My Graphic Design Heroes

Over the years, I’ve collected inspiring works by other graphic designers. It turns out that two designers are represented more often than any others in my files. My folders are full of their amazing work. By “files” and “folders,” I mean real folders and real files. I own a plethora of filing cabinets, including a battered and beloved set of flat files. Hopefully my fellow designers and art directors are with me on this and still maintain at least a few drawers in which to stash inspiring printed pieces and maybe a few old-fashioned manila job folders with actual pencil sketches and specs inside.

Design by Kit HinrichsThe first designer whose work I have squirreled away is Kit Hinrichs. I recently heard him speak during San Francisco Design Week. As he clicked through a presentation that showcased a sampling of his work (as well as samples from five of his design heroes), I realized that I have collected Hinrichs’ work for twenty years, sometimes not even knowing he was behind it. Hemispheres Magazines, Art Center collateral, and @Issue Journals (now online) are just a few of the pieces I have relished and stored for times when I need to be reminded that I love this business.

Funny, I have always thought of myself as a “less is more” designer, yet Hinrichs describes himself as a “more is more” designer. But both philosophies lead to effective design. For example, Hinrichs’ self portrait in this poster is straightforward and clean (“clean” meaning not cluttered with superflouos design elements). Yet, if you look closely, the facial hair is constructed with lines of text, detailing Hinrichs’ entire resumé. This is complicated design, but it is done so well that it comes across as simple. It’s “more” looking like “less.”

HerbLubalin-sampleMy other design hero is Herb Lubalin, who is no longer with us. Lubalin is known for various things, but what mainly inspired me is his work with U&lc magazine (U&lc is shorthand for “Upper and lower case”). When I lived in Manhattan, I would pour over each issue, practically drooling. Oh, how magnificent a simple letter can be! If you value great design but lack a stash of U&lc issues in your files, you may want to buy this book. I don’t think Lubalin would like the collage on its cover, but hopefully his work is left in one piece inside.

Lastly, I’d like to mention Paul Rand (1914–1996). Rand is not only known for his enduring designs (which include the logos for IBM, UPS, and ABC), but he also found the words to make sense of it all. I can’t say that I’ve collected his work (there’s no need; it surrounds us), but I have collected his quotes. Here is a gem:

“To design is much more than simply to assemble, to order, or even to edit; it is to add value and meaning, to illuminate, to simplify, to clarify, to modify, to dignify, to dramatize, to persuade, and perhaps even to amuse. To design is to transform prose into poetry.”—Paul Rand

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