March 8th is the ninety-ninth annual International Women’s Day. In celebration and respect, we’re showcasing 6 of graphic design’s leading ladies. These designers come from different eras and and have divergent styles, yet they all have one thing in common — their work has been highly influential on visual culture.
‘Work’ is the key word here. Unfortunately too often women designers and artists are judged on anything but what they produce. So, it seemed important to highlight women designers who were just simply damn good at what they do — graphic design.
If you grew up in the 90s you may be familiar with Margo Chase’s iconic design work without even realizing it. Margo Chase designed the logo for the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and is an originator of the popular Gothic visual style, particularly in typography . Her ornate and enigmatic letterforms and graphic work for clients like Madonna, Prince and Crowded House were very influential in the late 80s and 90s in pushing the Goth style mainstream.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer logo via Fonts in Use
Bram Stoker’s Dracula logo
Madonna Like a Prayer logo
Crowded House album cover via Fonts in Use
Margo Chase was also a consummate professional and founder of the award-winning Chase Design Group with offices in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and the UK. While at the Chase Design Group, she worked with notable brands like PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Nestlé and Campbell Soup Co.
Sadly, just last year, Margo Chase died in a plane crash. She was an accomplished aerobatic pilot and was practicing a sequence when the accident occurred. In life as in design, Margo Chase was a courageous risk taker who enjoyed charting new territory.
Any Wes Anderson fan knows a major reason one adores his movies are their over-the-top aesthetics. Well, the designer behind some of the most gorgeous visual elements in his films is Annie Atkins.
Annie Atkins specializes in designing graphic props and set pieces for TV shows and feature films. She was tapped for the role of lead designer with a cold call from Anderson’s producer. They wanted her to work on one of Anderson’s films, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and the rest is history. The Grand Budapest Hotel went on to earn nine Oscar nominations and eleven BAFTA nods.
Atkins combines talent with a meticulous eye and a seriously respectable work ethic. As a designer, it’s clear she has a kind of reverence for the world of the past. Her respect translates visually as she explores the idiosyncrasies and detail of historical objects. In this way, she elevates vintage-style design to new heights.
As Atkins says in an Adobe web profile, “If it was made by hand at the time then I make it by hand now and if it was made by machine at the time then I can make it by machine now.”
photo by Annie Atkins via Laughing Squid
Muriel Cooper is a pioneering book designer, digital designer, researcher and educator who cultivated the modern and Bauhaus style in publishing. As long-time design director for the MIT Press, she produced over 500 books in this style.
A Primer of Visual Literacy designed by Muriel Cooper via Design is Fine
Her logo for the MIT Press is simply one of best examples of reductive minimalist design. The mark is made of seven vertical bars that translate subtly and typographically as the letters ‘MITP’ (MIT Press).
MIT Press logo
In her late 40s she changed course and explored the burgeoning field of interactive media design. With designer Ron MacNeil, she founded the Visible Language Workshop which focused primarily on the relationship between language, technology and design — through this work, she had great influence on the contemporary media landscape.
Messages and Means by Muriel Cooper
Cooper brought curiosity, intelligence and dynamism to her projects. Later, she co-founded the MIT Media Lab where groundbreaking work exploring new forms, methods and techniques for graphic design within the digital realm are still explored today.
Barbara Kruger via Wide Walls
Before Andre the Giant has a Posse plastered the facades of New York City there was another artist making waves with bold high-contrast meme-ready graphic work.
Barbara Kruger blended a punk design aesthetic, 50s magazine imagery, blunt slogans and feminism to craft the perfectly evocative visual message.
“I shop, therefore I am.” “Your body is a battleground”…are phrases that will never be the same, now that Kruger has had her way with them.
I Shop, Therefore I Am by Barbara Kruger
Barbara Kruger came from a place of expertise when creating her conceptual messaging projects. She got her start in the trenches of the New York City magazine scene, working for publisher Condé Nast and Mademoiselle.
Kruger knew how to use graphic design to communicate an idea, she spoke the language of magazine and advertising culture. She used most publishing and exhibit methods to spread her message too. Her work can be found on billboards, bus cards, posters, train station platforms, public parks and many other public spaces.
Maybe she enjoyed making beautiful layouts at her day job, but the artist side of her wanted to say something more…something meaningful and even aggressive.
Most of Kruger’s work circles around topics of consumerism, female identity and desire. She presents her slogans in a modern sans serif with a powerful red background — in this graphic style the words appear 100% fact. The ripped up retro magazine imagery is chaotic and at the same time eye-grabbing. Kruger’s work is in-your-face and you just can’t look away.
Kruger’s work was so striking and its dissemination so complete that it became a powerful visual style that people liked and knew of without necessarily knowing who the original creator was.
Black and white cut up photography, sans serif Futura-style type and red is a thing now copied over and over. In recent years, Kruger had the most cringe-worthy yet enthralling interaction with skateboard company Supreme over their logo which is clearly ripped direct from the Kruger aesthetic.
It started when Supreme got in a graphic battle with an all girl clothing company who were biting their Kruger-inspired logo with a t-shirt that read “Supreme Bitch.” Supreme went after them with a $10 million lawsuit. The news of the lawsuit inspired a journalist from Complex to ask Kruger for a comment. Her response was perfect.
The 65+ year old Kruger replied with a blank email with a file attached called “fools.doc.” Kruger, always good with words, went on to write “What a ridiculous clusterfuck of totally uncool jokers. I make my work about this kind of sadly foolish farce. I’m waiting for all of them to sue me for copyright infringement.”
Thankfully, no one sued Kruger and instead she went on to create a series of new projects inspired by the Supreme interaction like this installation at a Manhattan skatepark, a skateboard that says “Don’t Be a Jerk.”, and this cool hoodie.
Post World War II, the mid-century era was a time of growth and renewal. Modernism was taking hold and design was at the forefront of a whole host of industries. In the world of textile and pattern design. It’s hard to think of a designer more influential on the style of the times than Lucienne Day.
Lucienne Day was a prolific British designer who created original and expressive patterns with loose geometrics, roughened textures, line, brush and color. She was inspired by the English tradition of patterns made from plant forms and also influenced by modernist fine artists of the time like Paul Klee and Alexander Calder. She aimed to imbue her work with a fresh artistic sensibility and bring an element of excitement and unexpectedness to the world of pattern design.
Day also was an avid advocate for affordable design and worked via mass market channels versus being exclusionary with her designs. As Day said, “”I wanted the work I was doing to be seen by people and used by people,” she said. “They had been starved of interesting things for their homes in the war years.”
The Lucienne Day aesthetic was so widely appealing that it became the template for much of 50s and early 60s pattern design. In fact it seems as if pattern designers today who are interested in designing with a ‘retro’ or ‘classic’ aesthetic are plainly trying to design like Lucienne Day.
Calyx by Lucienne Day via Collectif Textile
by Lucienne Day via Collectif Textile
Lucienne Day and her husband Robin Day
Lucienne Day is also known for her lifelong partnership with husband and furniture designer Robin Day. As a creative couple, they shared a studio yet worked on their own independent projects. Together they were an unstoppable force that shaped the post-war home design world. Lucienne Day, for her prints and Robin Day for his innovative and economical furniture designs like the polypropylene stacking chair.
For seven decades, Robin and Lucienne Day contributed much to the world of design. In 2010, in their 90s, both passed away. More recently, their daughter created the Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation and website, a wonderful resource to learn more about their work.
from Louise Fili website
Louise Fili is the master craftswoman of elegant and timeless design. Over her 40+ year career she has created an extraordinary catalog of over 2000 book covers and countless brand design projects. Fili has also received multiple medals from the Art Directors Club Hall, AIGA, Society of Illustrators and Type Directors Club.
Louise Fili book cover designs
Quality and authenticity are key ingredients of Louise Fili’s work and the reason her designs achieve such sustained success.
Ambessa via via Louise Fili website
The Mulino via Louise Fili website
Fili follows a tried and true process for developing new work. She starts as she always has with a sketch on paper and conjurs what she self-describes as a “typographic portrait.”
Fili values impeccable handmade type treatments and elements as a way to elevate a design and make it distinct. While art director at Pantheon Books, standard fonts were eschewed.
Louise Fili always loved design and gained much inspiration from trips to Italy as a young woman. The street signage and packaging of classic shops in Italy and Europe were her favorites. In recent years, Fili has created beautiful books inspired by European signage like Graphique de la Rue: Signs of Paris and Grafica della Strada.
Fili got her start with a bit of luck. As a recent design grad, she went to famed typographer Herb Lubalin’s office and was hired on the spot. Someone had recently quit and they needed a designer to start immediately.
In the late 80s, Fili stepped out on her own and started her own company specializing in food packaging and restaurants. At the time, she wondered what to call her company and decided naming it after herself made the most sense. As she said, “I realized that it would be a liability to name the studio after myself, but I wanted to send a clear message: If you have a problem with my being female, then I have a problem with you as a client.” (via Ceros)
In the following years, Louise Fili’s studio was a major success and her design influence is visible across Manhattan and the boroughs. Restaurants like Claudette and Sarabeth are her clients as well as many food and beverage companies, hotels, retail stores and magazines.