20 Iconic Graphic Designers to Learn From

    20 Iconic Graphic Designers to Learn From

    From boundary pushers and mould-breakers to social justice crusaders and artistic rabble-rousers to whimsical and colorful innovators, these are some ...

    From boundary pushers and mould-breakers to social justice crusaders and artistic rabble-rousers to whimsical and colorful innovators, these are some of the most recognizable names who continue to transform and redefine the world of graphic design.   

    20 Iconic Graphic Designers to Learn From

    Graphic design is a fast-paced, ambitious, and dynamic field that combines artistic skill with modern technology to promote visual marketing, reinforce brand identities, and ultimately tell narratives through words and illustrations. While the job outlook for a graphic designer tends to fluctuate between industries, it is projected to increase by 24% in digital media sectors like computer systems and website interface creation over the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    If you are a novice graphic designer who has just started to launch your career, there are multiple famous graphic designers you can look to for creative inspiration. Some have been household names in the field for years, and others have newly risen to prominence, but all of these talented artists—both historic forerunners and contemporary mavericks—bring innovation to their craft.

    There is much to learn from the contributions of these diverse men and women that can be applied to your design aesthetic too. So, from logos and fonts to colors and multimedia, here are 20 famous graphic designers whose names, work, and influence you need to know about.

    April Greiman

    • Nationality: American
    • Decades Active: 1970s–Present
    • Education: Kansas City Art Institute
    • Studio: Made in Space

    “Design must seduce, shape and perhaps, more importantly, evoke an emotional response.”

    As one of the earliest advocates for the use of computer software in graphic design, April Greiman moved the needle of this artform into the digital arena it occupies today. Greiman refers to herself as a “transmedia artist” who experiments with various elements in her work such as video, photography, architectural installations, and type layering, a process in which letters are stacked on top of each other to create the illusion of depth.

    Her posters and collages have been showcased in exhibitions across the globe, from MOMA in New York City to the Fortuny Museum in Venice, to the Arc en Rêve in Bordeaux, to the 1984 Olympic Games that were held in Los Angeles.

    Neville Brody

    • Nationality: British
    • Decades Active: 1970s–Present
    • Education: London College of Communication
    • Studio: Brody Associates

    “The way something is presented will define the way you react to it.”

    Influenced by the British street punk scene of his time, Neville Brody used these counter-cultural sensibilities and a fascination with bold typography to transform how album covers, magazines, and print advertisements were designed in the 1980s. His work fuses vibrant colors, geometric shapes, and edgy fonts that produce a kind of three-dimensional effect on a viewer’s eye.

    He is also the co-founder of FontFont, one of the most renowned typeface libraries in the world, and throughout his prolific career, Brody has redesigned such major publications and media outlets as The Face, The Guardian, The Observer, The Times, and BBC News.

    Kati Forner

    • Nationality: American
    • Decades Active: 2000s–Present
    • Education: Arizona State University
    • Studio: Kati Forner Design

    “To be able to understand what makes good composition and harmony, not only in graphic design but also in architecture, interior design, music, cinema, photography makes for a well-rounded creative in my opinion.”

    A fresh and emergent voice in the field—with a sharp Instagram feed, to boot—Kati Forner is a Southern California-based graphic designer who favors sleek minimalism, pastel tones, and clean, symmetric refinement. Her work runs the gamut from editorial art direction to website design to print collateral to social media branding, and she has partnered with numerous fashion, beauty, and wellness companies such as Milk Moon, Wooden Spoon Herbs, Galdier Jewelry Merchant Home, and BlinkBar. Also, Forner’s unique and elegant take on creativity has been featured on Refinery29, Vogue, Behance, SiteInspire, and Mindsparkle Mag, to name just a few.

     Alejandro Magallanes

    • Nationality: Mexican
    • Decades Active: 1990s–Present
    • Education: Escuela Nacional de Artes Plasticas
    • Studio: Alejandro Magallanes Blog

    “We must pay attention to popular design because it works. It is daring, it is important. Sometimes it is done without much thought, and sometimes it has the wisdom of many years, cultures and generations.”

    This multi-talented graphic designer infuses his posters, which have earned him global fame, with hand-drawn caricatures, poetic words, and digital underlays for a textured visual that seems to rebound off the page. A native of Mexico City, Alejandro Magallanes shares his Latin American roots and zeal for social justice in all of his striking, impactful creations. In 2013, Magallanes was part of the collaborative exhibition “Posters without Borders” which used graphic design to probe the racial and cultural nuances of immigration to break down nationalistic boundaries. This subtext of activism is what informs each project that Magallanes undertakes.

    Paula Scher

    • Nationality: American
    • Decades Active: 1970s–Present
    • Education: Tyler School of Art
    • Studio: Pentagram

    “The work needs to get out of your head and onto the table, and it needs to be done from the heart.”

    20 Iconic Graphic Designers to Learn From

    From the onset of her career, Paula Scher was not afraid to confront the norms of this once male-dominated industry, and her reputation as a trailblazer was solidified in 1991 when she became the first woman partner at the world-famous design consultancy Pentagram.

    Scher is also known for the audacious blend of Art Deco and Russian Constructivist styles in the typefaces which permeate her distinct, graffiti-esque works. As one of the foremost names in graphic design, Scher’s extensive client base includes Microsoft, The Sundance Institute, Coca-Cola, The Public Theater, Bloomberg and The Lincoln Center, Tiffany & Co., The Metropolitan Opera, and Citibank.

     David Carson

    • Nationality: American
    • Decades Active: 1980s–Present
    • Education: Oregon College of Commercial Art
    • Studio: David Carson Design

    “Graphic design will save the world, right after rock and roll does.”

    As the revolutionary “Godfather of Grunge,” David Carson was inspired by the bohemian surf culture and gritty alternative music that drew him to California in the 1980s. These early imprints turned Carson into an artistic renegade of sorts who earned acclaim—and sometimes notoriety—for his abstract, chaotic designs.

    He broke many conventions with backward or upside-down letters, fractured images, and the juxtaposition of both print and digital media. This approach might have started as unorthodox, but decades later, Carson’s aesthetic has elevated him to become one of Graphic Design USA Magazine’s most influential designers of all-time.

    Antionette D. Carroll

    • Nationality: American
    • Decades Active: 2000s–Present
    • Education: University of Missouri-St. Louis
    • Studio: Creative Reaction Lab

    “Design to me means power, and it means transformation. There are some times when I tell people that design was the invisible disruptor before ‘disruptor’ was the buzzword of the time.”

    With her background in social enterprise and diversity education, Antionette D. Carroll is a pioneer of “equity design” which she created to teach black and Latinx youth how to be leaders and innovators in their communities. Through her non-profit Creative Reaction Lab, which Fast Company honored as a World Changing Idea Finalist, Carroll trains the next generation to subvert injustice, racial bias, and systemic oppression with the tool of graphic design.

    In 2014, she was named the Founding Chair of AIGA’s Inclusion and Diversity Task Force. She has presented a TED Talk on how design can be a powerful force to undermine racism. She founded and launched several initiatives, including the Design Census Program with Google, Racial Justice by Design Initiative, Diversity and Inclusion Residency, and the national Design for Inclusivity Summit with Microsoft.

    Stefan Sagmeister

    • Nationality: Austrian
    • Decades Active: 1990s–Present
    • Education: University of Applied Arts Vienna
    • Studio: Sagmeister & Walsh

    “You can have an art experience in front of a Rembrandt or in front of a piece of graphic design.”

    This Vienna-born prodigy started his career at the age of 15, a brazen move that launched him on a trajectory from Europe to Asia and ultimately New York where he cemented himself as one of the trendiest graphic designers in the music industry.

    Commissioned by such behemoths as The Rolling Stones, HBO, Time Warner, The Guggenheim Museum, and Capitol Records, Stefan Sagmeister is famous for his provocative use of typography, video, found materials, and even his own body to demonstrate that any medium can be a canvas for graphic design. His work melds themes of emotion, humor, and sexuality, a combination that is often meant for shock factor.

    Lourdes Zolezzi

    • Nationality: Mexican
    • Decades Active: 1990s–Present
    • Education: Metropolitan Autonomous University
    • Studio: Zolezzi Studio

    “Adventurous, researcher, dreamer, collector of ideas—we will find ourselves in the next story, in the following poster.”

    Another graphic designer whose artistic platform is entrenched in social commentary, Lourdes Zolezzi is one of the most recognized Latin American female artists in this field. She rose to prominence as the art director for some of Mexico City’s major advertising firms, then struck out on her own to design posters that call attention to issues like childhood hunger, public health crises, and violence against women.

    Zolezzi’s style has a raw urban feel to it with cut-and-paste illustrations, superimposed on intensely saturated backgrounds that evoke the impression of street art. Her posters have been exhibited all over the world, from Russia to Japan to Slovakia.

    Rob Janoff

    • Nationality: American
    • Decades Active: 1970s–Present
    • Education: San Jose State University
    • Studio: Rob Janoff Studio

    “I like having a sense of humor. I like being able to have provocative headlines, provocative imagery that makes people think in a different way.”

    The creator behind arguably the most famous icon on earth—the Apple logo—Rob Janoff took a bite out of history in 1977 when he was hired by Steve Jobs to design the symbol for a new tech brand that had just come onto the scene. Janoff’s basic silhouette of a munched-on apple with multicolored horizontal stripes has since taken on a life of its own to become an emblem of modern technology.

    While the details of this logo have been modified over the years, the initial format and shape that Janoff conceived more than four decades ago remains intact. His logo is brilliant in its simplicity which is a common motif in all Janoff’s graphic design work.   

    Dian Holton

    • Nationality: American
    • Decades Active: 2000s–Present
    • Education: Florida A&M University
    • Studio: Dian Holton Studio

    “I find inspiration everywhere. From the fashions I see, to the nature I’m around or found objects I come across—I embrace colors, patterns, textures, and silhouettes of all types.”

    20 Iconic Graphic Designers to Learn From

    Honored as a “Person to Watch in 2016” by Graphic Design USA, Dian Holton’s work is a bright punch of neon colors, geometric patterns, and bold san serif texts. A former military brat, she was raised on three continents, and her design sensibilities mirror the fashions and pop culture of the United States, Berlin, and Seoul.

    A childhood spent traveling filled her with a sense of wonder for beauty and creativity which Holton now channels in one of her favorite projects, an Instagram series called #DailyDigits which she started in 2015. On her feed each day, Holton posts a number shaped from a unique found object, and it’s even turned into a design collaboration with HP.

    Jared Yazzie

    • Nationality: Diné-Navajo
    • Decades Active: 2000s–Present
    • Education: University of Arizona
    • Studio: OxDx Clothing

    “I believe transparency goes a long way…My work looks the way it does because I don’t exactly have the industry knowledge about how to do it. I’m figuring all this out as I go. We are all kind of on this journey together.”

    A self-described “art-ivist” who has turned his combined passions for graphic design, street fashion, and Native American heritage into the conscious apparel brand OxDx, Jared Yazzie believes in wearable art for social impact. His screen-printed clothing is a mashup of robust earth tone colors and Southwest-inspired textiles, emblazoned with phrases like “The Future is Indigenous” or “Native Americans Discovered Columbus.”

    Yazzie’s work has a cult following—particularly in Arizona where he is based—but his ultimate ambition is to reclaim indigenous traditions, make them accessible in the mainstream and pave the way for other Native graphic designers to flourish.

    Morag Myerscough

    • Nationality: British
    • Decades Active: 1980s–Present
    • Education: Royal College of Art
    • Studio: Studio Myerscough

    “I want people to react. I totally understand that some people might hate my work, and I would rather have that than just dismiss it with indifference. I want people to have conversations, to experience something they didn’t expect.”

    With a quirky, whimsical, and eclectic bent that sometimes borders on the avant-garde, Morag Myerscough creates artwork that audiences react to, and this is by design—her massive, prismatic, funhouse-themed installations are just too absurd to overlook. Her architectural pieces are located in all kinds of venues, from a children’s hospital in England to an outdoor arcade in Romania.

    Myerscough explores different shapes, materials, and pigments to increase the visual effect and spatial depth of her structures which results in an immersive graphic design the public can interact with. Myerscough also has the only permanent exhibit at London Design Museum.

    Silas Munro

    • Nationality: American
    • Decades Active: 2000s–Present
    • Education: Rhode Island School of Design
    • Studio: Poly-mode

    “The designer is a facilitator for the community—partly through listening, partly through making.”

    He refers to himself as a “design nomad,” and for Silas Munro, this encapsulates his fluid, migratory point of view as an artist. An educator, graphic designer, writer, and societal reformer, Munro’s work has a transient quality that defies being labeled or hemmed in.

    He prefers to design for community organizations and civic institutions such as Housing Works, The U.S. Department of Cultural Affairs, New York City Public Schools, and the Hillary Clinton Presidential Campaign. Besides, as an LGBTQ man of color, Munro has also been vocal in his career about how the medium of typography should be harnessed to communicate diverse experiences or messages. 

    Lucille Tenazas

    • Nationality: Filipina
    • Decades Active: 1980s–Present
    • Education: California College of Arts & Crafts
    • Studio: Tenazas Design

    “Design is a way of looking at the world. You produce an artifact or an equation where you have done half the equation, and you leave the rest for whoever wants to participate.”

    Often associated with postmodern graphic design, Lucille Tenazas embraces freeform compositions and lively, dramatic splashes of color as a tribute to both her formative years in the Philippines and her second home in San Francisco. Tenazas incorporates wild angles, overlapped images, and words that seem to float in space, all of which disrupt order and flirt with imperfection.

    She served as president of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) from 1996–1998—one of just five women to hold this position in history—and Tenazas later became an AIGA medalist in 2013 due to her “prominent role in translating postmodern ideas into critical design practice.”

    Alex Trochut

    • Nationality: Spanish
    • Decades Active: 2000s–Present
    • Education: Elisava Escola Superior de Disseny
    • Studio: Alex Trochut Design

    “Letter design is the non-verbal communication of the written medium. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Style is the message. Letters are a flexible matter, a human creation in constant change. Similar to fashion or music, letters have a connection with identity.”

    This experimental typographer and illustrator thinks of his craft as always in flux—just like it’s human nature to change and advance with the times, graphic design must do the same. This is why Alex Trochut’s work captures both the look and feel of movement, resulting in three-dimensional words that protrude out of the canvas. He uses fonts to express action and emotion, a technique that has earned him international acclaim.

    Trochut has partnered with clients all over the map, from Converse and Nike to Patagonia and Adobe, to ESPN and The Oscars. He even designed the throwback, retro-style album cover for Katy Perry’s single “Roar” that was released in 2013.

    Kung Pik Liu

    • Nationality: Chinese
    • Decades Active: 2000s–Present
    • Education: Fashion Institute of Technology
    • Studio: Studio of Kung Pik Liu

    “When I design, I pull on all of these influences: Western, Chinese, Islamic, and more—this huge, beautiful mosaic we know as humanity.”

    Fueled by a lifelong, intuitive ability to transform dissonance into harmony and organize information into visuals, Kung Pik Lui first realized that she wanted to pursue a career in graphic design when a childhood teacher pointed out her knack for it. She chased this dream from her native Hong Kong across the world to New York City, where she converted to Islam and became fascinated with the intersection of spirituality, multiculturalism, and mission-driven design.

    Her studio creates editorial media, print collateral, infographics, and website layouts, and her passion is to dismantle stigmas and misconceptions of the Islamic faith through each project she undertakes.

    Michael Bierut

    • Nationality: American
    • Decades Active: 1980s–Present
    • Education: University of Cincinnati
    • Studio: Pentagram

    “Designers actually can change the world for the better by making the complicated simple and finding beauty in truth.”

    Another graphic designer associated with Pentagram, Michael Bierut has been a partner at this firm for almost 30 years. His work is sought after by some of the most renowned companies on earth such as Walt Disney, Billboard Magazine, United Airlines, Saks Fifth Avenue, and The Atlantic which he famously redesigned in 2008.

    Bierut secured a reputation as one of the first in his industry to “democratize design”—that is, to make it accessible and unpretentious for the general public. He also believes there is a finite measure of creativity in this world, so it’s the job of a graphic designer to funnel that resource into sparks of meaning and inspiration.

    Annie Atkins

    • Nationality: British
    • Decades Active: 2000s–Present
    • Education: University College Dublin
    • Studio: Annie Atkins & Co.

    “As designers, we have a tendency to want to correct, but human errors keep it authentic even in a stylized world…Reality is more interesting than what we conjure. Imagination doesn’t compare to our real-life design history, so on every project, we never start with a blank page.”

    While most graphic designers produce artistic and editorial content for websites, brands, exhibits, or publications, Annie Atkins is more interested in the connection between graphic design and filmmaking. As she nimbly meshes these two disciplines, the Dublin-based visionary has made quite a name for herself in Hollywood, creating period-accurate banknotes for The Grand Budapest Hotel, political banners for the Isle of Dogs, and falsified passports for Bridge of Spies.

    Atkins has been hired by directors Wes Anderson and Stephen Spielberg, and her cinematic designs fluctuate from Victorian letterpress to Tudor calligraphy, to Japanese hand-painted maps.

    Lokesh Karekar

    • Nationality: Indian
    • Decades Active: 2000s–Present
    • Education: Sir J.J. Institute of Applied Arts
    • Studio: Locopopo

    “I see typography as a design with discipline. I enjoy the process of creating typefaces, playing around with type and balancing forms with aesthetic.”

    A specialist in the areas of illustration and typography, Lokesh Karekar approaches graphic design as a medium for visual stories to be told. He draws from the electric and hyper-saturated colors that swirl around the Indian bazaars of his home in Mumbai, and all of his work is imbued with a modern edge, a streamlined finish, and just a touch of humor.

    Karekar also enjoys the use of unexpected forms and techniques in his designs such as clay modeling, papercraft, and animation sketches. In 2014, Karekar was chosen as one of Forbes Magazine’s “30 Under 30” list, and he has collaborated with Rolling Stone and Conde Nast, among other high-profile outlets.

    Wrapping up

    As all 20 of these famous graphic designers prove, this field is not static or fixed in the convention—but rather, it will continue to accelerate onward and upward into the future with exciting new brainstorms, innovations, and technologies. This list only scratches the surface of graphic designers to learn and derive inspiration from, but the fearless, adventurous way each of these mavericks has reshaped the mould of tradition to leave their original stamp on the art form is nothing short of remarkable.

    If you aspire to have a successful career in graphic design, take a lesson from the famous graphic designers who helped to pave this road for you. Be daring, bold, unique, and expressive in your design sensibilities. Embrace different colors, shapes, textures, patterns, typefaces, and materials. Experiment with various digital methods and tools to create fresh, contemporary images. And trust your voice as an artist, whether it’s gritty and radical like David Carson or loud and eccentric like Morag Myerscough.

    Can you relate to some of the famous graphic designers who are included on this list? Who has influenced, motivated, or challenged you the most? What style of graphic design are you drawn to, in particular? Share your feedback in the comments section below, and let’s continue this discussion on the industry’s most famous graphic designers!

    VistaCreate Team

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