The Power of Paper: Graphic Design in Print
Starting with print, the scope of graphic design has undergone its own evolution. Here are three of our favorite vanguards who made an indelible mark with their point-of-view, style, tone and fearlessness.
Archie Boston (1943 – present): While there is no universal formula for effective graphic design, Archie Boston makes a strong case for a straightforward approach: Get. Their. Attention. Throughout his longstanding career in both advertising and higher creative education–industries traditionally dominated by white professionals–Boston made his blackness central to his work, which featured strategically shocking displays of self-promotion for the 1960s (and even today). He challenged consumers and potential clients with frank, funny, and entirely uncompromising takes on race and identity. His memoir, Fly in the Buttermilk, addressed the reality of being an African-American man in, and out, of the advertising and graphic design field. He presented the narrative head on like a lightning rod deftly wielded with confidence and care. His work helped establish a space for important conversations about being a minority in design and professional America.
Fast forward 50 years, Boston continues to apply his keen cultural acumen to today’s (depressingly regressive) social issues. His provocative messaging extends acrossthe Internet and goes beyond the realm of advertising. Earlier this year in honor of Black History Month, he presented “If Black Lives Matter… 10 Good Ways To Prove It” in response to the current climate of police brutality, with permission that posters could be downloaded and distributed, free of charge.
S. Neil Fujita (1921 – 2010): As head of the art department at Columbia Records in the 1950s, he led the label’s golden era of jazz recordings. Simply put, he elevated the artform of print design for album covers with striking aesthetics, and launched a new style for sleeves. In a 2007 interview with Stephen Heller, Fujita explains: “When I got to Columbia there was the beginning of some idea of album cover art but it was still just type and maybe a photo of the artist and some shapes arranged in an interesting way. That was the first concept of album cover art. Actually the first examples of album art that I can remember were on children’s records, because they might have included a painting or something else to illustrate the idea. But I think that I was the first to use painters, photographers and illustrators to do artwork on album covers.” Like the freeform style of music they enclosed, these works managed to feel stylized, interpretative, engaging, and technically executed.
Corita Kent (1918 – 1986): Corita Kent’s unconventional origin story as a graphic design icon began, in many ways, at the age of 18, when she became a Sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Hollywood. As a southern California nun in 1947, she taught art classes at the order’s Immaculate Heart College, while also developing her own creative practice. Her hands-on screenprinting process produced pop culture-inspired serigraphs with her signature big bright colors. Like Boston, she didn’t shy away from big bold messages. Her work addressed civil rights issues, war, religion, poverty, and more, from a place of hope and change, and proved that you didn’t have to fit the mold of what was commonly thought of as a graphic designer. Furthermore, she proved you didn’t have to be white and male in 1970s America to make a difference. Her posters became—and remain—powerful statements for social justice. In 1985, she left her philatelic mark on the world with a postage stamp, its brushstrokes touting one of her most ubiquitous tenets: Love.
Good design—the kind that grabs your attention with an iron fist or a velvet glove and makes you think, and makes you feel—isn’t going away. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be (re)introducing a selection of graphic designers who established themselves by making rules, and by breaking them; incited passion through their often unconventional work; and whose wholly unique interpretations of graphic design have changed the way we learn and practice, as well as the way we see and relate to the world. We’ll look at the way tools have matured. And we’ll look at what’s next.