The Influence of Iconic Designers on the Design Trends of Today

Looking for some design inspiration? We celebrate iconic designers who've influenced modern graphic design.

Famous graphic designers
Portrait for Kelsie RimmerBy Kelsie Rimmer  |  Updated June 14, 2022

As a designer, your inspiration can come from anywhere. But the work of iconic designers – both past and present – has a huge influence on design trends, techniques and movements in the design industry, which often create a domino effect throughout the world, from New York to Berlin. 

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

Style: Grunge
Known for: Innovative magazine design and experimental typography

David Carson - Ray Gun Issue No. 22 - Keith Richards
Ray Gun Issue No. 22 – Keith Richards

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. 

David Carson - Emporio Armani Magazine Cover
Emporio Armani Magazine Cover

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.

02. Paula Scher

Style: Postmodern
Known for: Creating brand identities for MOMA & Microsoft

Paula Scher - Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk Poster
Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk Poster

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.

Paula Scher Swatch Advertisement
Swatch Advertisement

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.

Paula Scher - Citibank Logo
Citibank Logo

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

Style: Psychedelic/Playful
Known for: The iconic ‘I ♥ NY’ logo

Milton Glaser - Bob Dylan Poster 1967
Bob Dylan Poster – 1967

New York magazine co-founder, designer of the classic 1967 psychedelic Bob Dylan poster, and creator of the iconic ‘I ♥ NY’ logo, Milton Glaser was undoubtedly one of the most influential and iconic designers in modern history.

He passed away at the age of 91 earlier this year, but will always be remembered for his work that defined American visual culture in the 1960s and 1970s. He changed the direction of design with his brightly colored, extroverted posters, magazines, book covers and record sleeves. 

Milton Glaser - I Heart NY Design
I ♥ NY Design – 1977

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

Saul Bass - Anatomy of a Murder Movie Poster 1959
Anatomy of a Murder Movie Poster – 1959

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,  

Saul Bass - Warner Communications Logo 1974
Current Warner Communications Logo – Designed in 1974

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. 

Saul Bass - The Man with the Golden Arm Movie Poster 1959
The Man with the Golden Arm Movie Poster – 1959

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.

If you want to recreate Saul Bass’s style, here are a few Envato Elements items that demonstrate how he continues to influence modern graphic design – such as this SUBURBIA cutout saul bass font and this DJADOEL Quirky All Caps Font by alexacrib, or these Modern art Shapes by a_slowik.

05. Jessica Walsh

Style: Edgy & Commercial
Known for: Designing for Jay Z & New York Times Magazine

Jessica Walsh - Jay Z's "A New York Holiday" luxury line at Barneys.
Jay Z’s luxury Barneys fashion line.

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.

Jessica Walsh - Donald Trump New York Times Magazine Cover.
Donald Trump New York Times Magazine Cover

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

Jessica Walsh - 3D psychedelic pop art design for Aizone.
3D psychedelic pop art design for Aizone.

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

Style: Modernism
Known for: Iconic logos and advertisements

Paul Rand - Advertising Typographers Association of America 1964
Advertising Typographers Association of America – 1964

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. 

Paul Rand - IBM Logo 1972
IBM Logo – 1972

Best known for the iconic logos he designed for big corporations, including IBM, UPS, ABC, Morningstar, Inc, Westinghouse, NeXT and Cummins and many more, Rand was one of the first American commercial artists to embrace and practice the Swiss Style of graphic design.

Paul Rand - NeXT Computers 1986
NeXT Computers – 1986

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.

To take inspiration from Paul Rand’s iconic style, check out this Retro Business Card by dannyaldana, this Simbox color geometric font by wowomnom and this Camillo Poster Design by BadSyxn on Envato Elements.

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!

If you want to know more about classic design and its influence today, check out these articles on 1950s logo designs, 90s graphic design trends, the influence of women on graphic design, and more.

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