Past and Future Heroes: Creating Graphics for PRINT Magazine’s Regional Awards
For more than 35 years, PRINT magazine has recognized and awarded the best design work in the United States, region by region. When, on the heels of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Debbie Millman approached me to create the art for this year’s awards issue (on newsstands today), I decided to focus where my own curiosity lay: on the role that imagery and designers have played in advancing the 20th century’s social movements.
While researching, I found that the trailblazers and activists of design’s past are a little tricky to find, for a variety of reasons (although I discovered amazing resources, listed at the bottom of this page). Before social media made drop cap a household term, and before some designers started becoming “rock stars” (of the most desk-bound variety), virtually all designers were guaranteed the cover of lifelong obscurity. Thirty years ago, most people could not have explained exactly what a graphic designer did…let alone name an actual practitioner. It was, simply, a more behind-the-scenes, anonymous vocation.
Design historians are scrambling to fix this now, but it may be a hopeless task. A recent, specific example comes to mind: When she died in 2016, there was a frantic attempt to untangle Elaine Lustig Cohen’s work from that of her famed husband Alvin Lustig (whom she assisted as a self-described “office slave” during his tragically short life). The significance of her contribution to Alvin’s output really came to light only because her career continued after his death—with an award-winning collaboration with Phillip Johnson, no less, among other notable projects.
Anyway, the incredible thing is that the people celebrated in these collages really did exist—against all odds. They represent merely the tip of an iceberg but are sufficient to demonstrate that cool, precise, expressive, techy, edgy, delicate, bold, seductive, smart, or hilarious work is the province of no specific gender, race, or sexual orientation (or region or time period, for that matter…so feel free to borrow type inspiration for your next album art project from an 1870s Winnebago woman). The profile collages are split into PRINT’s six award regions of South, East, Midwest, Far West, NYC, and Southwest (weighted according to each area’s density of designers), and I’ve provided links to additional information about each designer pictured:
1. DOROTHY HAYES Born in Mobile, Alabama, in 1935, Hayes studied at The Cooper Union and went on to run one of first successful design studios opened by a female African-American designer. She also taught, organized exhibitions, and mentored other aspiring designers of color. More »
2. SEQUOYAH Born in 1770, Sequoyah developed a written character system (a syllabary—wherein each character represents a syllabic unit) so that the Cherokee language could be transcribed and the culture could be recorded. This achievement was particularly incredible, as Sequoyah himself had no prior experience with any other written language. Reportedly, he recognized the benefit of the European arrivals’ scrawls only from afar and developed the Cherokee system independently. More »
3. I AM A MAN “One of the most extraordinary and least understood aspects of Dr. Martin Luther King’s leadership was his incisive understanding of the power of visual images to alter public opinion”—Maurice Berger (professor, University of Maryland). Although the designer is unknown, these placards from the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike are one of the most moving visual expressions of the Civil Rights struggle. More »
4. COLOR IS A STATE OF MIND, DOROTHY HAYES For PRINT’s 30th Anniversary issue, in 1969, 40 artists created work on the theme of “Black and White”—instructed only to interpret the phrase “in any way you choose.” More »
1. ANGEL DE CORA A Winnebago illustrator and painter born in 1871, de Cora worked primarily in book cover design. She is best known for her activism (challenging the stereotypical depictions of Native Americans) and for her early experimentation with modernist aesthetics. More »
2. MIT NOISE REDUCTION POSTER, MURIEL COOPER The founder of MIT’s Visual Language Workshop and a pioneer of digital communication design, Cooper advocated for humanism in tech, arguing that “information is only useful when it can be understood.” Today’s disciplines of UX, UI, and information design are all heavily indebted to her approach of designing non-linearly (following the lead of the intended user experience) for early tech. More »
3. ELIZABETH CATLETT Born in 1915, Catlett was a graphic artist and printmaker best known for her depictions of the female African-American experience in the 20th century. More »
4. JACQUELINE CASEY A graphic designer at MIT Press, Casey worked closely with Muriel Cooper. Known for inflecting the bold, stark forms of Swiss modernism with humor, she is considered one of the foremost American practitioners of the International Style. More »
5. MIT PRESS LOGO, MURIEL COOPER Cooper created one of the 20th century’s most iconic logos while working as the design director of MIT Press (where she also, reportedly, designed more than 500 book covers). More »
1. DAMSELS OF DESIGN In the mid-1950s, GM hired a 10-person, all-female industrial design team to research, design, and prototype what families needed out of a car. In three short years, they introduced several new safety features, the first retractable seat belt, glove compartments, light-up mirrors, and other features that remain in GM cars to this day. More »
2. LEROY WINBRUSH Winbrush began working as a graphic designer in Chicago in 1936—a time when there were very few African Americans working in the field. With a business card that read, “I fill space with imagination,” he created work in many disciplines—including Illinois’s animatronic-filled exhibit at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, which inspired the designers of Disneyland. More »
3. CHARLES CLARENCE DAWSON Born in 1899, Dawson was an early African-American designer whose successful career outlasted the Great Depression. Shown here is a page from his self-published children’s book, ABCs of Great Negroes, which consists of linocut portraits of 26 historically significant men and women of African descent. More »
4. DAMSELS OF DESIGN (again) While General Motors’ PR department promoted them more as decorators, the team was really designing the structure of car interiors from the ground up. More »
5. GERE KAVANAUGH A working designer into her mid-80s, Kavanaugh began as part of GM’s design architecture group, creating everything from textile patterns to a 30-foot-tall fabric birdhouse environmental display featuring live canaries. More »
1. LOUIS LO MONACO Known for his Civil Rights imagery and painterly style, Lo Monaco, along with the National Urban League, published We Shall Overcome—a collection of graphic collages to commemorate the 1963 Historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. More »
2. & 3. SISTER CORITA KENT Kent was a designer, teacher, feminist, and activist whose thousands of iconic posters and banners were featured at Civil Rights and anti-war rallies throughout the 1960s and ’70s. Kent became one of the most popular graphic artists of her time, appropriating Warhol’s vocabulary of mass culture in order to engage the public in conversations about ethics and equality. More »
4. EMORY DOUGLAS Douglas applied his advertising knowledge to give a visual voice to the Black Panther Party in the 1960s. He is known for picturing the theme of the powerless rising up—as well as for marrying traditional revolutionary iconography with the psychedelic aesthetic of the 1960s. More »
5. ELAINE BASS After independently designing the opening title sequence for the movie Spartacus, Elaine and Saul Bass were married and collaborated for more than 40 years. Together, they gave us the innovation of the modern title sequence, which poetically introduces the mood or theme of a film. More »
1. CIPE PINELESS Pineless became the first female art director of a mass-market American magazine when she took the helm at Glamour in 1942. During her more than 60-year career, she designed countless covers, and she is credited with the innovation of bringing in fine artists to create illustrations for mass-market publications. She also once created (and then baked) illustrations of hands out of bread dough. More »
2. LINCOLN CENTER JOURNAL, CIPE PINELESS This cover design for the Lincoln Center, where Pineless led the graphics department, playfully embraced European Modernism. More »
3. GEORG OLDEN Olden is responsible for pioneering the field of broadcast graphics at the dawn of television. In a time when virtually no people of color worked in television, Olden handily rose to the executive level. When he later left TV for a nine-year career in advertising, his work was honored an astounding 108 times in Graphis and Art Directors Club annuals. More »
4. EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION STAMP, GEORG OLDEN In 1963, the United States Postal Service commissioned Olden to create this iconic stamp celebrating the centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation. More »
5. ART WORLD REPORT CARD, GUERILLA GIRLS An anonymous group of radical feminist female artists, the Guerilla Girls were devoted to fighting sexism and racism within the art world. With posters, advertisements, and billboards, they pioneered a form of culture jamming—using the language and techniques of mass media to sneak into everyday life and challenge the status quo. More »
6. EVA ZEISEL Born in 1906, Zeisel became one of the most well-regarded industrial designers of her time by bringing an organic, practical humanism to objects. Her 1946 exhibition New Shapes in Modern China was the first one-woman exhibition at MoMA. More »
1. SUSAN B. ANTHONY BANNER, TEXAS WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE MOVEMENT The Susan B. Anthony quote “No self-respecting woman should wish or work for the success of a party that ignores her sex” was one of the most enduring visual messages on banners across the nation during the Women’s Suffrage Movement, in which Texas was a leader. More »
2. ANNA RUSSELL JONES Jones sold her wallpaper and carpet designs internationally—a rare accomplishment for an African-American woman in the 1930s—as well as finding success in graphic design, painting, and medical illustration. More »
3. FORT HUACHUCA’S PAINT SHOP, ANNA RUSSELL JONES During WWII, Jones was stationed in Arizona to serve as a graphic designer, producing maps, posters, and booklets for the military—and training others there in the graphic arts. More »
4. VOTES FOR WOMEN, A SUCCESS MAP, AUSTIN WOMEN’S SUFFRAGE ASSOCIATION This early map infographic tallied the states needed to pass women’s suffrage. More »
Congratulations to PRINT’s 2016 winners!
All credit for this project goes to the librarians, design historians, and archivists who are doing the actual and mostly thankless work of preserving this history.
January 10, 2017
Images courtesy of Kelli Anderson and PRINT Magazine