5 of the Most Influential Designers

I was at The Henry Ford in May attending the opening of an exhibit titled The World of Charles and Ray Eames. It was exciting to see so much of their work up close and personal. The exhibit does a great job of leading you through their careers, showing off furniture (including their famous plywood and leather lounge chair and ottoman, 1956), drawings, models, brochures, toys, film, and photos. There are notes and correspondence that are hand written in Ray’s fun calligraphy, and tons of sketches and personal photos that give you a glimpse of what it was like to be a designer in the 40s and 50s. You can learn more about the Eameses work here as they continued to work through the 1970s.

With so much design around me, it got me thinking about the influential designers I have learned about and admired throughout my career. Here are a few designers I think everyone in the field of design should know a little about. I know there are only 5 listed (7 with Charles and Ray), but these are the designers I first learned about when I was studying graphic design and thought it was a good place to start my ever-growing list. I’ve included quite a few links in this blog so that you can take your time and read about each of these creatives and learn how they helped change the world of graphic design.

1. Walter Gropius, Architect and Founder of the Bauhaus

The combination of life, craft and art under one roof became the credo of the art school. Feininger, Kandinsky, Marcks, Klee, Albers, Breuer, Itten, Maholy-Nagy, and Mies van der Rohe are just some of the now famous masters and journeyman who taught or studied at the Bauhaus. In 1934, Gropius emigrated to England and moved to America in 1937. He was a professor for architecture at the Graduate School of Design of Harvard University. The next year (1938) he and Herbert Bayer organized the exhibition Bauhaus 1919–1928 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. From 1938 to 1941, Gropius maintained an office partnership with Marcel Breuer.

2. Milton Glaser, Graphic Designer

In 1954, Milton Glaser, along with Reynold Ruffins, Seymour Chwast, and Edward Sorel, founded Pushpin Studios. In 1968, Glaser and Clay Felker founded New York magazine, where Glaser was president and design director until 1977. In 1983, Glaser teamed with Walter Bernard to form WBMG, a publication design firm located in New York City. Since its inception, they have designed more than 50 magazines, newspapers and periodicals around the world. Some of his most recognized works are the I Love NY campaign and the poster for Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits.

3. Saul Bass, Print Designer and Animator

Saul Bass was a New York graphic designer and Academy Award-winning filmmaker. Among his most famous works are the title sequences for such classic films as The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), North by Northwest (1959), and Psycho (1960). Bass used his innovative ideas and unique perspective to create some of the most memorable art around. Hitchcock's famous shower-murder scene in Psycho owes its success to the design work of Bass' storyboards. He is known for designing some of the most recognized logos today like AT&T, Quaker Oats, Minolta, United Airlines, Girl Scouts of America, Warner Communications and Dixie. Here’s a great blog titled Saul Bass: The man who changed graphic design.

4. Paul Rand, Graphic Designer

Another giant in the world of corporate logos among all things graphic design is Paul Rand. His work includes logos for IBM, UPS, Enron, Morningstar, Inc., Westinghouse, ABC, and NeXT. Here’s a great article by Kyle Vanhemert from Wired Magazine that gives you a taste of just how much Rand influenced modern graphic design.

5. Frog Design, Industrial Design

Frog’s journey began in 1969 when Hartmut Esslinger, industrial designer and founded Esslinger Design in the Black Forest of Germany, ushered in an era of emotional design in response to the mostly function-oriented products of the day. The firm became known for its work for German electronics brand WEGA and then Sony, generating more than 100 products, including the first standalone television set, the black-box Sony Trinitron, and the Walkman. The name was changed to Frog Design in 1982 (the name apparently originating from an acronym for Esslinger's home country, the Federal Republic of Germany.)

Some Closing Thoughts

Whether you’re a new designer or a seasoned veteran, I think it’s important to know about the industry giants that helped shape the design world and the folks that are continuing to do amazing work. With so much great design out there it’s hard not to be inspired and maybe learn something new in the process.

Debra Novara's love affair with design and the outdoors was truly realized when just two weeks after graduation she landed in Denver with nothing more than a backpack, her portfolio and a pair of skis. After 20+ years of designing for the Denver market (and skiing every resort) she returned to Michigan where she continues to work in the design industry as a member of the NHLS Marketing team. In addition to receiving awards for her design work, Debra has taught design courses at universities, served on multiple design panels and is recognized as one of the founding members of the AIGA-Denver Chapter.

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Debra Novara, Branding ManagerDebra Novara

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