Unpacking graphic design with Milton Glaser, Paula Scher, Seymour Chwast & more

These industry elites drop some priceless gems after illustrious careers in graphic design.

These six graphic designers have over a hundred years of experience between them. Having each graced the Design Indaba stage at some point in their highly successful careers, we’ve decided to look back at their hot takes on the industry, trends and inspirational advice.

“A designer’s role is whatever a human being’s role in society is,” says graphic design expert, Steven Heller. Known for his views on the graphic design industry, Heller has produced more than 150 books on the inner workings of illustration and typography.

Holding titles such as author, editor, curator, art director and journalist, Heller has worked in the industry for over 30 years. When he spoke at the 2013 Design Indaba Conference, he explained his obsession with objects and products he's collected over the years, which have acted as sources of inspiration within his work.

Currently, Heller is the co-founder and co-chair of MFA Designer as Author program at the School of Visual Arts, New York, where he lectures on the history of graphic design. He has also worked at the New York Times as the art director.

It would be remiss not to mention Milton Glaser here. Known as an industry heavy-hitter, he has, like Heller, given decades of life to the industry. He is seen as one of the most celebrated graphic designers in the United States through his work with the iconic I ❤ NY logo and his work on the Barack Obama “Hope” posters.

In 2009 he received an award from the president at the time for the National Medal of the Arts award, the first graphic designer to have achieved this.

According to Glaser, it's important for graphic designers to understand their place in the industry. He adds, “The role of the graphic artist today is the role of a good citizen, which is that you participate in the life of your times and try to improve the existing condition.”

For Filipino-American Lucille Tenazas, there are two ways to describe her journey: a designer and an educator.

Another 30-year graphic design veteran, she is the founder and principal of Tenazas Design, a multidisciplinary communications design firm based in San Francisco. A big portion of Tenazas’ work explores the form of language through typography.

Tenazas creates a dialogue between the artist's work and the onlooker.

“People in my generation and even the generation after me have been looking at graphic design almost squarely in print but now the lines are blurring. So, for me the artist would boost the question and walk away and just say you know what, you are free to figure out what those answers are,” explains Tenazas.

Paula Scher is the only person in the above video who has spoken at the Design Indaba Conference twice. Having made her debut in 2001, Scher did a fascinating follow-up in 2013, where she touched on the importance of human interactions and experience in the industry.

Scher, who is a partner at the world's largest independent design consultancy, Pentagram, is also the first female to be named company principal. Some of her most recognised designs include Microsoft’s Windows 8 logo and the classic Tiffany & Co logo.

New York native Seymour Chwast spoke at the 2013 Design Indaba Conference, where he indulged the audience in career highlights, influences and the themes within his work.

“Communicating is most important but then we all want to assert our own sensibilities in the work that we do, working in style or ideas or concepts or things that really interest us,” says Chwast.

A graphic designer and illustrator, Chwast is the founding partner and director of the distinguished design studio, The Pushpin Group. He has created designs and illustrations for animated films, publications and record covers.

Some of Chwasts’ most famous designs include his work with popular game ROBLOX, where he was called on to create the face of characters.

Lastly, we look at celebrated and loved graphic designer Margaret Calvert, whose designs are still used today throughout the United Kingdom. Calvert is known for designing the transport font used on road signs and the Rail Alphabet font used on the British railway system.

Born in South Africa but based in the United Kingdom, Calvert came back to her roots when she presented at the 2016 Design Indaba Conference, where she broke down over 60 years worth of experience. Calvert also believes in reworking things you don’t like.

“I try not to give advice, try not to be too precious about your work… it's only once you capture something fresh then you know if it works or if it doesn't,” explains Calvert.  

Watch more: 

Five past Design Indaba speakers on how they perceive product design

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