Inspire Your Design Career: 20 influential designers you need to know

in Tips / Career

Every great designer has been inspired by another. So if you’re keen on a creative career in graphic design, you need to know just who the leaders are.

Industry experts and guest lecturers from Shillington, which specialises in three and nine-month intensive courses for beginners, have revealed their own personal favourites and just who inspires them.

As practising professionals and acclaimed designers in their own right, our lecturing team from campuses across the world in London, Manchester, New York, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, ensure students graduate not only with a polished portfolio but tangible, employable skills ready to carve their own creative niche.

So whether you’re moved by the mavericks that challenge the norm, or designers with their own distinctive flair, here’s an expert’s view, a ‘who’s who’ that every novice designer should know.

1. Fred Woodward

Photograph via AIGA

Photograph via AIGA

Steph Ransom, head of Shillington's part-time course, says: “The stars aligned when Nirvana and Fred Woodward happened together as far as I’m concerned.”

Fred Woodward became art director of Rolling Stone magazine in 1987, and since 2001 has been design director of GQ magazine. While David Carson and Neville Brody were playing the designer rock stars, Fred Woodward was showing what could be done with beautiful typography, fantastic photography and good copy. He made Rolling Stone a benchmark for editorial design in that period – a legacy that remains with the publication to this day.

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2. Alan Fletcher

Photography by Martin Dunkerton

Photography by Martin Dunkerton

“Alan Fletcher is my design hero,” says Steve House, part-time lecturer at Shillington Sydney. “I can think of no one else who comes close to his ability to create simple, vivid, and witty visual communication.”

Alan Fletcher’s career was extraordinary – amongst his many achievements, he founded D&AD, set up Fletcher, Forbes and Gill, and was a founding partner of Pentagram. In his later years he developed his own creative practice and was an inspirational design educator. He wrote and published books, two of which should be on every designer’s bookshelf. One of his most famous quotes is: “Design is not a thing you do. It’s a way of life.”

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3. Julien Vallee

Still from If You Could Collaborate exhibition

Still from If You Could Collaborate exhibition

Julien Vallee is a designer and director based in Montreal, Canada. He has worked with an impressive array of commercial clients, from Lacoste to Google and MTV, who favour his fun and humorous style of design. Vallee has teamed up with visual artist Eve Duhamel to set up studio Vallee Duhamel, which creates images and videos that champion experimentation and playfulness.

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4. Bob Gill

Photograph via Skillshare

Photograph via Skillshare

Bob Gill is an American illustrator and graphic designer famous for his ‘cheeky’ style. After moving to London in 1960, he went to work for advertising agency Charles Hobson, alongside forming Fletcher, Forbes and Gill – a forerunner of Pentagram. Gill also co-wrote and co-designed Beatlemania, a multi-media and live history of the sixties that had a three-year run on Broadway.

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5. Paula Scher

Photograph via London Design Festival

Photograph via London Design Festival

American graphic designer, painter and design lecturer Paula Scher was the first female principal at Pentagram. Her non-conformist attitude translates to her work creating something new, unexpected and delightful. Scher is all about finding the 'play' in design work, no matter how dry or corporate.

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6. Luke Lucas

Photograph via Analogue Digital

Photograph via Analogue Digital

“My creative hero would be anyone that's taken the big risk and been successful,” says Kieryn Humphries, part-time lecturer at Shillington Brisbane. “If I had to pick one then it’s Luke Lucas. Because his name's rad, and so is his work.”

As well as being in the running for having the best name in graphic design, typographer Luke Lucas is great at what he does. Based in Sydney, Australia, Lucas’s skills span art direction, illustration, design and typography, working for a variety of clients since becoming freelance in 2011. Prior to this, Lucas co-founded Fourinarow magazine and Lifelounge. His adaptive style shows he certainly knows his way around a font or two.

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7. Nicholas Felton

Photograph via Find It More

Photograph via Find It More

“An awesome dude who’s super humble,” says Corrie Anderson, full-time lecturer at Shillington London, who met Felton in Melbourne and had a beer with him. “He’s amazing for taking the ‘personal project’ to the extreme.”

Nicholas Felton is a self-confessed design geek who “spends much of his time thinking about data, charts and our daily routines.” He was one of the lead designers of Facebook’s timeline and the co-founder of Daytum.com. More recently, Felton extends his interest in personal routines for his iPhone app Reporter—designed to “record and visualise subtle aspects of our lives”.

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8. Craig & Karl

Photograph via Business of Fashion

Photograph via Business of Fashion

Creative design duo Craig & Karl have experienced unprecedented popularity over the past two years, with international brands clambering for their design collaboration. Their unmistakable style of bold pattern and colour blocking has helped re-image celebrities from David Bowie to Barack Obama.

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9. Michael C. Place

Photography via Writing For Designers

Photography via Writing For Designers

Leyla Muratovic, part-time lecturer at Shillington Melbourne, says: “My hero … I’ve been following his work since I was 17 and I told him so at an after party last year!”

Michael C. Place left his design diploma before graduating in 1990, on the premise that the design world was changing so rapidly that his tutors couldn’t keep up. He went on to be an integral part of The Designers Republic¬—who arguably defined the aesthetic of the electronic movement—where he worked for nine years, before setting up his own studio Build in 2001. His work is famed for its sensibilities of Swiss design, combined with 90s rogue experimentation – the perfect combination of boldness and technicality.

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10. Mike Perry

Photograph via Ideas Tap

Photograph via Ideas Tap

Mike Perry is a designer and artist that bridges the worlds of art, illustration and design seamlessly. His colourful, inventive and imaginative work covers books, magazines, films and newspapers ¬– from limited edition, short run projects to large-scale advertising campaigns. His regular clients include the likes of Apple, The New York Times and Nike, and his work has been exhibited at galleries across the world.

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11. Gemma O'Brien

Photograph via Ideas on Design

Photograph via Ideas on Design

Designer Gemma O’Brien is an Australian artist and designer who specialises in illustration and typography. Her work encompasses all manner of forms and utilises many skills, from calligraphy to digital type and large-scale murals. O’Brien studied at the College of Fine Arts in Sydney, before going on to a role as art director at Animal Logic, Fuel VFX and Toby & Pete. In 2012, she decided to go it alone, now splitting her time between client commissions, exhibitions and lectures at educational facilities such as Shillington.

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12. Aaron Draplin

Photograph via A Continuous Lean

Photograph via A Continuous Lean

Ed Baptist, full-time lecturer at Shillington Manchester, says: “I just love his attitude and approach. Get out there and discover, work hard and always have a side hustle going on!”

Designer Aaron Draplin’s own inspiration came via LEGO, Star Wars, skateboarding and snowboarding – his first foray into the world of design being a snowboard graphic for Solid snowboards. An art director position at SNOWBOARDER magazine saw him awarded Art Director of the Year in 2000, and after a stint at the Cinco Design Office of Portland, The Draplin Design Co. was born.

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13. Dan Cassaro

Photography by Kevin Hagen

Photography by Kevin Hagen

“Beautiful typographic words with a vintage edge and I just love that he showcases a graveyard of rejected work on his website,” says Cindy Rodriguez, full-time lecturer at Shillington New York. “It shares the reality of working with clients!”

A born and bred New Yorker, Cassaro’s studio is based in Brooklyn. In 2011, he was named an ADC Young Gun, and his work has received much deserved praise from the likes of Rolling Stone, The New York Times and Esquire. Regular clients include MTV, Victoria’s Secret and VH1.

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14. Alex Naghavi

Photograph via Broad Sheet

Photograph via Broad Sheet

Alex Naghavi is creative director of digital design agency Josephmark. With a background in UX and interactive design, digital product design and strategy, Naghavi blurs the lines between design and business. Throughout her career, she has worked with international brands including Sony, MTV, Spotify, Twitter and Myspace – the last of which she led the re-design and performs guest lecturers for Shillington students.

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15. Tibor Kalman

Photography by Markku Nyytäjä

Photography by Markku Nyytäjä

The founder of revolutionary design firm M&Co, Kalman is cited as one of the pioneers of design. He believed that designers should take greater responsibility for the relationship their work had on wider culture, such as environmentalism and economics. In many ways, Kalman re-invented the notion of the industry, selling “design by the pound”. Throughout the 1980s, he worked for clients including Talking Heads and the Whitney Museum of American Art. In the early 1990s, Kalman was creative director of the iconic publication, Interview magazine.

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16. Massimo Vignelli

Photography via Gary Hustwit

Photography via Gary Hustwit

Massimo Vignelli was an Italian designer that specialised in homeware, furniture, showroom and packaging design. He co-founded Vignelli Associates, where he lived by the mantra, “If you can design one thing, you can design everything.” His work exists in the Modernist camp and celebrates simplicity married with geometric form. In the 1980s Vignelli was New York’s go-to designer, and it’s not difficult to see why: "there are no hierarchies when it comes to quality. Quality is there or is not there..."

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17. HORT

Photography by Ailine Liefeld

Photography by Ailine Liefeld

HORT began back in 1994, under the previous stage name EIKES GRAFISCHER HORT. Eike is the creator of HORT – a direct translation of the studio's mission: a creative playground, a place where 'work and play' can be said in the same sentence, an unconventional working environment. Once a household name in the music industry, HORT is now a multi-disciplinary creative hub, producing work from record sleeves to illustration for international brands including Microsoft and Mercedes.

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18. Stephen Powers

Photography by Gen Tokyo

Photography by Gen Tokyo

“A person I look up to creatively,” says Kenny Phillips, full-time lecturer at Shillington New York. “He not only stays busy with his work, but he’s busy doing the things he finds important. I love his motto: Perfection comes standard, mistakes cost extra.”

Steve Powers, aka ESPO (Exterior Surface Painting Outreach), aka ICY Signs is a New York-based sign-painter and poet. Powers became a design industry icon during the late 1990s for his conceptual work and role as editor and publisher of On the Go magazine. Often blurring the lines of legal and illegal, Powers carried out his street art in broad daylight under the official-sounding ESPO guise. He described his graffiti as a “public service”. Check out A Love Letter To The City.

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19. Christopher Doyle

Photography via Idealog

Photography via Idealog

Christopher Doyle is creative director of Christopher Doyle & Co—an independent, creative design company based in Sydney, Australia specialising in brand identity, art direction and design. Named one of Indesign Magazine’s Top Ten Faces and Forces of design in 2009, and selected to exhibit as part of Graphic Design: Now in Production with the National Design Museum of America, Doyle has clocked up an impressive resume over the last 12 years. His experience has led him to lecture at numerous design colleges and educational facilities, including Shillington.

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20. Stefan Sagmeister

Photography by John Madere

Photography by John Madere

Stefan Sagmeister is a New York-based graphic designer and typographer. Throughout his career, he’s worked with an array of international clients, famously designing album covers for Lou Reed, OK Go, The Rolling Stones and Aerosmith. He’s also been a long-standing artistic collaborator with the late Lou Reed, and David Byrne, and has a close partnership with The Guggenheim Museum. Most recently, he partnered with fellow designer Jessica Walsh to form Sagmeister & Walsh.

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Feeling inspired? We want to know who enthuses you! Share your favourites in the comments below or tag us on Twitter.

To find out more about how to kickstart your career in design with graphic and web design courses in UK, USA and Australia, visit www.shillingtoneducation.com.

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