Looking for some design inspiration? We celebrate iconic designers who've influenced modern graphic design.
The early 20th century was a massive turning point for graphic design. The term was first coined by William Addison Dwiggins in 1922 and a little before that in 1919, the very first graphic design school in the world, Bauhaus, opened its doors in Germany. Typography was born, mass media and advertising evolved, and the work of graphic designers began to fill the pages of magazines, newspapers, and advertisements.
In 1984, graphic design entered the digital age with the invention of the first Apple Macintosh computer. And, with the creation of Photoshop 1.0 for Macintosh in 1990, the world of graphic design changed forever.
Nowadays graphic design is a wide and complex field with many branches, styles and specializations. There have been hundreds of significant design movements over the centuries, with many of them based on the style or approach of a particular artist or collective of artists – but some designers have made a permanent mark on graphic design.
Who Are the Top Graphic Designers?
Here is a snapshot of some of the most impactful designers to emerge and define the graphic design industry, and how their iconic work has influenced the design styles of today.
01. David Carson
Known for: Innovative magazine design and experimental typography
As one of the most prominent contemporary graphic designers and art directors during the 1990s, David Carson’s unconventional and experimental style truly revolutionized print design.
Nicknamed the ‘Godfather of grunge’, as the art director of iconic magazine Ray Gun, Carson introduced innovative typography, distressed textures, layered backgrounds and distinctive, rough layouts. Grunge was inspired by underground rock culture and it was all about breaking the rules of traditional graphic design. Thanks to Carson’s influence, the 90s grunge design trend created a rise in more experimental, less polished design styles, particularly in the sphere’s of media and advertising.
The grunge trend has made a big comeback over the last decade, showing up in the same places it did almost 30 years ago: posters, album covers, and magazines, as well as in new mediums such as digital art and social media.
If you want to recreate David Carson’s classic grunge style, try out this RE-Play Music Party Big Poster Design and Creative Multipurpose Business Card Design by PeakStar, or this Transmission Warp Text Effects by pixelbuddha_graphic on Envato Elements.
02. Paula Scher
Known for: Creating brand identities for MOMA & Microsoft
Paula Scher is the creative mind behind a wide range of iconic designs – from the polished corporate Citibank logo to the loud and proud designs of historic Public Theater productions like Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk. She’s become one of the world’s most iconic female graphic designers in what was previously, and arguably still is, a male-dominated industry.
After decades designing record covers and magazines, Paula Scher became a principal at the heavy-hitting design agency Pentagram in 1991. Since then, she has recreated the identities of huge brands such as Microsoft and the Museum of Modern Art, all the while maintaining her fierce passion for creativity, environmental and organic design, and mural-scale painting.
Often defined as “postmodern”, Scher’s versatile and adaptive style stems from her refusal to be pigeon-holed as one type of artist, as well as her rejection of the modern definitions of ‘good design’. Some of her work features chaotic elements such as layering, textures, clashing colors and crowded typography, while other pieces feature clean, minimalist elements, white space, block colors and simple shapes. Paula Scher’s creative chameleon qualities are truly to be admired and can provide inspiration to aspiring designers.
Regardless of the style she’s creating, unique expression is always at the core of Paula Scher’s work. If you want to recreate the distinctive style of Paula Scher, check out these items from Envato Elements that emanate her postmodern style – such as this Double Mix Flyer Poster and Focus Flyer Poster by RetroBox, or this Rectory Display Art-Deco Font by Kavoon.
03. Milton Glaser
Known for: The iconic ‘I ♥ NY’ logo
Forming Push Pin Studios with classmates in 1954, Glaser opened the world of design to new influences and styles that began to grab the attention of magazines and advertising agencies, largely through his studio’s influential promotional publication, the Push Pin Almanack.
Glaser later designed ‘I ♥ NY’ for a 1977 campaign to promote tourism in New York State – a logo originally sketched on the back of an envelope with red crayon during a taxi ride (so New York!). It instantly became an internationally recognized symbol of New York City.
Glaser was renowned for combining simple visual elements with stylistic motifs, and his iconic work has paved the way for many modern designers, styles and techniques. If you’re keen to replicate the iconic style of Milton Glaser, here are some items from Envato Elements that take influence from his widely renowned work – including this Electro Summer Flyer and No Surprises Flyer by ashenterprise, or this Morro Typeface by dafeld.
04. Saul Bass
Style: Quirky Minimalism
Known for: Logo design & movie posters
Another one of the most accomplished and influential graphic designers in history, Saul Bass is responsible for some of the last century’s pivotal designs. He made his mark throughout the 20th Century when the popularity of graphic design was rapidly rising, and branded a staggering array of major corporations with his iconic, minimal aesthetic.
Bass was the go-to man for clean, thoughtful designs that were made to last. He single-handedly dominated the corporate design space for around 50 years, creating work for mammoth brands such as Bell, Kleenex, AT&T, and Warner Communications,
However, logo design is not all Bass is known for. After attending night college classes at the Art Students League where he studied under György Kepes – a master of the Bauhaus movement – Bass worked in advertising until he got his first major break: a movie poster for the 1954 film, Carmen Jones. The filmmakers were so impressed by his poster work, they invited him to design the credits as well.
Going on to design bright and bold film posters such as Anatomy of a Murder and the Man with the Golden Arm, Bass also invented a signature “kinetic type”, which saw letters and pictures dash across the screen. He was committed to injecting life into his graphics, making them a part of the cinematic experience.
05. Jessica Walsh
Style: Edgy & Commercial
Known for: Designing for Jay Z & New York Times Magazine
The most contemporary designer on our list, 34-year-old Jessica Walsh is a sought after talent for the modern age, with celebrities and brands such as Jay-Z and Levi’s vying for her design skills.
After earning her Bachelor of Fine Arts from RISD in 2008, Walsh moved to New York City to intern at the notable design firm Pentagram. Turning down a high-paying job at Apple to intern under iconic designer Paula Scher, she went on to work as associate art director at Print magazine, resulting in her designs and illustrations being featured in various publications, including the New York Times and New York Times Magazine.
After nearly a decade working alongside fellow designer Stefan Sagmeister at the New York design studio they co-founded together, Sagmeister & Walsh, she’s now the founder and creative director of her own company &Walsh, a creative branding agency that pumps out modern, bold and vibrant designs with retro influences.
Passionately vocal about her desire to see more women in creative director roles, as well as in graphic design in general, Walsh has had a big impact on modern design trends, as well as the evolution graphic design industry.
06. Paul Rand
Known for: Iconic logos and advertisements
Born in 1914, art director and graphic designer Paul Rand is nothing short of a design legend. Throughout his 60-year career, he was instrumental in changing America’s approach to visual communication.
He first made his mark in the 1930s with a bold and modernist style. His work was a breath of fresh air on Madison Avenue where he created advertisements inspired by the famous German Bauhaus School, and movements such as De Stijl and Russian constructivism. Rand believed that the strength of graphic design lies in its ability to be a universal language, through the simplicity and geometry of its forms – a philosophy that many designers still live by today.
Between his editorial designs, logos, advertisements, and visual identity work, Rand injected avant-garde European ideas into American visual culture, mixing visual art and commercial design. His colourful combinations and use of typography aimed to “defamiliarize the ordinary”, and his iconic style is still impacting graphic design to this day.
Feeling inspired? There’s more where that came from! Check out our Iconic Designers Collection, or these posts on Pantone Color Trends for Fall 2020, 90s Graphic Design Trends Making a Comeback in 2020 and How to Succeed as a Freelance Graphic Designer. And head over to Envato Elements to start creating today!