The Legends Of Graphic Design

  • Why it’s important to know the history of graphic design and who influenced it.
  • Why it’s crucial to know these designers by name and know how they impacted graphic design. 
  • A look at three legends of graphic design and how they impacted graphic design today. 

Just as everyone has their idols that they look up to, those in the graphic design industry have those that they look up to for inspiration and admire their work. With graphic design, it’s important that you don’t merely know the art of graphic design, but that you know the history behind it as well. To truly understand the art of something and know the field that you’re in to the the full extent, you have to know the people before you that paved the pathway. 

These three graphic designers are those who have tried the methods, who have created inventions and made discoveries that have advanced us to the technology and software that we use today in graphic design. These graphic designers are the thinkers and the brains that have gotten us to where we are today in the modern graphic design industry. Without the knowledge of these graphic designers and how they’ve impacted graphic design, you can’t truly say that you are a part of the graphic design community. 

These names are ones that you should be able to name drop in any conversation; know who they are, know to recognize their work, and know how they influenced your career today. Understand how their designs pushed forward graphic design and broke barriers that those before them thought impossible. Here are the legends of graphic design that all graphic designers should know about. 

Paul Rand 

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Known as the Father Of Graphic Design, Paul Rand is easily the single most influential person in graphic design. Rand was born in 1914 and passed away in 1996. In this period of time, he managed to shape graphic design in a way that had never been thought possible before. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, and embraced graphic design from a young age. 

Paul Rand

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He started with painting signs for school events and his father’s store, these were the beginning steps towards his career in graphic design. He attended the Art Students League of New York and Parsons The New School for Design. Rand’s professional career in graphic design had a humble beginning. He started by creating stock images and through that and his class assignments he was able to quickly build up a well-rounded portfolio. 

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It was around the 1930s that Rand made his mark in the graphic design world with his work. He began designing magazines and book covers, his modern and minimalistic style of art grabbing other’s attention. Rand believed that visual communication is one that should be universally understood, saying,  “one quickly realizes that simplicity and geometry are the languages of timelessness and universality”. 

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Rand’s most well-known attribution to the world of design is his corporate identities, many of which are still used today. ABC, IBM, UPS, and Enron are just four of the many logos that Rand designed, with many of Rand’s original designs still in use for the companies today. These designs were one of the largest ways that Rand influenced the future of graphic design, specifically corporate communication. 

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Rand continued to affect the graphic design industry well into his later years, one of his more recent corporate identities being one he did in collaboration with Steve Jobs for NeXT Computer. Jobs was thrilled with the result and before Rand’s death he called him, “the greatest living graphic designer.”

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Although known by thousands of graphic designers around the world, telling the story of Paul Rand’s influence will never get old. Paul Rand was the first to change graphic design and open the doors for aspiring designers to truly believe that anything is design and anything has the power to become art. 

Milton Glaser 

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No article about graphic design legends would be complete without talking about Milton Glaser, the designer who created the iconic ‘I Love New York’ logo. Glaser was born on June 26, 1929, and passed away last year on June 26, 2020. Glaser is known for his designs, specifically having designed publications, posters, and architectural designs in his career.  Glaser and Rand have many similarities, one being that both men were born in New York, Rand being born in Brooklyn, and Glaser being born in the Bronx. 

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As well as Rand, Glaser’s interest in graphic design started from a young age before blossoming into a career. He received art classes with well-known artists Raphael and Moses Soyer, where he first began his journey in graphic design. Following his classes there he attended the High School of Music & Art, gaining more knowledge in art. 

10 memorable graphic design projects by Milton Glaser

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Glaser completed many stunning pieces of design in his career, some of the more well-known ones being the ‘I Love New York’ logo and the Bob Dylan poster. He also founded the New York Magazine with Clay Felker in 1968, although he left the magazine in 1977. Glaser also worked with Michael J. Berman to help create the image that they were seeking for their magazine, George.

11 memorable graphic design projects by Milton Glaser

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In 2009, Glaser was the first graphic designer to receive the National Medal Of Arts from President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. He also received other awards and acknowledgments for his work in his career. Milton Glaser was a graphic designer who affected graphic design in a way that is still influencing it today and knowing his name is crucial to understand graphic design. 

Saul Bass 

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Although equal in his measurement of how much he affected graphic design, Saul Bass influenced graphic design in a way different than the other two designers mentioned in this article. While Rand and Glaser worked mostly in the late 1900s and impacted graphic design at that time, Bass influenced more current graphic design. Bass influenced graphic design in the 20th century when it was at its highest peak. 

Bass differs from the other graphic designers mentioned here for many reasons, one being that he was not only a graphic designer but a filmmaker as well. Although Bass created many logos in his time, logos were not the extent of his work and were one of the least noticeable aspects of his work. 

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He was born in The Bronx, New York, to Eastern European Jewish immigrant parents. He started with designing advertisements for movies. This was his first step towards truly experiencing the world of graphic design, which coincidentally led him towards his journey of filmmaking. After designing the print advertisements for director Otto Preminger, he was asked to work on another project for the director. Preminger asked him to design the title sequence for ‘The Man with the Golden Arm’ in 1955. 

Detail from Saul Bass's movie poster for Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder (1959).

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Bass worked with some of the top filmmakers, including Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder. Although creating logos wasn’t the greatest aspect of his career, it was a substantial part and affected graphic design with some of the iconic logos that he designed. Two of the most well-known logos, Kleenex and AT&T, were designed by Bass. He was also designed many other legendary logos including Continental Airlines’ 1968 logo and United Airlines’ 1974 logo. 

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Later, in the 1980s Bass and Elaine, Bass’s wife who had a career in producing and directing title sequences, were rediscovered by Martin Scorsese and James L. Brooks, two that had grown up admiring their work. Bass can be viewed as the graphic designer who changed not only the way that graphic design was seen but the way of modernizing title sequences overall. He set the tone and mood for movies with his title sequences and therefore set the pattern for other filmmakers to follow. 

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Title sequence designed by Bass for the film Pyscho (1998). Sourced here

Saul Bass certainly deserves his place in this article for his impact on graphic design. He, in many ways, set the way that not only design but movies were viewed in the future. Bass stands out for his influence in the film making area equally as he did in the graphic design area. When it comes to the legends of graphic design, Bass has certainly earned his place as one.