While graphic design can sometimes feel like a brand new industry, it’s actually quite the opposite.
Graphic design is an industry that has been growing and changing for centuries at the hand of countless designers.
So, to celebrate this rich and exciting history, we’ve compiled a list of 40 famous designers that have done their part in shaping graphic design in some way.
From those who specialize in typography or magazine design, through to album covers and political posters, each of these people has made their mark on the industry and shaped it in some way through hard work and some great designs.
With that, let’s have a look at 40 of the world's most famous graphic designers and the lessons they learned along the way.
Appropriately dubbed ‘the Godfather of Grunge’, David Carson revolutionized the design industry by taking a unique, rule-breaking attitude toward design. His strikingly shredded, warped, and sometimes illegible layout designs remain to be a constant source of radical inspiration for designers around the globe.
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A household name in the world of design, Saul Bass is a legend whose work you’ve likely encountered before. Bass made his mark on the design world with his work in the 1950s designing iconic movie posters and motion picture title sequences for films such as Psycho, The Man with the Golden Arm, and North by Northwest.
Bass was also an accomplished logo designer, having designed a plethora of timeless brand marks that have an average lifespan of about 35 years. Much of his work is still in effect to this day – just check out the Kleenex, Girl Scout or AT&T logos.
Stefan Sagmeister is an accomplished contemporary designer with an impressive client list, ranging from The Rolling Stones and HBO to the Guggenheim. Sagmeister’s work often blends humor, sexuality, the unorthodox, and painstaking detail to create jarringly modern designs that continue to inspire and shake the design community.
Paula Scher was the first woman to sit in a principal position at the acclaimed graphic design firm Pentagram, and for good reason. Her impressive body of design shaped the perception and application of graphic design in many ways, particularly her technique of treating type as a visual image in her work for the New York City’s Public Theater (pictured above) which continues to have a lasting impression on modern design.
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Michael Bierut is often credited with “democratizing design”, thanks to his unique and ubiquitous approach to graphic design. Bierut paved the way for ‘accessible’ design whereby complex content was made more easy and enticing to read and consume through a sharp, direct design.
Massimo Vignelli is considered by many as one of the most influential designers of the past century. A self-proclaimed ‘information architect’, Vignelli endeavored to condense large, busy ideas into more digestible, understandable formats through design. This is highly evident in his 1972 redesign of the New York City Subway Map whereby he chose an experimental, abstracted design that was heavily debated but later proved incredibly effective.
Creator of the iconic I ♥ NY branding, logos for Target and JetBlue, the opening title sequence to Mad Men, and poster designs for musician Bob Dylan, Milton Glaser has transformed what it means to create a powerful, timeless design. “You want to move the viewer in a perception so that when they first look at [the design],” Glaser explains, “They get the idea, because that act between seeing and understanding is critical.”
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Paul Rand is a big name in the design world, credited with visually transforming America post WWII by developing radical new methods of approaching advertising, logo creation and design. One of Rand’s greatest legacies in his design career was his removal of copywriting from the principal position in design, instead placing it on the same tier as design, suggesting that by simplifying the amount of type, and instead letting form and function interact, rather than one overpowering the other, the design would work better.
Dubbed the British ‘father’ of graphic design, amongst producing inspiring designs himself, Alan Fletcher changed the way design was thought of. His expressive typography, bold colors and strong visual language helped pave the way for graphic design to be thought of as a key and crucial element to businesses, not just an optional decorative extra.
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Hermann Zapf changed typography in a lot of ways. Primarily, he was the creator of the popular typefaces Zapf Dingbats, Palatino, and Optima amongst many others. He also pioneered computerized typography being a big advocate for the move from press printed designs to computerized ones. And to top off the already impressive list of accolades, he also invented a typesetting program that would later go on to inform a lot of modern day software developments.
Lester Beall left his mark on the design community both through his own inspirational, avant-garde designs, as well as his revolutionary attitude toward design. Beall brought forth the idea to American businesses that graphic designers should be seen and treated as creative problem solvers who should be more heavily involved in the marketing side of business. Beall’s attitude toward design as well as his own powerful designs are what keep his work timeless and a standard by which current designers can measure their own work by.
Born circa 1505, Claude Garamond shaped design right from its inception by becoming the first person to ever specialize in type design as a profession. During his career, Garamond produced a series of iconic typefaces, many of which are still in use, such as Garamond, Granjon, and Sabon to name a few. Garamond’s work not only paved a path for type design, but it set the wheels in motion for what would become the evolution of the graphic design industry.
Jan Tschichold’s career is prolific and left a great imprint on design. Tschichold authored the widely credited book Die Neue Typographie in which he established new typographical standards, pushed for the standardization of paper sizes and formed guidelines for typographical hierarchy – many of which are still referred to to this day.
Tschichold was also the designer behind the iconic orange Penguin Books cover design during his work with the company, where he oversaw over 500 books go to print. Tschichold’s constant striving for new techniques and practices are what keep his name in the spotlight as a heavily influential graphic design icon.
Described by AIGA as “(a member of) a distinguished group of pioneers in the post-World War II era who gave shape to the emerging field of graphic design,” William Golden is an accomplished designer who changed the industry both stylistically through his bold, punchy work at CBS. He also pushed for the recognition that an artist and a designer were to be thought of as two different things, thus helping shape the graphic design industry in a more defined way.
Jacqueline Casey was a graphic designer known for her heavily influential Swiss-inspired posters. It was her work that helped to introduce the America and the MIT community of which she was a part of to the emerging European Swiss typography and design, which would later go on to shape much of contemporary design. Casey’s work is still considered a paragon of what can happen when you pair a clean, strong design with a powerful and impactual meaning.
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Cipe Pineles’ design career extended over a lot of high profile magazines, from Vogue and Vanity Fair to Glamour, Seventeen, and Charm. Her career was also full of a lot of firsts; She was the first female designer to become a member of the Art Directors Club in New York, the first autonomous female art director for a magazine. She was also the first designer to hire fine artists to illustrate mass market publications which began a long standing trend within magazine design that would go on to shape the magazine design industry.
Susan Kare is a contemporary designer who left a large mark on design when she developed a series of interface element designs for the Apple Macintosh in the 1980’s at Apple and Steve Jobs’ NeXT. Some of her work you may be familiar with is the Monaco typeface, Geneva typeface, the Command key symbol on Apple keyboards, as well as icons like the trash can, the paint bucket tool, the lasso tool, the floppy disk save icon etc. Many of these examples of Kare’s work are still in use in some capacity, and a majority have influenced much of current interface design.
Abram Games was an official WWII artist who is well recognized for his 100s of punchy, politically-driven poster designs. Games’ work set a trend for designers everywhere by exemplifying his own personal motto of “maximum meaning, minimum means”, meaning that while the message and communication should be strong, the design should stay simple, clean, and direct.
Hailed as a legend of Swiss design, Armin Hofmann was a designer who inspired designers past and present with his powerful, clean, designs and his consistent encouragement of designing with context and meaning. Hofmann’s work typifies Swiss design and design with purpose making his work a paragon of effective, timeless and thoughtful design.
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Arguably one of the most well known Swiss designers, Josef Muller-Brockmann’s body of work captures the ins and outs of Swiss design, from the geometric shapes, clean sans-serifs and the vibrant colors. Though, one of Muller-Brockmann’s greatest legacies is his role in the development and use of the grid system in graphic design, a tool which is still widely credited and used daily by designers.
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Seymour Chwast is often credited as the designer who shaped contemporary design and illustration, thanks to his expressive and iconic style that worked to blend the two disciplines in radical, playful ways that directly counteracted the clean, minimalist nature of Swiss design. Chwast helped develop a new, unique way of approaching design, as AIGA notes, that approach was “based on knowledge, appreciation and reapplication of past styles and forms”. Both Chwast’s visual work and this unique approach to design have had lasting impacts on the graphic design industry.
Chip Kidd is a contemporary designer specializing in book jacket designs whose work has been described by NPR as having “spawned a revolution in the art of American book packaging”. Chip Kidd’s unique approach to book cover design consists of working to embody the book’s narrative in a visual way, through visual language. It’s this radical way of thinking about design that sets him apart from the rest, and keeps his designs memorable, timeless and a credit to the design community.
Alexey Brodovich was instrumental in introducing European design trends to America in the 1920s, which triggered a new generation of designers who created simpler and modern designs. This was not his only dabbling in trends though, throughout his famous 15 years at Harper’s Bazaar, Brodovich would consistently experiment with new trends in photography, typography and layout design, all of which helped to catapult the magazine into the spotlight.
Herb Lubalin is one of the biggest names in typographical design, or as he calls it ‘typographics’. Lubalin’s typographics were said to have transformed and enhanced written messages in ways that copywriting simply couldn’t, and his firm grasp on visual language, puns, and simplicity are what helped his designs leave their mark on the design industry.
Max Miedinger was a Swiss typeface designer known for creating one of the most well known typefaces in the world, Helvetica (or as it was formerly known, Neue Haas Grotesk). Helvetica itself is a paragon of Swiss design – clean, legible, flexible, and it had no sight of serifs anywhere, no naturally it caught on pretty quickly. Miedinger’s contribution to the development of Swiss design helped shape the movement in an immeasurable way.
April Greiman in many ways helped to put the ‘graphic’ in ‘graphic design’. Greiman is recognized as one of the first designers to influence and encourage the acceptance and use of technology in graphic design and the arts during the 1980s. Before Greiman championed this move, computers had been seen solely as information processing tools, but after her Greiman’s shift, the industry followed suit and never looked back.
John Maeda is another designer credited for redefining the use of computerized media in the graphic design industry. Maeda’s work explored the boundaries of every medium he had access to, both digital mediums and analogue. This exploration and his resulting work became fundamental in the development of interactive motion graphics which are used so frequently in modern graphic design.
El Lissitzky was a Russian designer, most well known for his political propaganda poster designs, whereby he used heavily stylized shapes and colors to create a powerful visual language. Lissitzky was also a very influential player in the development of the Bauhaus, a school that would go on to produce some of the most revolutionary graphic designers and design trends. In short, Lissitzky’s body of work set in motion a huge domino effect that would eventually lead to the formation of many contemporary design practises.
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Ladislav Sutnar was a designer famous for making sense out of nonsense through design. His specialty was information design, the practise of using a clear and clever design to help make information more accessible and consumable for the general viewer. One of Sutnar’s techniques to aid the clarity of his designs was to limit his color and type palettes, which is a design technique still very much in play today.Just like the Brown Cute Animals Charity Infographic template, a fixed palette for both color and type does a lot for your design.
Alvin Lustig is a designer who radically changed the way book cover design was approached, displayed, and thought of. While the common practise at the time was to create a cover that directly summarized the book contents, Lustig instead operated under a ‘suggest, don’t tell’ approach to his cover designs where he would read the book first and then create a cover that visually captured the tone of the text. This approach was radical at the time and quickly caught on to the point where it is now common practise in most book cover designs.
Muriel Cooper was a graphic designer at MIT who pioneered computerized graphic design. Over her career, Cooper was able to create visual depth, movement, size changes, shifts in focus, 3D type etc. in her designs by using computers, which at the time was otherwise unseen and groundbreaking. These designs and developments from Muriel Cooper would go on to inform and shape a lot of modern day digital design.
At a time when art nouveau was king, Lucian Bernhard forged a new path and embraced a more minimal, drawn back approach to design. While working as an art director, Bernhard created advertisements that consisted of flat colors, no slogans, just a simple illustration and logo. This small spark of minimalism from Bernhard would later grow into a raging inferno, and one that has very much carried on into modern design practises.
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Otl Aicher was an accomplished graphic designer, best known for his work for the 1972 Summer Olympics where he boldly used pictograms, vibrant colors and a strict grid system to create a stunning identity. Aicher also created an influential public signage system that utilized simple stick figure graphics which grew to have a great impact on graphic design.
Over his 60 year career, designer Erik Nitsche has made a large impact on the world of design. Having dabbled in just about every facet of the design industry and branding it with his own personal modernist flair, Nitsche’s work has not only remained a source of inspiration but it has also set the trend for design being a powerful tool in communicating ideas in an industrial sense as well as commercial one.
Neville Brody revolutionized magazine, advertisement, album cover and packaging design in the 1980s by taking the ‘rules’ and breaking them. Inspired by the punk movement and unperturbed by the limitations of the commercial market, Brody experimented and played with design, which gave his work a punchy, unique edge that would go on to influence much of modern day design.
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Designer Ivan Chermayeff is easily referred to as a legendary logo designer, having created a series of powerful, memorable and seemingly timeless logos during his career ranging from the NBC peacock to the blue Pan Am globe. What made Chermayeff’s work so legendary and impactual on the design community was his use of abstracted shapes for logos rather than letterforms as had prior been the norm.Logos represent your brand. Get inspiration from the Cream High School Logo template.
Typographic designer Adrian Frutiger was a legend in the design community, best known for having his typographic work displayed on signage from Westminster London to Disney World.
Over his career, Frutiger often spoke about the necessity for typefaces to be both beautiful and readable, and he backed these claims up by creating over 30 very popular typefaces. Roger Black, founder of Font Bureau type foundry speaks of this work, “(Frutiger) amplified his personal aesthetic for typefaces into large families. This work inspired younger type designers to think on their own.”
Considered an overall master of design, Bradbury Thompson is another big name in the design biz. Thompson’s style is best described as one that pushes the limits of the printed page, by layering, cutting, pasting and experimenting with photography, color, and type he created designs that would go on to inspire generations of designers.
Peter Saville is nothing short of an iconic record and album cover designer. His work included Joy Division’s iconic Unknown Pleasures cover, as well as work with New Order, Roxy Music, and many other high profile names in music. In short, Saville’s bold, expressive style helped establish a new standard by which album covers were to be judged.
Never one for conformity, Wolfgang Weingart’s impact on the history of design lays in his experimental use of typography. Weingart’s work is best described as experimental and spontaneous Swiss design, with bold, punchy designs and dramatically scaled sans serif type. This radically experimental approach to design was imparted to Weingart’s students during his teachings, directly influencing a new generation of expressive typographers.
Graphic design is by no means a stagnant industry, in fact, it’s actually quite the opposite. It’s ever-growing and ever-evolving, thanks to the work and dedication of countless designers, both past and present.
This list is just the tip of a very big iceberg of names that make up much of the history of graphic design.