Even if you've never thought about it consciously before, you could probably rattle off a list of your favourite character designs. You probably discovered most of these as a child, through films, TV or children's books (opens in new tab), but that doesn't mean there aren't more character designs, or designers, to discover as an adult.
Pictoplasma (opens in new tab) celebrates contemporary character design through conferences, festivals, events and more. Here, we asked one of its founders, Lars Denicke, to reveal who he thinks are the most influential character designers from the conference's history. The following is a list of nine top character designers you really should know about.
For tips on creating your own designs, see our piece on how to create better character designs (opens in new tab). Or for some iconic examples, see how to get a free Disney Plus trial (opens in new tab).
01. Martina Paukova
Slovakian-born Martina Paukova (opens in new tab) studied politics before moving on to study graphic design at London College of Communication. Since then, she’s been creating illustrations characterised by Memphis-inspired patterns, bustling scenes and bold colours, always with a touch of playfulness and humour. She’s worked with clients including The Guardian, New York Times, ZEIT and Condé Nast, and brands such as Pull&Bear, Converse and Google.
02. Gary Baseman
Denicke cites Gary Baseman (opens in new tab) as symbolic of a generation of character designers with a signature character – in this artist’s case, Toby, a morphing, cat-eared figure. Working across illustration, painting, animation, toy design, video and performance art, Baseman coined the term “pervasive art” to describe work that “blurs the lines between fine art and commercial art.” He’s been commissioned by publications including the New York Times, Rolling Stone and the Wall Street Journal.
03. Doma Collective
Hailing from Buenos Aires, Argentina, this collective of four designers, artists and filmmakers comprising Mariano Barbieri, Julián Manzelli, Matías Vigliano and Orilo Blandini formed in 1998 as part of the city’s street art scene of the city. Doma Collective (opens in new tab) is known for its absurist, subversive political campaigns in the form of installations, stencils, street projections and more. It’s even created a range of plush toys.
04. Jack Sachs
Artist and animator Jack Sachs (opens in new tab) studied illustration at Camberwell College of Arts in London. He has a hugely distinctive body of work, distinguished by surreal figures with googly eyes, big squishy faces and figures broken down to their simplest components. Cute, smart and succinct, Sachs’ work has been commissioned by the likes of The New Yorker, The New York Times, Tate Britain, MTV, Nickelodeon and more.
05. Becky and Joe
Becky Sloan and Joseph Pelling, aka Becky and Joe (opens in new tab), are best known as the directors of Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared, the cult puppet-populated shorts series that’s both hilarious and bleak. The pair’s skill at narrative twists and anti-humour, coupled with their animation craft, has secured their place in the visual culture canon.
Alongside Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared, the pair have also worked for St John’s Ambulance, creating an animation offering first aid advice, and also directed the video for Tame Impala’s single Feels Like We Only Go Backwards.
06. Boris Hoppek
Barcelona-based Boris Hoppek (opens in new tab) is credited with introducing figurative elements into graffiti in the early '90s, according to Pictoplasma. His Bimbo character (above) addresses issues around racism, violence and sexuality. “My work is about taboos and problems in our society that I think are important to talk about,” Hoppek’s said. “I don’t try to explain: this is bad, this is good… I’m delivering the uncomfortable truths.”
07. Christoph Niemann
Christoph Niemann (opens in new tab) needs little introduction: known for his Abstract Sunday New York Times blog, the illustrator, animator and graphic designer has a knack for turning everyday objects into something new and unexpected. Niemann’s work has also appeared across The New Yorker and National Geographic and commissioned for Hermés and Google; and he was also behind The New Yorker’s first augmented reality cover.
08. Edel Rodriguez
It’s likely you’ll be more than familiar with the work of Edel Rodriguez (opens in new tab) – specifically, his images of Trump, which reduce him to his most basic orange and blond components. The Cuban-born, US-based artist’s work is said to be inspired by his personal history, religious rituals, politics, memory, and nostalgia. Rodriguez’s work is regularly found across The New York Times Op Ed page and The New Yorker magazine, as well as Time magazine and Der Spiegel.
09. Nadine Redlich
With her simple, adorable and somehow, occasionally heartbreaking work, Dusseldorf-based illustrator Nadine Redlich (opens in new tab) manages to imbue the most concise, blob-like forms with bags of emotion and character. Whether working for Die Zeit or on some cute nail art designs, her work is instantly recognisable and oft-aped, but her imitators never pack the bittersweet, downtrodden punch of Redlich’s work.
- Push your character designs further with this workout (opens in new tab)
- Are trends any good for branding? (opens in new tab)
- 5 reasons why you're a bad coworker (opens in new tab)