If you're embarking on a career in graphic design – or just interested in creating some great layouts – there are some designers that you simply must know about. These are the designers that have changed the way graphic design is seen in the contemporary world; the mavericks; the thinkers; those who have made a difference.
01. Chip Kidd
Based in New York, Chip Kidd is best known for his stunning book jackets – most notably for seminal publishing house Alfred A. Knopf. Kidd has worked for writers such James Elroy, Micheal Crichton and Neil Gaiman (amongst many others).
Jurassic Park is one of his most notable book covers, and in his 2005 monograph he explained the thinking behind it: "When trying to recreate one of these creatures, all anyone has to go on is bones, right? So that was the starting point... Not only was the drawing integrated into the movie poster, it became the logo in the film for the park itself. I think it's safe to say that the Jurassic Park T-Rex became one of the most recognisable logos of the 1990s.”
02. Rob Janoff
Why do you need to know about Rob Janoff? Simple: he designed the Apple logo. Janoff masterminded possibly the most famous mark in the world today while at ad agency Regis McKenna back in 1977. And although it’s been tweaked, the basic form has remained the same ever since – a testament to its simplicity and longevity (and it was created in only two weeks).
Back in 2013, Janoff told us that the idea of an apple with a bike taken out of it was “really a no-brainer”. He continued: “If you have a computer named after a piece of fruit, maybe the image should look like the fruit? So I sat for a couple of weeks and drew silhouettes of apples.
“Bite is also a computer term. Wow, that was a happy accident. At that point I thought ‘this is going to have a wink and a nod with it, and give it personality’.”
And as for the now forgotten coloured stripes? “The big deal about the Apple II was that it was the only computer that reproduced colour images on the monitor, and it was the only computer that you could plug into your home colour TV. Also, a lot of it had to do with the aesthetic origins of both Steve [Jobs] and I, which was a kind of hippy aesthetic and The Beatles and Yellow Submarine.”
03. Peter Saville
Peter Saville is best-known for his record sleeve designs for Factory Records artists – think Joy Division and New Order (Unknown Pleasures, Transmission, Blue Monday and more). But his sleeve work spans five decades – Saville is one of the most prolific record designers of all time; if not the most prolific.
But the Manchester-born designer’s work doesn’t stop at sleeve design. In 2004 he became creative director of the City of Manchester; has worked with fashion’s elite including Jil Sander and Stella McCartney; and in 2010 he designed the England football home kit.
In 2013 he told The Guardian all about the latter: "The red and white thing has been entirely marginalised by one kind of person. It's synonymous with an attitude that is naive, xenophobic, bullying and self-marginalising. I thought, that's not reflective of the team, or football, or of the nation at all. But it turns out the market for those shirts are those bloody-minded xenophobic individuals with the shaved heads. When it came out, they did not like it. They did not like it at all."
At 61 years of age, Saville is still going strong – he recently collaborated on the new Calvin Klein logo – which you can see here.
04. Michael Bierut
There aren’t many more design agencies that are more respected than Pentagram – and becoming a partner is one of the ultimate design accolades. Designer and educator Bierut has been a partner for 27 years now and has won hundreds of design awards (he’s also got permanent work in MoMA). Before Pentagram, Bierut worked for 10 years at Vignelli Associates.
The designer's projects at Pentagram include identity and branding for Benetton, the New York Jets, Walt Disney and design work on Billboard magazine. This is of course, just a small slice of his sprawling portfolio. Bierut is also a senior critic in graphic design at the Yale School of Art. Check out his Monograph – How To – published by Thames & Hudson in 2015.
In 2013, we caught up with his to find out what he looks for in new talent: “The best are people who are bright and articulate, and have great work in their portfolio. I could sit with them all day,” he says. "The second best have great work but can’t talk about it intelligently. That takes work, but still it’s worth the effort.
"I like people who, in talking about their work, scratch below the surface. Don’t talk about typefaces and Photoshop effects; talk about the subject matter, and how that interested and inspired you."
05. Massimo Vignelli
Massimo Vignelli died in 2014, taking with him a legacy of some of the most iconic design work of the past 50 years. Counting IBM, Ford, Bloomingdale’s (his ‘Brown Bag’ designs are still in use today), Saks, American Airlines and many more as clients, and counting Micheal Bierut amongst his protégés, Vignelli’s legacy lives on – perhaps most prominently in the subway map and signage he designed for New York City in 1972.
At the time of his death in 2014, web designer Justin Reynolds wrote an in-depth guide for us on what we can all learn from Vignelli’s design principles. Check it out here.
06. Jonathan Barnbrook
As David Bowie’s latter-career go-to designer, Jonathan Barnbrook has become even more prominent in recent times – even making a piece on The Daily Mail early this year. But Barnbrook’s work is far deeper than Heathen, The Next Day and Blackstar.
Before Bowie, he was perhaps best known for his influential type design – Exocet becoming the most pirated font on the web shortly after release in 1991 (it was also used in the FPS video game Diablo). Barnbrook’s VirusFonts foundry continued to thrive throughout the next couple of decades, with Bastard and Tourette being good examples of his still contemporary, but controversial, typefaces.
In an interview with us in 2014, Barnbrook said of Tourette: “Tourette is based on an early 19th century slab serif form. Having Tourette’s means that people move outside an agreed code of language... That’s what I was trying to say in Tourette. There are swear words that are banned, but it’s necessary that they appear in language as well, because we can’t calibrate it otherwise. And I do like swearing.”
Flip to modern day and Barnbrook’s masterpiece of sleeve design for David Bowie’s sign off album Blackstar is every bit as good as the record itself. In this in-depth interview, Barnbrook explains the visual language behind the design.
Next page: 6 more designers who shaped the industry as we know it