Legendary Graphic Designers: Recommended Reading
I keep telling myself I’ll eventually get my teeth into Illustrator and InDesign and Photoshop (once I figure out the differences between them) and get right down to being a modern artist. The dream is to produce book covers and build up a portfolio. The dream. The reality is that I like looking at other people’s work more. I’ve always been a sucker for smart typography or a minimalist cover.
Below are some of the most creative graphic designers who have ever lived, and one modern-day firm with huge talent. Their influence set the standard and is seen just about everywhere, if you know what to look for.
This often-imitated Swiss designer and teacher was the forefather of grid design usage to underpin graphic design. He was also notable for thick, bold colours, often only using three or four in a project. There’s always harmony between the shapes and the clean typography in his work. For the essential read, try his Grid Systems in Graphic Design. For insight into the man and his workings there’s Phaidon’s Josef Müller-Brockmann by Kerry William Purcell.
Lazar Markovich Lissitzky
“El Lissitzky” was a multi-talented Russian artist whose work would go on to influence everyone from the Bauhaus to Constructivist movements. His avant-garde art is beautiful to look at but can be frustrating to engage with. Meanwhile, his graphic design is unique for its use of interacting shards of primary colour, beneath which there is always a message or a story being told. El Lissitzky, published by La Fabrica, is an ideal introduction.
There’s no escaping Saul Bass. He was and is everywhere, particularly if you love the movies: he’s behind the stunning title sequences and posters for The Man With the Golden Arm, Vertigo, and Anatomy of Murder, among many others. He also created a number of iconic American logos including AT&T, Girl Scouts, and United Airlines. The book Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design, designed by his daughter Jennifer Bass and written by Pat Kirkham is a must for anyone interested in graphic design.
That iconic “I ‘heart’ NY” logo had to come from somewhere–turns out it was created by Milton Glaser, who also came up with the famous logos for DC Comics and Brooklyn Brewery. Like Saul Bass, Glaser was an overachiever on various fronts. He was well known for his (often trippy) multicoloured posters and album designs, and he started a publication design firm that worked on over 50 magazines and newspapers around the world. His book Graphic Design is a design bible.
Paul Rand was quite simply one of the best in the world at what he did. Art director? Sure. Graphic design of all sorts, including many stunning book covers? Sure. But logo man extraordinaire? Most definitely: IBM, Ford, Westinghouse, Yale University Press, ABC, Enron, and many others. Becoming a sensation in his 20s, he continued to draw and design until his death in 1996 at the age of 82. Paul Rand: A Designer’s Art covers everything you’d ever need to read about the man.
Stefan Sagmeister & Jessica Walsh
Sagmeister’s 2016 documentary The Happy Film prompted me to rediscover his breathtaking work, which includes stage design, film sequences, and packaging, as well as album covers for Lou Reed, The Rolling Stones, Jay-Z, David Byrne and Aerosmith. For examples of his work try Sagmeister: Made You Look.
In 2012, his firm Sagmeister Inc. became Sagmeister & Walsh when then-25-year-old Jessica Walsh became a partner. You can find her own incredible work online and in her popular book 40 Days of Dating, soon to be a film.