10 Revolutionary Graphic Designers
We rarely think of the words “graphic designer” and “revolutionary” in one sentence.
And yet graphic designers hold immense power: They shape what we see around us in significant ways.
Whether we are opening a magazine, browsing the internet or going for a walk: Unless we live in a secluded forest, graphic design is all around us. Not only does it direct our attention and influence what we look at and what we see: It can also change how we see.
Changing the way graphic design is done changes the way people perceive the world around them.
The following graphic designers have therefore done more than just revolutionize their industry or how we think about design: Their names may be unknown to anyone who is not a designer and yet their invention, imagination and daring has touched the lives of millions of people.
Whether you are feeling stuck with a creative project, feeling unmotivated or simply looking for some life-inspiration- the works and words of the following ten graphic designers are sure to inspire you to dare more, dream more and create more:
1. GUTS AND BEAUTY: STEFAN SAGMEISTER
Who is Stefan Sagmeister?
The iconic designer Stefan Sagmeister consistently creates works that are innovative, beautiful and daring. He does not shy away from controversy: His iconic Aiga Detroit Poster features his naked body as the canvas into which he has carved words. And yet he also fiercely advocates for the importance of beauty and happiness. Stefan Sagmeister shows us that beauty and guts are not at odds with each other. They make each other stronger:
Inspiring words of Stefan Sagmeister
“Design [needs] guts from the creator and still carries the ghost of these guts in the final execution.” – Stefan Sagmeister
“I’m a big believer in quality finding its way. If it’s not quality, then it will die.” – Stefan Sagmeister
“The pursuit of beauty has come to a crash landing at the beginning of the 21st century…There is nothing superficial about beauty…Beauty means reaching beyond what just works or what is simply pretty. Beauty is the dose of humanity that makes our lives better. Beautiful works are not only more joyful, they also function much much better” – Stefan Sagmeister
Inspiring works of Stefan Sagmeister
What we can learn from Stefan Sagmeister
Beauty cannot exist without courage and courage cannot exist without beauty.
To find out more about Stefan Sagmeister check out the following links:
TedTalk: ‘Happiness by Design’
2. SURFING THE GRUNGE: DAVID CARSON
Who is David Carson?
The former world-class surfer and schoolteacher David Carson stumbled into graphic design by accident, claiming he didn’t even know what it was. This did not prevent him from revolutionizing the profession by simply refusing to make the legibility of words a priority in his design. Carson, who is also known as the father of grunge typography, has conducted a series of typographic experiments that continue to inspire us up to this day.
Inspiring words of David Carson
“I never learned all the rules, all the things you’re not supposed to do… “ – David Carson
“Dont confuse legibility with communication. Just because something is legible doesn’t mean it communicates and, more importantly, doesnt mean it communicates the right thing.” David Carson
“They asked me how courageous it is to be a graphic designer. And I remembered seeing this photograph of my father, who was a test pilot, and he told me that when you signed up to become a test pilot, they told you that there was a 40 to 50 percent chance of death on the job. That’s pretty high for most occupations. And I started thinking about some of these decisions I have to make between, like, serif versus san-serif. And for the most part they’re not real life-threatening. Why not experiment? Why not have some fun? Why not put some of yourself into the work?” – David Carson
Inspiring works of David Carson
What we can learn from David Carson
Don’t take yourself or what you do too seriously.
To get a closer look at Carson’s work check out:
3. THE TROUBLEMAKER: TIBOR KALMAN
Who is Tibor Kalman?
Tibor Kalman knew that in order to create truly great design one cannot try to please everyone: He is most renowned for creating the first 13 issues of the controversial and innovative Color Magazine. The multilingual magazine for “the global village” that featured content such as a picture of a black-skinned British queen was crowned by the 13th edition which completely did away with words.
Inspiring words of Tibor Kalman
“Good Design Makes Trouble.“ – Tibor Kalman
“The only difficult thing when running a design studio is not to grow. The rest is easy” – Tibor Kalman
“In an era of increasingly visual communication those people who never learn to read images – to analyze, question, even resist them – are at a disadvantage. They’re illiterate.” – Tibor Kalman
“When you make something for yourself, it will always be far better and more honest than something you make to please the marketplace” – Tibor Kalman
Inspiring works of Tibor Kalman
What we can learn from Tibor Kalman
When in doubt: Turn it around.
To find out more about Kalman check out:
4. WHEN ESTABLISHMENT MEETS PUNK: NEVILLE BRODY
Who is Neville Brody?
Neville Brody is a British designer who (like many others on this list) started out making album covers and designing magazines.
Inspired by punk and dada he started experimenting with the placement of images and text, leaving large areas completely empty. His work blends understated elegance with raw vitality. Brody has made grungy anti-establishment coolness mass-market compatible. Today his design firm is so successful that it has become part of the establishment.
Has punk gone mass market or the mass market gone punk?
Be that as it may: It is save to say that Neville Brody has managed to create graphic design that marries understated down-to-earth minimalism with a playfully domesticated punkrock attitude.
Inspiring words of Neville Brody
“I was drawing before I could even walk, so the only decision I had to make really was whether I wanted to become a fine artist or a designer. the reason I entered into design is because I thought that fine art was fairly dishonest as an industry. it pretends to be about culture but it’s really about money. Design is much more honest about its commercial context and can also reach a lot more people than fine art.” – Neville Brody
“I have always been very interested in how advertising and design can manipulate the way that people think and in the early years I wanted to lean those tools in order to turn them around, to reveal the truth rather than conceal it.” – Neville Brody
“Once you have broken down the rules, literally anything is possible.” – Neville Brody
Inspiring works of Neville Brody
What we can learn of Neville Brody
As designers we must be conscious of how much invisible power we hold.
To find out more about Neville Brody and get design-inspired check out:
5. BAUHAUS MEETS USA: HERBERT BAYER
Who is Herbert Bayer?
Herbert Bayer was part of the Bauhaus school. Its members subscribed to the credo “form follows function” and aimed to eradicate the boundary between artist and craftsman. When the Nazis came to power Herbert Bayer was forced to flee to the USA. He continued to teach and design, bridging the gap between art, philosophy and commerce. Projects such as the “Great Ideas of Western Man” campaign for CCA consisted of works that were of high artistic quality as well as a huge commercial success. The minimalism and artistic quality of his work continue to inspire both artists and designers up to this day.
Inspiring words of Herbert Bayer
“It would seem unlikely that a manufacturer of short-lived paperboard boxes could make the slightest cultural impact upon his time. But the facts show that if even the humblest product is designed, manufactured, and distributed with a sense of human values and with a taste for quality, the world will recognize the presence of a creative force.”
“My work seen in its totality is a statement about the integration of the contemporary artist into an industrial society.”
Inspiring works of Herbert Bayer
What we can learn from Herbert Bayer
It is possible and necessary to work artistically and experimentally even and especially when the “function” of the work is commercial.
To find out more about Herbert Bayer and the Bauhaus movement check out:
6. THE MAN BEHIND THE APPLE: ROB JANOFF
Who is Rob Janoff
It is without doubt that Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ive have played a key role in the designing of what we have come to know as the Apple brand and the way this company has revolutionized multiple industries by successfully marrying design, function, innovation and brand identity.
And yet there is a third person who needs to be mentioned. This person is Rob Janoff – the man who designed one of the most recognized logos in the world.
Inspiring words of Rob Janoff:
“How simple can you make it?” – Rob Janoff
Inspiring works of Rob Janoff
What we can learn from Rob Janoff:
Keep it simple.
“When in doubt, leave it out!”
To find out more about the story behind the logo of the world’s most recognizable brand check out:
7. THE FORGOTTEN WOMAN BEHIND THE NIKE LOGO: CAROLYN DAVIDSON
Who is Carolyn Davidson?
The woman behind the famous Nike-Logo was only 21 years old when she designed it as part of a freelance job to support her studies. She reportedly received only 35 dollars compensation for it at the time but was given Nike-shares as compensation after the brand took off.
Nike co-founder Phil Knight’s reported first reaction to her logo design was “I don’t love it, but it will grow on me.” Little did he or Davidson know that the Nike-Swoosh would become one of the most recognized brand symbols of our time.
One would expect that the high impact of such an early work would have set a precedent for a successful career in graphic design, but contrary to such expectations Carolyn Davidson’s name has remained obscure (and contrary to Rob Janoff she did not feel compelled to write a whole book about it).
Inspiring words of Carolyn Davidson
“I’ve pretty much stayed under the radar, and nobody knows who I am.” – Carolyn Davidson
Inspiring works of Carolyn Davidson
What we can learn from Carolyn Davidson
Never underestimate the possible impact of your work or the potential lurking in yourself and others.
To find out more about great logo design check out:
8. DESIGNING THE MOVING PICTURE: SAUL BASS
Who is Saul Bass?
Saul Bass is not only the graphic designer responsible for some of the most well-known logos of today, but also a film director and film poster designer. Most importantly: He has forever changed the way we use film credits by animating and designing them in a way that made them part of the artwork.
Inspiring words of Saul Bass
“I want everything we do to be beautiful. I don’t give a damn whether the client understands that that’s worth anything, or that the client thinks it’s worth anything, or whether it is worth anything. It’s worth it to me. It’s the way I want to live my life. I want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares.” – Saul Bass
“Sometimes when an idea flashes, you distrust it because it seems too easy. You qualify it with all kinds of evasive phrases because you’re timid about it. But often, this turns out to be the best idea of all.” – Saul Bass
“Design is thinking made visual” – Saul Bass
“Symbolize and summarize.” – Saul Bass
“The most stimulating source for the solution of a problem comes from the problem itself” – Saul Bass
Inspiring works of Saul Bass
What we can learn from Saul Bass
Never assume that you already know the solution to a problem. Starting from the assumption that you know nothing can open up new unforeseen possibilities.
To find out more about Saul Basses contribution to the world of film and design check out:
9. FINDING BALANCE THROUGH EXCESS: PAULA SHER
Who is Paula Sher
Paula Sher is one of the most acclaimed designers of today. What is most impressive is the immense variety of her work and her chameleon-like ability to move comfortably in different worlds and projects: She has written a children’s book, designed for high profile corporate clients, created work for the music business and the public theatre.
Apart from that Paula Sher is an accomplished artist in her own right, exhibiting in multiple countries and museums. Her portfolio of work is as varied as her client list, which suggests a high sensibility to the needs of every project instead of staying in the comfort zone of repeating her own solutions.
Inspiring words of Paula Sher
“You have to respond to things by moving the noise away.” – Paula Scher
“Ideas come in all kinds of ways. I get my best ideas when I am stuck in traffic” – Paula Scher
“One needs to be in a state of play to design. I generally push something as far as it can be pushed. For me, that’s the fun” – Paula Scher
“Words have meaning and typography has feeling. When you put them together it’s a spectacular combination” – Paula Scher
“The things that make work interesting, and create invention, are accidents. You want to be in a position where you’re capable of making accidents.” – Paula Scher
“Less is more and more is more. It’s the middle that’s not a good place” – Paula Scher
Inspiring works of Paula Sher
What we can learn from Paula Sher:
It’s not about finding a middle ground between different things. It’s about going the full way every time you go into a new direction.
To find out more about Paula Scher check out:
Her talk “Do what you’ve never done before”:
10. The purist: Massimo Vignelli
Who is Massimo Vignelli:
Massimo Vignelli described himself as a child of the 20th century modernist movement engaged in a constant battle against vulgarity. While this may not sound particularly revolutionary at first it speaks of a strength of character and commitment to his craft that is shared by few.
His ability to work in the fields of architecture, furniture, and graphic design and his commitment to creating design that lasts makes him one of the most important artists of the past century. He has designed architecture books, subway maps and brands.
Inspiring words of Massimo Vignelli
“An architectural education is fundamental for graphic design.” – Massimo Vignelli
“If you can design one thing, you can design everything.” – Massimo Vignelli
“A graphic designer’s life is a life of fight against the ugliness” – Massimo Vignelli
“Design is permanent, styling is ephemeral.” – Massimo Vignelli
“A good design is a responsible design, expressing an intellectual elegance rather than its contrary: vulgarity.” – Massimo Vignelli
Inspiring works of Massimo Vignelli
What to learn from Massimo Vignelli
Let’s end in his own words:
Design is one
If you want to know more about Massimo Vignelli we recommend you to check out:
Thank you for reading!
Of course there are many other designers who have innovated the field of graphic design and beyond. Who is your favourite designer on this list and who do you think is missing? Who would you pick if you had to compile a list of the ten most revolutionary graphic designers? And which of the designers already featured would you like to know more about?
Write us a comment below: We would love to hear your thoughts!