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5 Must-Know Visionaries of Modern Graphic Design

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This article has been contributed by Nicole Boyer.

Because we are so accustomed to the technological aspects of graphic design today, we forget that all of such work begins with ideas – creative ideas – that have existed for centuries and that have permeated our “landscape” since the printing press was invented.

Indeed, many Italian graphic designers experimented with typography, once the movable type press was available. It might actually surprise people to know that the first movable type printing press was developed in China in the 11th century, 400 years before Gutenberg designed its counterpart for Europe. Nevertheless, graphic design has been with us for centuries, and only continued creativity in this field allows newer, more impressive, and memorable “pictures” that both reflect and influence our cultures.

The list of graphic designers who have influenced us and who have significantly contributed their talent could fill a volume (many more in the book Graphic Icons). But, nevertheless, there are several such individuals who have had major impact on the field itself, who are worthy of specific note.

Otl Aicher

Otl Aicher

Probably best known for his stick-figure pictograms/posters for the 1992 Munich Olympics, this man’s beginnings were terrifying.

Otl Aicher Sample

Growing up in Nazi German, he witnessed relatives executed for their part in the resistance movement; he himself was arrested for refusing to join the Hitler Youth in 1937, and was ultimately drafted. He deserted and hid out in the home of a relative until the final vestiges of Nazism were defeated. He began studying sculpture in 1946 and opened his own school of design in 1953. From that time forward, he became involved in corporate “branding,” but his most famous contributions were those stick figure designs for the Olympics.

Otl Aicher Sample

The U.S. Department of Transportation, for example, took his designs and incorporated them into its signage, as have many other countries. Some form of his designs have become internationally-accepted signage (think restrooms, crosswalks, subways, etc.). Unfortunately, Archer was hit by a car in 1991 and died from those injuries.

David Carson

David Carson

Carson did not initially study art. In fact, he received a degree in sociology from San Diego State and became a high school teacher, as well as a nationally-recognized surfer. He became interested in graphic design by attending a 2-week graphics course, and from that point, knew that this would be his life’s work. He attended the College of Commercial Art in Oregon and began a quickly ascending career. He became the Art Director for a skateboarding magazine, where he perfected the use of “dirty” photography.

David Carson Design Sample

He then became a highly south after magazine cover designer, ultimately landing that gig with Ray Gun, a magazine the focused on alternative lifestyles and music.

David Carson Design Sample 2

After re-locating to New York City and opening up his own studio, he landed clients like AT&T, Kodak, Sony, Toyota, Warner Brothers and MTV. In his later years, he settled in South Carolina, continuing his design work as a freelancer, and giving workshops all over the world.

Neville Brody

Neville Brody

This London-born “rebel” attended London College of Printing and Homsey College of Art. Particularly at Homsey, the atmosphere was one of rebellion and activism, and Brody was no exception. In fact, he was once almost expelled for designing a postage stamp that was “disrespectful” of the Queen (she was placed sideways on the stamp).

Nevertheless, it was an era of Punk Rock, and Brody designed the posters for visiting musicians to the college. From there, he began to design album covers and gained national fame and recognition among the graphic design world.

Neville Brody Work Sample

Soon, he took a position as the Art Director of The Face Magazine. Today, he is the head of the art and design department at the Royal College of Art and has his own design studio with satellites in Paris, Berlin and Barcelona.

His most notable contributions have actually been in the use of typography, designing a new font for The London Times and consulting with Nike on typographical designs for their “Just Do It” slogan.

Neville Brody Work Sample 2

Milton Glaser

Milton Glaser

Who has not seen the “I Love NY” slogan with a red heart replacing the word “love?” This design was the creative “brain-child” of Milton Glaser, one of the most prolific and celebrated graphic designers on the planet.

Milton Glaser I Love NY

Educated a visual and performing arts high schools in New York, Glaser ultimately became a Fulbright Scholar at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna. Upon his return to New York, he achieved rather immediate fame for his posters and prints – perhaps the most famous one being a profile of Bob Dylan with rainbow-colored hair.

Milton Glaser Sample 2

His design décor for restaurants in the World Trade Center, and his continued consultations in design for large corporations like Target have rounded out a stellar career filled with awards and recognition. Much of Glaser’s work is permanently displayed in the N.Y. Museum of Modern Art and the Smithsonian Institute. Today, Glaser is considered a cultural icon of the latter half of the 20th century.

Stefan Sagmeister

Stefan Sagmeister

Austrian-born and educated, Sagmeister now resides in New York where he has his own company, Sagmeister and Walsh, Inc. and teaches graduate courses at the School of Visual Arts. He began his career, actually at the age of 15, designing for a youth magazine titled Alphorn.

Although he graduated from the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, Sagmeister was thrilled to receive a Fulbright scholarship to study at the Pratt Institute in New York. He has remained in the city ever since. Today, Sagmeister is heavily involved in branding and packaging and has worked for widely diverse clients – Rolling Stones, HBO, Time Warner and the Guggenheim Museum, to name a few.

Stefan Sagmeister Sample

Solo art shows have been held all over the work, and his name and designs have become iconic in the graphic design world. Today, he has a rather structured work life, for one so creative. He has divided his time precisely into quartiles – 25% for social causes, 25% for the music industry 25% for the scientific community, and 25% to the art world.

Stefan Sagmeister Sample 2

Every 7 years, Sagmeister takes a 1-year sabbatical, during which he accepts no work and renews his creative energies.

More Graphic Design Icons

Graphic Icons

This list of 5 significant graphic designers is truly incomplete. Others could surely be included – Saul Bass, Paula Scher, Adrian Frutger, Michael Beirut, Chip Kidd, and Armin Hofmann, to name just a few. The graphic design world continues to produce creative genius in a never-ending supply. For further icons, we recommend the book ‘Graphic Icons : Visonairies Who Shaped Modern Graphic Design‘ by John Clifford.

Author Bio: My name is Nicole Boyer. I dedicated my life to writing and traveling. Now I work as editor at Assignment Mountain service.  I’m interested in graphic design and I’m inspired by people who are extremely devoted to theirs job as well as I am.

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