We all have heroes. From the lycra clad, flying kinds to the everyday people who help and inspire us.
Some of us meet our heroes, some admire from afar. Some heroes are family members, some are celebrities. Some are professional role models whose expertise directly (or indirectly) influence our work, our aims and our ambitions and it is these heroes that this post focuses on.
…to someone, somewhere, their work will be an inspiration and they, a hero
As a graphic designer, heroes are easy to find. Entire websites dedicate their pages to uncovering the best of the best design around the world giving prominence and ‘fame’ to ordinary, but highly talented people. As soon as this happens, these people are elevated to hero status – not necessarily universally but to someone, somewhere, their work will be an inspiration and they, a hero.
And of course there are the renowned elite; the forefathers, founders and originators of graphic design in its varying disciplines, those who are heroes to our heroes.
But it isn’t necessarily just graphic designers that are heroes to graphic designers. Artists, product designers, writers, musicians and actors (even politicians and newsreaders!) can find that their work, character or attitude captures the energy and attention of a designer and influences the creation of a logo, a poster, a campaign or a website.
So I have compiled a list of 10 of my heroes. Those whose vision has captured mine in some way and without whom my career may have been very different.
No. 10. David Smart
David isn’t someone I expect you to have heard of. His work doesn’t litter the pages of Creative Review (although it has featured in various publications before) but he DOES own a D&AD yellow pencil (two, in fact!) and as the course leader during my degree my entire attitude to graphic design was turned on its head when he introduced me to a key element I’d never really been familiar with: The ‘idea’.
Where once I’d considered design as organising text and images on a page, I suddenly became (painfully!) aware that it was a thinking man’s game. Without a hook, idea or concept, design is merely decoration, and David’s harsh critiques and teaching pushed me along a steep learning curve and ignited a spark of inspiration that still shapes my thinking today.
David Smart Profile
No. 9. Andy Warhol
Blending the worlds of fine art and commercial art and design, Warhol was and still is identified as the key instigator of the Pop Art movement.
The eccentric artist’s famous silk screen artworks are known and replicated the world over and their bold limited palette effects have inspired the work of countless designers and illustrators, including myself.
Andy Warhol on Wikipedia
No. 8. Von Glitschka
A current figure, Von is prominent in the design community and prolific in his recognisable and highly stylised artwork. His expertise in illustration has propelled him to the top of his trade and enabled him to author three books (including his recent ‘Vector Basic Training’), publish a variety of websites and speak regularly at a variety of events and conferences.
As a fierce defender of the lost art of drawing his work always begins with his trusty pencil and a sheet of paper, before being transferred to a computer and painstakingly created and coloured using Bezier tools.
He is a true talent and in every way deserves hero status for refusing to conform to the ‘tooler’ syndrome of relying on tools rather than skill and creativity.
No. 7. Robert Lindstrom
Another excellent current designer, Lindström co-founded Swedish design agency North Kingdom but it was through his personal online playground, DesignChapel, that I came across his work in 2003, becoming instantly hooked.
Achieving the right balance between high profile client projects and boundary pushing personal illustration, his work utilises crisp vectors, intricate gradients, stylised photography and intelligent, intuitive moving graphics & videos.
No. 6. Paul Rand
As a logo designer it would be foolish not to give credit here to one of the most prolific and highly regarded logo designers of all time.
Known particularly for his famous IBM (and subsequent ‘Eye-Bee-M’ visual pun), ABC and UPS logos, Rand was a problem solver of the highest calibre: described by Steve Jobs as “the greatest living graphic designer” following his work for Jobs’ NeXT Computer company in 1996. A great insight into Rand’s mentality comes from this quote by Jobs (thanks to David Airey at Logo Design Love for the quote):
I asked him if he would come up with a few options, and he said, ‘No, I will solve your problem for you and you will pay me. You don’t have to use the solution. If you want options go talk to other people.
No. 5. Lindon Leader
As creator of one of the finest examples of wit in logo design, Landor’s former Senior Design Director Lindon Leader holds a very special place in the hearts of many aspiring and experienced designers worldwide, though they may not realise it!
On first glance Leader’s orange and purple FedEx logo seems fairly ordinary: bold and strong, fit for purpose, but not much more. You see it everywhere on vans, packaging and shop fronts and of course you recognise it. But it’s on further reflection that its genius touch is revealed. The letters have been neatly customised so that the negative space created between the E and x forms a perfect arrow, representing a direct, forward motion and inspiring a satisfying grin every time one sees it thereafter.
No. 4. Paul Reed Smith
Not a graphic designer but a master craftsman, Paul Reed Smith (now his company PRS) makes guitars that are well known as high quality pieces of design and engineering. With unique curves and shapes, top end hardware and beautifully colourful and textured finishing techniques, they are just as much pieces of art as they are high performance musical instruments.
In an article about the history of the PRS guitar company, Tom Wheeler writes about Smith’s core priorities and attitudes set in place to which can be attributed the enormous commercial success of his products:
“Build a guitar whose tone inspires you to be a better player, whose durability will get you through a thousand gigs, whose elegance makes it an artwork in its own right. Build a guitar that players can’t put down, and the romance and the PR and all the rest will follow.”
No. 3. David Stuart & Beryl McAlhone
These two feature as one entry together as the co-authors of one of the most inspirational books ever to have graced a designer’s shelf.
A Smile in the Mind demonstrates superbly how styles and aesthetics age and deteriorate with time, but that wit and clever thinking in design last a lifetime. Case studies from legends such as Paul Rand, Saul Bass, Milton Glaser, Michael Beirut and Alan Fletcher give insight into their attitudes, processes, techniques and even struggles: inspiring generations of design students to aim higher than decorative design.
Buy A Smile in the Mind on Amazon
No. 2. Adrian Shaughnessy
Along with A Smile in the Mind, if I was to pick a book that has revolutionised the way I approach graphic design, Adrian Shaughnessy’s How to be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul would be top of the pile.
A practical and thorough study on the real experience of being a graphic designer, Shaughnessy draws on his immense experience in design, writing and publishing to teach, train, warn and amuse the reader in a genuinely likeable and captivating way.
Buy How to be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul on Amazon
No. 1. Steve Jobs
Apple Macs used to be the poor younger cousin of the Windows PC: clunky machines with compatibility issues and limited appeal. But since Jobs’ return to the company in 1996 consistently excellent products such as the likes of the iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad have catapulted Apple into the position of world domination and household fame.
Much credit should be reserved for Apple’s genius British designer (and now Senior Vice President) Jonathan Ive, without whose relentless experimentation, attention to detail and strivings for continuous improvement many of their most successful products would never have been half as successful (nor as beautiful).
But it’s Jobs, the captain of the ship, who holds it all together and masterminds the bigger picture. And lets face it; the bigger picture for Apple is ENORMOUS and VERY high resolution.