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After World War 2


The Golden Age of Graphic Design

The years around and following the second world war saw graphic design gain widespread acceptance and application. A booming post-World War II American economy established a greater need for graphic design, mainly advertising and packaging. The emigration of the German Bauhaus school of design to Chicago in 1937 brought a "mass-produced" minimalism to America; sparking a wild fire of "modern" architecture and design. Notable names in mid-century modern design include Adrian Frutiger, designer of the typefaces Univers and Frutiger; Paul Rand, who, from the late 1930's until his death in 1996, took the principles of the Bauhaus and applied them to popular advertising and logo design, helping to create a uniquely American approach to European minimalism while becoming one of the principal pioneers of the subset of graphic design known as corporate identity; and Josef Müller-Brockmann, who designed posters in a severe yet accessible manner typical of the 1950s and 1960s.

Swiss Style


A new graphic design style emerged in Switzerland in the 1950s that would become the predominant graphic style in the world by the ‘70s. Because of its strong reliance on typographic elements, the new style came to be known as the International Typographic Style.The style was marked by the use of a mathematical grid to provide an overall orderly and unified structure; sans serif typefaces (especially Helvetica, introduced in 1957) in a flush left and ragged right format; and black and white photography in place of drawn illustration. The overall impression was simple and rational, tightly structured and serious, clear and objective, and harmonious.

Max Bill, work from 1948 to 1969.

Armin Hoffman, work from 1948 to 1996.

Fridolin Mueller, work from 1960 to 1990.

Joseph Mueller-Brockman, work from 1960 to 1970.

The style was refined at two design schools in Switzerland, one in Basel led by Armin Hofmann and Emil Ruder, and the other in Zurich under the leadership of Joseph Muller-Brockmann. All had studied with Ernst Keller at the Zurich School of Design before WWII, where the principles of the Bauhaus and Jan Tschichold’s New Typography were taught.

The new style became widely synonymous with the "look" of many Swiss cultural institutions which used posters as advertising vehicles. Hofmann’s series for the Basel State Theater and Muller-Brockmann’s for Zurich’s Tonhalle are two of the most famous. Hofmann’s accentuation of contrasts between various design elements and Muller-Brockmann’s exploration of rhythm and tempo in visual form are high notes in the evolution of the style. In addition, the new style was perfectly suited to the increasingly global postwar marketplace. Corporations needed international identification and global events such as the Olympics called for universal solutions which the Typographic Style could provide. With such good teachers and proselytizers, the use of the International Typographic Style spread rapidly throughout the world. In the U.S., Hofmann’s Basel design school established a link with the Yale School of Design, which became the leading American center for the new style.



Max Miedinger (1910 – 1980) was a Swiss typeface designer, best known for creating the Neue Haas Grotesk typeface in 1957, renamed Helvetica in 1960. Marketed as a symbol of cutting-edge Swiss technology, Helvetica achieved immediate global success.

Helvetica is influenced by the famous 19th century typeface Akzidenz-Grotesk. Its use became a hallmark of the International Typographic Style, becoming one of the most popular typefaces of the mid-20th century. Over the years, a wide range of variants have been released in different weights, widths, and sizes, as well as matching designs for a range of non-Latin alphabets. Notable features of Helvetica as originally designed include a high x-height, the termination of strokes on horizontal or vertical lines and an unusually tight spacing between letters, which combine to give it a dense, solid appearance.


The New York School

The New York School was an informal group of American poets, painters and musicians active in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s in New York City. The poets, painters, composers, and musicians often drew inspiration from Surrealism and the contemporary avant-garde art movements, in particular action painting, abstract expressionism, Jazz, improvisational theater, avant-garde music, and the interaction of friends in the New York City art world's vanguard circle.

For the purposes of Graphic Design, however, the New York School denotes the group of graphic designers active during the 1950s in and around New York. The older generation of these designers had fled from Europe earlier in the century, while the younger consisted of students which they educated at institutions such as the Cooper Union, Blackmountain College and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and who in turn become educators themselves, setting up a chain of innovative, modernist design firmly embedded within an instructional tradition.


Alexey Brodovich

Alexey Brodovich (1898-1971) was a Russian emigrant photographer and designer who worked in Paris, then America, at the beginning of the twentieth century. He went on to become the art editor for Harper's Bazaar. He is considered to be one of the most influential 20th century designers in the field of graphic design.

Alexei Brodovitch, editorial design at Harper's Bazaar, 1940's and 1950's.

His contribution to contemporary magazine design while art director of Harper’s Bazaar would be sufficient enough to honor Alexey Brodovitch as a pioneer in graphic design, but his influence was much greater. He was one of the first to introduce European modernism of the 1920s to the United States both by his own work and by commissioning art and photography from leading European artists and photographers, including A.M. Cassandre, Salvador Dali, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Man Ray. Through his lifelong dedication to teaching, he created a generation of designers who shared his belief in visual vitality and immediacy. Fascinated with photography, he fostered an expressionistic approach that became the dominant photographic style of the 1950s.

Invited to the United States in 1930 to start an advertising art department at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art, Brodovitch began his teaching career while completing numerous freelance assignments. In 1934, Carmel Snow, the new editor of Harper’s Bazaar, saw his design work and immediately hired him to be its art director. It was the beginning of a 24-year tenure that would revolutionize both fashion and magazine design.

By the 1950s, Brodovitch had perfected his style of combining text and photography with copious amounts of white space. Despite his easily recognizable work, Brodovitch did not formulate a theory of design. “There is no recipe for good layout,” he said. “What must be maintained is a feeling of change and contrast. A layout man should be simple with good photographs. He should perform acrobatics when the pictures are bad.”

Further reading


The editorial design of Paul Rand, 1937- 1941.

Paul Rand

Paul Rand (1914 – 1996) has been called the best graphic designer of all times, with deserved claim to this accolade; given that he excelled in not just one but 3 areas of graphic design - editorial design, advertising and logotype creation. Rand's education included the Pratt Institute (1929–1932), the Parsons School of Design (1932–1933), and the Art Students League (1933–1934). He was one of the originators of the Swiss Style of graphic design in America. From 1956–1969 and beginning again in 1974, Rand taught design at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Rand was inducted into the New York Art Directors Club Hall of Fame in 1972. He designed many posters and corporate identities including the logos for IBM and ABC. Rand died of cancer in 1996.

Paul Rand: Advertising design, 1941- 1954.

In an interesting way the chronology of Paul Rand’s design experience has paralleled the development of the modern design movement. Paul Rand’s first career in media promotion and cover design ran from 1937 to 1941, his second career in advertising design ran from 1941 to 1954, and his third career in corporate identification began in 1954. Paralleling these three careers there has been a consuming interest in design education and Paul Rand’s fourth career as an educator started at Cooper Union in 1942. He taught at Pratt Institute in 1946 and in 1956 he accepted a post at Yale University’s graduate school of design where he held the title of Professor of Graphic Design.

Paul Rand: Corporate Identities, 1954 - 1996.

In 1937 Paul launched his first career at Esquire. Although he was only occasionally involved in the editorial layout of that magazine, he designed material on its behalf and turned out a spectacular series of covers for Apparel Arts, a quarterly published in conjunction with Esquire. In spite of a schedule that paid no heed to regular working hours or minimum wage scales, he managed in these crucial years to find time to design an impressive array of covers for other magazines, particularly Directions. From 1938 on his work was a regular feature of the exhibitions of the Art Directors Club. Contemporary designers are aware of Paul Rand’s successful and compelling contributions to advertising design. What is not well known is the significant role he played in setting the pattern for future approaches to the advertising concept. Paul was probably the first of a long and distinguished line of art directors to work with and appreciate the unique talent of William Bernbach. Paul described his first meeting with Bernbach as “akin to Columbus discovering America,” and went on to say, “This was my first encounter with a copywriter who understood visual ideas and who didn’t come in with a yellow copy pad and a preconceived notion of what the layout should look like.”

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, a pioneer typographer, photographer, and designer of the modern movement and a master at the Bauhaus in Weimar, may have come closest to defining the Rand style when he said Paul was “an idealist and a realist using the language of the poet and the businessman. He thinks in terms of need and function. He is able to analyze his problems, but his fantasy is boundless.”

Further reading


Bradbury Thompson

Bradbury Thompson, Westvaco books, 1940's and 1950's.

When it came to the blending of photography, typography and color, nobody did it better than Brad Thompson (1911-1995). In his own quiet way, he expanded the boundaries of the printed page and influenced the design of a generation of art directors. Thompson is one of the few art directors who have received all three major design awards: National Society of Art Directors Art Director of the Year in 1950; AIGA Gold Medal in 1975; and the Art Directors Hall of Fame award in 1977.

By simply looking at one year of his career, the scope of his involvement in the field of graphic design can be understood: In 1945, Thompson designed the final issues of three wartime magazines including Victory and USA. Back in New York, before the year was out, he had become art director of Mademoiselle, where he worked for nearly fifteen years. He also accepted the role of design director for Art News and Art News Annual, a position he held for 27 years. As if that were not enough, he designed a brochure for the Ford Motor Company and began his experiments in typographic reform by creating his “monoalphabet,” which broke with the tradition of separate letterforms for capital and lower-case letters. He first introduced this typographic innovation in an issue of Westvaco Inspirations for Printers, one of four issues that he produced that year. And 1945 was not unusual.

Any analysis of Thompson’s style and any attempt to assess the value and extent of his influence leads irrevocably to one word: form. Whether by examining his precise cropping and careful placing of images on the printed page or studying his attention to typographic detail, his sense of order and structure cannot be missed. Recalling his early draftsman experience Thompson said, “It was a critical part of my training as a designer. It taught me discipline and, working with huge sheets of tracing cloth, I learned to cope with space in an orderly way.”

Further reading


Saul Bass

Movie posters by Saul Bass, 1950's and 60's.

Saul Bass (1920 - 1996) was a graphic designer, but is best known for his design on motion picture title sequences, which is thought of as the best such work ever seen. During his 40-year career he worked for some of Hollywood's greatest filmmakers, including most notably Alfred Hitchcock, plus Otto Preminger, Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese. His most famous title sequence is probably the animated paper cut-out of a heroin addict's arm for Preminger's The Man with the Golden Arm. Saul Bass designed the 6th AT&T Bell System logo, that at one point achieved a 93 percent recognition rate in the United States. He also designed the AT&T "globe" logo for AT&T after the break up of the Bell System.

Further reading

1960s 1970s

The 1960s and 1970s

Graphic design in the 1960s emerged amid the brutality of the Southeast Asia wars, civil rights and anti-war movements, and the rebellion of the youth against the cultural norms. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll dominated the scene, and the art and design of the era reflected these changes. From the geometric layouts and clean and prim forms of the 1950s, graphic design in the 1960s evolved to incorporate asymmetrical experiential, psychedelic styles and messy grunge abstracts. 

Within this confusion there were nevertheless some extraordinary graphic designers and illustrators who managed to combine the visual attributes of the cultural scene that surrounded them with solid, well thought out and well executed design. 

Herb Lubalin

Herb Lubalin, graphic design and typography from the1970's.

Herb Lubalin (1918 -1981) was a prominent American graphic designer who collaborated with Ralph Ginzburg on four of Ginzburg's magazines: Eros, Fact Magazine, Fact and Avant Garde and was responsible for the creative visual beauty of these publications. He designed a typeface, ITC Avant Garde, for the last of these; this distinctive font could be described as a post-modern interpretation of art deco, and its influence can be seen in logos created in the 1990s and 2000s. He also published and designed the famous typography periodical u&lc.

Lubalin spent the last ten years of his life working on a variety of projects, notably his typographic journal U&lc and the newly founded International Typographic Corporation. U&lc (shorthand for Upper and Lower Case) served as both an advertisement for Lubalin’s designs and a further plane of typographic experimentation; Steven Heller argues that U&lc was the first Emigre, or at least the template for its later successes, for this very combination of promotion and revolutionary change in type design. Heller further notes, “In U&lc, he tested just how far smashed and expressive lettering might be taken. Under Lubalin’s tutelage, eclectic typography was firmly entrenched.”[4] Lubalin enjoyed the freedom his magazine provided him; he was quoted as saying “Right now, I have what every designer wants and few have the good fortune to achieve. I’m my own client. Nobody tells me what to do.”

Milton Glaser

Milton Glaser, 1960's to 1980's.

Milton Glaser (1929 - ) is best known for his "Bob Dylan" poster, the I Love New York logo, and the "DC bullet" logo used by DC Comics from 1977 to 2005. Glaser was educated at New York City's High School of Music and Art , graduated from the Cooper Union in 1951 and later, via a Fulbright Scholarship, the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna under Giorgio Morandi. In 1954 Glaser was a founder, and president, of the Push Pin Studios formed with several of his Cooper Union classmates. Glaser's work is characterized by directness, simplicity and originality. He uses any medium or style suggested by the picture problem - from primitive to avant garde - in his design for book jackets, record album covers, advertisements and direct mail pieces, as well as for magazine illustrations.

He started his own studio, Milton Glaser, Inc., in 1974. This led to his involvement with an increasingly wide diversity of projects, ranging from the design of New York Magazine, of which he was a co-founder, to a 600 foot mural for the Federal Office Building in Indianapolis.

Throughout his career he has had a major impact on contemporary illustration and design. His work has won numerous awards from Art Directors Clubs, the American Institute of Graphic Arts, the Society of Illustrators and the Type Directors Club. In 1979 he was made Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and his work is included in the Museum of Modern Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Israel Museum and the Musee de l'affiche in Paris. Glaser has taught at both the School of Visual Arts and at Cooper Union in New York City.

Further reading and images

Erik Nitsche

Series of record sleeves created for the Decca label during the 1960s.

Erik Nitsche (1908 – 1998) was a pioneer in the design of books, annual reports, and other printed material that relied on meticulous attention to the details of page composition, the elegance of simple type presentation, and the juxtaposition of elements on a page. His hallmarks were impeccably clear design, brilliant colors, smart typography, and an adherence to particular geometric foundations.

Seymour Chwast

Seymour Chwast is an American graphic designer known for his diverse body of work, and lasting influence on visual culture. Born in 1931, in New York City, Chwast attended Abraham Lincoln High School, before studying illustration and design at the Cooper Union. He is a founding partner of the celebrated Push Pin Studios, whose revolutionary work altered the course of contemporary graphic communication in the 1960s, and continues to affect the field of design worldwide. In 1985, the studio’s name was changed to The Pushpin Group, of which Chwast is the director.

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The Polish Poster

By the end of the 1950's Socialist realism had been dumped in Polish art. The Graphic Arts Department at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts divided its areas of instruction into fine arts, visual communications, applied arts, and poster art. It helped, thereby, to establish what is known as the Polish Poster School.For the Polish poster artists in the early 1960's the realism that had once seemed adequate and the symbolism that had arisen out of the war no longer satisfactory. These artists used metaphoric imagery which demanded active participation from the reader. One of the "fathers" of this new generation was Henryk Tomaszewski (1914- ). The work of many of the younger artists of the Polish School (born in the 1920's and 1930's) varied in style from expressionistic to subdued. Maciej Urbaniec (1925), who had done public service posters during the communist regime, achieved great notoriety in 1970 with Cyrk (Mona Lisa). Gone were the happy clown motifs of many lesser artists, Urbaniec decided to stimulate the viewer with a juxtaposition of history and the circus. The bete noire of Polish poster artists Franciszek Starowieyski promoted an elitist quality in his work and carefully maintained the facade of the idiosyncratic artist. That is, wrapped up in his own little world, he created posters that suited his tastes and attitudes. He didn't mean for everyone to be able to understand his work nor freely read the text. Jan Lenica (1928- ), who began as a painter, had a free style early in his career. One of the most stylistically diverse of the Polish poster artists Lenica then revived Art Nouveau expressionism in the early 1960's with his poster for Alban Berg's Wozzeck.

Roman Cieslewicz (1930 - 1996). Posters between 1955 -1993.

The work of the "second generation" Polish poster artists who "built" the Polish Poster School all had one thing in common: a distinctly personal gesture in one form or another. This characteristic is unique to the posters of Poland. Today's Polish poster art still has this characteristic. Their posters are still predominately made with brushes, pastels, and paints. One sees very little photography in these posters. To them the only valid expression of one's ideas is by human hand to paper. In a way this is what makes Polish Poster Art unique even today. Each poster is a genuine expression of the artist's feeling toward the subject, not just a catchy slogan or image.

Jan Lenica (1928 - 2001). Posters between 1955 and 1990.

Franciszek Starowieyski (1930 - ). Posters from 1965 to 1990.

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