, art director and artist. But the world of publishing is where she is most at home as contributor to Nippon Vogue, Dazed & Confused, Nylon, Black Book, The Fader, Flaunt, Tokion and The New York Times Magazine.

Cheuk pioneered the use of illustrative typography with her oft-copied/rarely-bettered style of watercolour titles and hand drawn letterforms on the printed page. This has led to commissioned work for revered companies like Nike, Converse, Swatch, The Gap, MTV, Levi’s, Nickelodeon, Nokia, and Converse.

Their Visual Legacy

As pillars of the design community, the impact is still apparent to this day. Their classic creations can help you navigate your train journey, be worn on an iconic tourist t-shirt, they package up your products and make your Sunday reading more pleasing to the eye.

Moreover it is a testament to their skills that many current-day creatives still look to these masters for inspiration. Serving as models for modern-day designs, evolving from templates set out decades earlier.

Often unchanged since genesis, the works of these designers are immune to the shifting tide of trends. Each name a permanent synonym for style.