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Comments (48) Posted 01.09.05 | PERMALINK | PRINT

Rick Poynor

The I.D. Forty: What Are Lists For?


I.D. magazine's January/February issue sees the return of a feature introduced by former editor Chee Pearlman: the annual I.D. Forty. These individuals are, in the magazine's assessment, the most influential figures currently at work in global design. I.D. goes a step further this time round by ranking the list from 1 to 40.

The list is, of course, a standard journalistic device. It makes good copy. It fills the pages that issue. It's a talking point and something for readers to think about (a bit). And it's marvellously flattering for those who are included. Anyone who is featured is likely to feel seriously endeared to the publication doling out the acclaim. In that sense, the idea of the list is fundamentally uncritical. It can never be a robust or rigorous way to assess the actual achievements of any of those who are featured. Those short, enthusiastic bursts of copy will sound like puffs. I know. I have written them myself in the past - for I.D., too.

So, before going any further, and for the sake of completeness, here is the I.D. Forty:


1. MoMA Design Department (curators)
2. Steve Jobs (CEO, Apple and Pixar)
3. Rem Koolhaas (architect)
4. Adobe (software company)
5. Philippe Starck (designer)
6. Richard M. Daley (mayor, Chicago)
7. Rolf Fehlbaum (chairman, Vitra)
8. Prius Design Team (car designers)
9. Stefan Sagmeister (graphic designer)
10. Rob Forbes (entrepreneur)
11. Norman Foster (architect)
12. Frank Gehry (architect)
13. Droog Design (design collective)
14. William McDonough (architect)
15. Tim Brown (CEO, IDEO)
16. Li Edelkoort (trend forecaster)
17. James Dyson (inventor)
18. Murray Moss (retailer)
19. Richard Diamandis (benefactor)
20. Nicolai Ouroussoff (architecture critic, New York Times)
21. Dean Kamen (inventor)
22. Karim Rashid (designer)
23. Naoto Fukasawa (designer)
24. Ed Welburn (car designer)
25. Patrizia Moroso (art director)
26. Tord Boontje (designer)
27. Teruo Kurosaki (entrepreneur)
28. Toshiyuki Kita (designer)
29. Pierre Keller (design educator)
30. Frédéric Beuvry (brand strategist)
31. Alice Rawsthorn (director, Design Museum)
32. Nadja Swarovski (executive, Swarovski)
33. John Maeda (educator and designer)
34. Bruce Nussbaum (journalist, BusinessWeek)
35. M/M (graphic designers)
36. Peter Cook (architect)
37. Natalie Jeremijenko (artist and engineer)
38. Cornel Windlin (graphic designer)
39. Bruce Mau (graphic designer)
40. Chris Anderson (impresario)

There you have it. No surprise, perhaps, to find names such as Steve Jobs, Norman Foster, Rem Koolhaas, Frank Gehry, Philippe Starck, or for that matter, Bruce Mau. But the ranking has some unexpected turns. Stefan Sagmeister is apparently the ninth most influential design person in the world today. Wow. Who would have thought? Meanwhile, Mau, who has achieved greater public impact, not least with his hugely ambitious Massive Change project, just about scrapes in at number 39. Are the editors gently trying to tell him something? Mau is even passed, at no. 38, by Swiss designer Cornel Windlin. I was delighted to see Windlin in the list. I have long believed him to be one of the most gifted graphic designers working anywhere, but he keeps a relatively low profile, working in Zurich, and, if he has suddenly leapt to a position of commanding global (or is it just American?) influence, then I must have missed it.

When you encounter value judgements like these, delivered with such confident precision, you immediately want to know the one thing you are never told in any detail: how they were made. I.D. apparently asked 800 "experts" to name design people "who have made a lasting impact or who promise to shape the future". Then the editors argued among themselves, reducing the nominations to a manageable number. Having arrived at the final 40, they assigned each to one of four tiers, and debated the ranking within each tier. As to the yardsticks used, or how you go about assessing a car designer against a graphic designer, or an entrepreneur against a critic, there are few indications. Partly it was numerical: how often did a name come up? It was also important that a candidate had recently made a mark on the field. These are standard journalistic criteria, which govern what gets included in all kinds of magazine, but they don't take us very far.

I don't intend to propose a list of people that I believe to be more significant than some of those included. But, as an example of how inadequate lists are as a tool of assessment or insight, one non-inclusion in the I.D Forty struck me forcefully: Steven Heller. Heller is probably the most prolific design writer at work in the world today. He has demonstrated a phenomenal level of dedication to the history and documentation of the subject over the last quarter-century and, in that time, he has exerted an immeasurable influence on designers who buy his numerous monographs and surveys, and the critical anthologies he writes and edits. Heller has given a platform to many other voices. His editorship of the AIGA Journal showed an exceptional commitment to promoting the discussion of visual communication, and he continues this task indefatigably at the AIGA's Voice website. Somehow he finds time to lead a design program at the School of Visual Arts. He is ubiquitous, but modest. Unlike plenty in I.D.'s list, he is not a self-promoter.

If we must make these comparisons and rank people - and I.D. believes we must - then Heller's achievements arguably go far beyond anything accomplished in the graphic design field to date by Sagmeister, Maeda or Mau. How we would go about measuring this achievement against that of an inventor or trend forecaster is anybody's guess. The truth is you can't and there is no real point in attempting to do so. However, if Heller's name came up less often than that of eccentric Dutch furniture designer Tord Boontje (I have written about him for I.D.), then the editors consulted an odd bunch of experts.

So what, in the magazine's view, is the underlying purpose of its list? Editor Julie Lasky writes that, "Its most important value is that it offers perspective, to us editors as well as to you". But what exactly is this perspective? The only way to reveal it would be to move beyond journalistic reporting into critical analysis, which a list can't do, and examine the criteria. Lasky goes on to acknowledge that editing is itself a matter of selection. The list offers a concentrated version of the editorial process that underlies each issue, wherein the editors decide for their readers what is important. But such assessments must be based on something and few publications are prepared to expose their inner workings and risk their authority by making these cultural, professional and editorial assumptions explicit. The reader is simply expected to take them on trust. It's a nicely written, beautifully designed issue, but what I.D. is actually doing by publishing the list is underscoring its own position of influence as selector and taste-maker. You can see why they put MoMA's supremely powerful trio of design curators at no. 1.
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I find the idea of ranking designers in a hierarchical format quite counter-productive. This time of year, media outlets are saturated with end-of-year lists, many of which can be insightful and valuable. As an undergrad student, this list is great for being able to learn about designers with whom I am not familiar, and get more insight about ones I knew about already. Unfortunately, the list being ordered makes it seem like the design world is more like a game of king of the mountain than it is about a community of people with (relatively) shared values. I wonder which is closest to the truth.

If the editors of I.D. are certain that an ordered list is necessary, than they should be able to say with a straight face: "Steve Jobs is better than Sagmeister is better than Gehry is better than Maeda." Otherwise, they should include a group of 40 designers (plus some runners-up) and let us decide value based on our own beliefs and experiences.
Ryan Nee
01.09.05 at 07:18

Rick

Beautiful and heartfelt assessment of Steve Heller's contribution to Design Discourse. I've followed and learned from Steve for over twenty years. In the beginning there were only two, the late Phillip Meggs and Steve Heller. Steve's contribution is unmatched and unchallenged by any authority to date. Statement of Fact, Steve Heller has written at one point or another for all the major Design Publications.
Because Mr. Heller has received his Lifetime Achievment award from the AIGA and Art Directors Club New York. I'm not as upset. He is our Champion, certainly has been acknowledged. No higher accomplishment can be bestowed upon any individual. Except being a member of the Alliance Graphique Internationale.

List in and of themselves are biased. I've followed ID Forty for many years. Most often list are created with some machination and modi operandi, how unfortunate. ID Forty, should take a page from AIGA and provide a Design Leadership listing. Which would adequately serve Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and other none Designers.
When a hierarchy list is created, Patrons of Design are separated from actual Designer(s).

Curiously Absent from the list is Kyle Cooper. Not a Designer in the traditional sence. He did study with PAUL RAND.
However, chose to Design in the vain of SAUL BASS.
All while working for Richard Greenberg. That's what I call genius. Head and shoulders above everybody else in his genre, except Pablo Ferro.

IMHO, Mau way to far down the list. Should be smiling less and grinding like Philippe Starck.

John Maeda, definitely got shafted. Should've been in the Top Ten. None on the list is making a more notable contribution for the Betterment of Mankind.
DesignMaven
01.09.05 at 08:37

Rick makes many excellent points. One of my personal most influential moments was listening to Milton Glaser speak summing up probably the best conference AIGA ever produced: San Antonio. In his talk, he said beware of "isms". I have taken that speech with me for years, questioning any institution, and subjecting same institution to principles of critical thinking and reached my own conclusions. I probably would never win a popularity contest. It's far too easy to be a sponge and believe everything one reads. I think it is easy for any individual in our society to forget the business structure that motivates broadcast media and print publications: advertisers and circulation numbers.

That said, as a profession, we as designers need to believe less and think more. We can not allow anyone else, publication, design god nor institution to tell us what to think. Discussion of the process of thinking is ok. Unfortunately, every year, worthy individuals are left out of year-end summaries—because of popularity or other superficial criteria. While these lists can be insightful, more often, they are idiotic. In the case of Steve Heller, (and it is unconscionable that he was left out) we would all be richer if more designers followed his example and applied the same critical and intellectual rigor to their practice, their thinking and begin writing.

We are a profession that is taken seriously by only a very small percentage of businesses in the United States. Demonstrating our critical thinking is one step that will change that perception.

Peer review, analysis and criticism are integral parts of intellectual and academic rigor. Accessibility of the written word puts a concept in the American mainstream—who would have ever thought that a reality show about business would ever be successful? Wouldn't it be great if there were more ordinary conversations (about more than ipods or imacs) on the street about design?
lynda decker
01.09.05 at 11:47

i was quite impressed to see cornel windlin and natalie jeremijenko on the list. its the same thrill as seeing new order or morrissey break the american top forty as a kid. i guess i'd have to add m/m to that as well, although their presence is a little more expected. perhaps they are the eurhythmics of the i.d. top forty?

sure, it's a popularity contest. pop music has rolling stone and creem, i guess design has I.D. setting yourself against the I.D. top forty is akin to declaring yourself the alternative to the billBORED top forty. lester bangs said in 'almost famous' that the nerds will never be cool, never be popular. a lot of truly inspiring work, whether it is design or music, rarely wins the popularity contests.

here's my 'college radio' design top ten:

lust
karel martens
2x4
m/m
base design
manuel raeder
gelman
minch.org
mevis + van deursen
dot dot dot magazine

well those are just a few favorites. the list always changes. everybody's got his or her own. a master top forty is pretty unbelievable in these times.

but i still really am surprised by seeing cornel windlin on the list. i dont ever recall seeing a lineto typeface used in america, but maybe ive missed it.




a serious design fan
01.10.05 at 02:22

Top 40 Design is like Top 40 Radio - dull and mainstream. What our field needs badly is someone like the late John Peel. Without having a hit single Peel did more to shape the British music industry than anybody, and he did it by ignoring what was popular - but instead looking for acts that sounded good or interesting. So I would like to ask the Design Observer to create a new list:

40 Designers You Don't Know About, but Should...




Michael Pinto
01.10.05 at 04:39

michael,

i think rick poynor points out a lester bangs (-ish) figure for graphic design with steven heller (i hope mr. heller doesn't mind the comparison). infiltrate, gelman's new book, feature's quite a few unknowns who do excellent work.
a very serious design fan
01.10.05 at 06:03

One of the challenges faced by a magazine like I.D. is assessing the knowledge and appetites of its readers. What surprised me about this year's list is how similar it was to one you might find in a mainstream magazine. Names like Starck, Gehry, Rashid, Dyson and Koolhaus appear almost every time a list like this is assembled. Editors of a "special design issue" of, say, Newsweek fall back on these Usual Suspects in hopes that a culturally aware reader may have heard of at least some of these characters and may want to know more.

When the I.D. 40 was first established, it was simply an excuse to round-up that many short profiles, mixing the well-known and the relatively obscure, young and old, different disciplines. With the formula getting stale (or the inventory running thin), the game started to change; several years ago, the list was all clients, no designers.

Last year was an inventive twist: 50 instead of 40, one from every state in the Union. This conceit forced some fun (and off the wall) choices (it takes some work to designate out the Most Important Designer in South Dakota.) This year represents a reversion to form, with the highly debatable "influence" as the new twist. This would only work if you got some behind-the-scenes glimpses as to how that influence was gained and how it's exercised. Instead, the text is largely a reiteration of what any well-read designer already knows. Perhaps it will be more fun next year, when we can see (a la Vanity Fair's annual "New Establishment" list) who's gone up and who's gone down. Although I will bet anyone it will be on to a new conceit, like the popular Forty Under Forty, next year.

Rick asks why Steve Heller didn't make the list, saying "He is ubiquitous, but modest. Unlike plenty in I.D.'s list, he is not a self-promoter." Asked and answered!
Michael Bierut
01.10.05 at 07:40

I think that Cornel Windlin should be the number one!
Gino Marrone
01.10.05 at 08:04

Just a quick correction to the very serious design fan..
There are in fact 2 lineto typefaces used in the very pages of the I.D. 40 - 'Le Corbusier' by Nico Schweizer and 'Akkurat' by Laurenz Brunner. Another lineto font was used in I.D. last year - 'Gravur-Condensed' by Cornel Windlin.
Kobi Benezri
01.10.05 at 01:04

In presenting The I.D. Forty, we took pains to clarify why each candidate was selected. Thus, you'll find sentences like: 'If power is measured in production—architecture's bottom line—there is no more influential figure than Lord Norman Foster." Or, "When was the last time you saw a product designer on TV? Most likely, you haven't, unless it was James Dyson..." Or "There is scarcely a corner of Chicago's public realm that Mayor Richard M. Daley hasn't tried to 'green.'"

By "influential" we meant people who foster the production, innovation, and recognition of design, which made it hard to avoid some usual suspects. As Rick noted, we lay particular emphasis on recent achievement; if we had compiled this list a year ago, it's possible that neither Gehry, whose Case Western Reserve building was busily dumping snow on passersby, or Koolhaas, who seemed to be losing projects faster than he could win them, would have been on it.

Imitation played a big part in our choices. I challenge anyone to find a graphic design undergraduate anywhere in the world who has not ripped off Stefan Sagmeister (or at least thought about it). Visit any furniture show in Western Europe these days, and you're bound to find a flowery, laser-cut cheering section of products à la Tord Boontje's work. The press pumps up many, but few receive such widespread public reverence.

Still, Rick is right. Apart from mentioning that the people cited most frequently by our enormous panel of advisers were likely to make their way to the top, we didn't bare the thinking behind the rankings. We couldn't afford the telephone-book-size supplement with Talmudic editorial commentary. Suffice it to say that we considered not just how many times candidates were "nominated" but also who nominated them and from where. A true sign of influence is that name recognition rolls over geographic and disciplinary boundaries. Then there are the Zen questions: If a brilliant designer produces something in the middle of a forest and no one makes or sells it....? On the whole, manufacturers and retailers who nurture the careers of talented designers got more play than their proteges.

Did the I.D. Forty exclude deserving people? Of course it did. We're lucky to live in a world where hundreds qualify, including the principals of this blog. Steven Heller is as deserving as anyone, only his case of exclusion is special. As an I.D. contributing editor, he's a beloved member of our family.
Julie Lasky
01.10.05 at 05:11

I challenge anyone to find a graphic design undergraduate anywhere in the world who has not ripped off Stefan Sagmeister (or at least thought about it).

Accepted! I don't have to walk ten feet from my present position to score tens of students who've either never heard of Sagmeister nor would think to/care to emulate him (can I get a bounty per head?). (And this is no commentary on Stefan's work, either. I'd be delighted if they were aware of and appreciated his work.) But it's wild generalizations like this that point up the irrelevancy of such commercially-driven lists.
Kenneth FitzGerald
01.10.05 at 05:46

Kenneth

Amen, Hallelujah, after two years of colorful repartee between us. Finally we agree on something.

Are you trying to endear yourself to me ???

Don't answer.
DesignMaven
01.10.05 at 07:18

Julie: So might you be willing to do the top 40 unknown ala John Peel?

My first nomination goes to Freeman Dyson inventor of the Dyson Sphere, which is an amazing design concept which will be remembered years after the vacuum cleaner salesman fades into history.

By bringing to light the unknown you might give your readers a glimpse of the next big thing.
Michael Pinto
01.11.05 at 12:20

I'll second Kenneth...plus I am that student (extra money?) I don't think any of my classmates rip off (or for the most part, know) Sagmeister's work-not that any of our Basel/Yale-trained professors would allow it. And that is a commentary on his work (as well as my school).

I've always felt that I.D. favors industrial design over graphic designers (if distinctions must be made) and this year seems to be emphasizing the more "artistic" of designers...yet I really doubt if most of them influence the everyday "in the trenches" designer beyond the oohs and ahhs of having a certain clientele.
Derrick Schultz
01.11.05 at 12:39

While being delighted to find one of the founding members of Lineto among the 40 supposedly most influential designers of the past year, I would like to point out that the primary merit of such lists is the debate over them. This particular list drawn up by I.D. magazine is certainly, well, entertaining in places. Inevitably, such lists favour individuals and companies that already are very much in the spotlight and who know how to work the media machine. If anything, this list - as any other Top Ten list - should be seen as an invitation to draw up one's own.

Additionally, I would like to point out that 7 out of the alternative Top 10 list proposed by 'serious design fan' have used typefaces from Lineto.com in their work. Half the people listed are based in Europe; in America, clients relying on Lineto fonts have included many highly creative smaller studios as well as mainstream-oriented companies like Weiden & Kennedy, Pentagram, MoMA NY, Nike, Imaginary Forces, Bruce Mau, Gap, Adidas, Mitsubishi Motors, and many more.
Lisa Knoll
01.11.05 at 02:08

yes its true, the typefaces have been used in america and i have seen them. my main awareness of the uses of lineto typefaces is through their website. but really i think my favorite lineto face of all time is BIFF. Id love to see it used as the masthead for the NY POST or something.

also, manuel raeder's link in my previous post was mispelled:

this should work better.

yes i think one main purpose of the list is its use as a medium of self-definition to others through objects, songs, references, etc., a method nick hornsby pays hommage to in "high fidelity".
a very, very serious design fan
01.11.05 at 02:26

Our concern is that, graphic design as a discipline (in particular) because it is young, could be reduced to a 'list' before it has ever established a 'history'. This would have very negative effects on graphic design as both a discipline and a profession. You can have a top ten of artists because of the robustness of 'art history' which provides a textual ground which builds up, movement to movement, artist to artist - but a top ten of graphic designers might only be a list of the images (without any sense of context) which are the current favourites, until erased by the next fashion statement or corporate demand. The designer Elliot Earls would seem to reflect this position in his comment on graphic design: 'Don't just simply tap into the zeitgeist and reflect. Accept some responsibility for your work. Popularity is simply not the litmus test for good work.'

It's also worth considering how list-history will not only affect the way we access our collective past, but how it will shape our many futures. Surely our magazines should - at their best - document, record, translate; not to pare down but to put the flesh back on the traces of those lives. That is, not only the lives of designers, but the lives of the works they create. Yet what hope is there when so many magazines are, in essence, glossy product lists? Increasingly, starting in the 1980s, the graphic design 'object' is seen in magazines etc, pasted into the pristine white backgrounds of modernist 'neutrality', to separate the work from its use value and mimicking, in two dimensions, the three-dimensional 'white cube' of art display they isolate, beautify and fetishize - creating a list of tick boxes for the connoisseur. The idea of a list, here, is metaphorical of course, but it usefully draws our attention to how these graphic objects float in time and space: suspended out of historical, cultural and perhaps most bizarrely, user-context.

Graphic design -or any other sort- isn't to be found in lists of designer names or designer objects, for design is a series of experiences and relationships. Interrogating these, instead, could illuminate this embedded, layered, 'inter'- state. Instead, the temptation seems to always be to 'flatten' the layers into images or listed sound-bites for easy reproduction. In Photoshop you can't save if you haven't 'flattened' the layers of an image but who wants to 'save' if it makes two dimensional? Lists of design - be they the visual or verbal sound-bites - can so often only do this.
Limited Langauge
01.11.05 at 05:31

For those advocating the undersung, a note: We solicited names of the world's most underrated designers for this year's project but decided the category would make a great issue in its own right. It's going to the be theme of the next I.D. Forty, and Michael Bierut gets the Nostradamus Prize for best prediction. All suggestions are welcome, by the way.
Julie Lasky
01.11.05 at 07:26

Limited Language

The issue is not some hierarchy list for Graphic Designer(s) Fact Of Matter when list are created there is always someone that will be left out for whatever reason. List in and of themselves are POLITICAL. Unless created within a Historical Contest.

Idea Magazine in the early 1950s created the first such list. The list was universal and all encompassing. Most important, an African American was added to this list. Georg Olden, the Designer of the CBS Eye Identity with William Golden. Georg Olden, a native of Washington D.C. was the Director of Television Arts. Hired by CBS in 1945. Idea Magazine voted Georg Olden one of fifteen leading Graphic Artist in the United States. For my money and interest list need to be multicultural. There is no representation of Designer(s) within ID's list from South America and the Far East.

Print Magazine was the second Design Publication to publish a list. Titled Great Graphic Designers of the Twentieth Century. January / February 1969. Thirtieth Anniversary Issue.

For my money the Greatest Publication by Print Magazine to date. It was a prelude and set the tone for Phillip Meggs Landmark Book. 'A History of Graphic Design', Volumes one, two, and three. Listed in this Publication were:

1. El Lissitzky
2. E. McKnight Kauffer
3. Laszlo Maholy-Nagy
4. Herbert Bayer
5. Jan Tschichold
6. A. M. Cassandre
7. Alexy Brodovitch
8. PAUL RAND
9. Alvin Lustig
10. William Golden
11. Willem Sandberg
12. Josef Muller Brockmann
13. Herb Lubalin
14. SAUL BASS
15. Milton Glaser

I inherited my copy and thorougly read the issue approximately fifteen years after it was published. At that time, Through personal conviction I was already schooled in Who's Who in Design. My first reaction to Print Magazine's List was, joy, exhilaration, and overwhelm. Suddendly, I began to pick apart the list. Saying to myself why, Erik Nitsche, Armin Hoffman, Ivan Chermayeff, Wil Burton, Dr. M. F. Agha, S. Neil Fujita, Wil Crowel, Yusaka Kamekura, Shegio Fukuda (many others) didn't make the cut. Print Magazine list like Idea Magazine was limited to fifteen. Understandable why these Designer(s) were selected. Each brought something new to the table. They were not regurgitators. They were visionaries and leaders who invented a new methodology in the infancy of Visual Communication.

The third noted list was created by How Magazine early to middle 1990s. It was a readers poll of the most influentual Graphic Designer(s). Selected were PAUL RAND, Milton Glaser, and Herb Lubalin. I'm privy to know that SAUL BASS was actually selected. Mr. Bass gave it to his deceased friend Herb Lubalin, also on the list. Appearing behind Mr. Bass' name.

Derrick Schultz: I've always felt that I.D. favors industrial design over graphic designers... Not true Derrick, I.D. is the abbreviation for Industrial Design
Magazine.

I.D. Magazine used to be named Industrial Design Magazine. The name was abbreviated. Industrial Design Magazine was founded by Charles E. Whitney in 1953. Industrial Design's Mantra was at the time: A monthy review of form and technique in designing for industry. Published for active industrial designers and executives throughout industry who are concerned with product design, development and marketing.

Athough, the aforementioned was iterated. Industrial Design Magazine has always embraced and showcased an enormous amount of Visual Communicators. In the early days Designer(s) did not specialize. The most gifted transcended and evolved multiple Design disciplies. Two of Industrial Design Greatest issues were Designers on the West Coast. The other, Designers on the East Coast. No need to expound any further.
DesignMaven
01.11.05 at 11:27

Adobe (software company) as number four? I would add Macromedia too, I've been very impressed with Macromedia products. (and Macromedia is not paying me to say that)
Dino
01.11.05 at 08:48

> Unlike plenty in I.D.'s list, he is not a self-promoter.

When discussing lists, this argument invariably comes up. As if it were bad or, worse, as if we were being dupped and blinded by the designer's public persona, rendering us smitten to their every move. I say good! for those that put their name out there. At its best, being a good self-promoter makes a designer even more valuable to our field if s/he has something valuable to add, substract, challenge or critique. So what if there are hundreds of über talented designers that absolutely no one knows about? What should we do about it? Go knock on their doors and hand them an opportunity because, poor souls, they can't send out an e-mail to an editor at a magazine or submit work to a contest or show up at a conference and bother the hell out of all the attendees and speakers? While there are dozens of designers willing to go through the motions to get their ideas or their work published and noticed? Doesn't add up. On the other extreme, there are many designers from whom we would benefit learning about, sure, and at its worst, self-promotion is simply knowing the right people who can't tell a designer that their ideas are stupid or their work stale, but I find it odd that in a profession so enthralled with image, recognition and the dreaded branding we find self-promotion so mockable and petty.

> I challenge anyone to find a graphic design undergraduate anywhere in the world who has not ripped off Stefan Sagmeister (or at least thought about it).

Two, three years ago this would have been an interesting bet. I am not saying Sagmeister is a has-been, but his popularity was at its (first, certainly not last) peak a few years ago...
Armin
01.11.05 at 11:13

10 people more famous and influential now than they ever were in their youth (or entire lifetime):

j.s. bach
vincent van gogh
karel martens
wim crouwel
henry darger
nick drake
ian curtis
karl marx
robert crumb
egon schiele

the point being that good work is good work is good work. and bad work is bad work is bad work is bad work. of course, most of these examples do not come from the professionally-based graphic design world. however, i think karel martens is a good example of someone who has managed to work an entire lifetime, do good, consistent work, and enjoy widespread influence amongst designers in only the recent few years. did he ever email i.d. or enter contests? probably not, but having a lifetime of great work is a good way to get noticed.
manuel
01.11.05 at 11:41

Armin, you got a little carried away there. The self-promotion comment, which was just one small aspect of my argument, is simply true. Magazines respond to PR. An unexceptional designer can go quite a way merely by saying "look at me", using all those press releases, emails and phonecalls you commend to us. Some people have a big taste for doing this. Others don't. Certainly, it's an aspect of career-building, but it isn't a good guide to talent or originality or "influence".

Manuel's example of Dutch designer Karel Martens is well chosen. He is a gentle, modest man who wouldn't dream of hyping himself. He is certainly not a "poor soul", as you choose to describe such people. He has produced a superb body of work that has won recognition and respect over time. Some of us admire that kind of constancy and commitment to just getting on and doing the projects you believe in, without hype. It's journalism's job to go out into the world and find out what's happening. Your sarcasm on that count ("What should we do about it?") is misplaced. And it's criticism's task to look beyond self-serving claims and try to decide what's really significant and valuable.

Julie, thanks for taking the time to respond. Influence, your chosen criterion, is notoriously hard to measure. Is the I.D. Forty meant to be a list of people who are influential in America? Or throughout the world? Or is it, as it seems to be, a somewhat inconsistent mixture of the two? How do you begin to measure relative degrees of influence between countries and between different kinds of design activity in those countries, especially when those making the final assessment (the editors and writers) are based in the US?

I re-read the Sagmeister entry and it really doesn't make clear why he is ranked so highly relative to other designers. As Armin notes, his popularity peaked several years ago at the time Made You Look came out in 2001. His "year off", also in 2001, is old news now. Apart from the Paris park billboard project (previously discussed on Design Observer and probably not familiar to most American readers of I.D.) no significant new projects are shown. Sagmeister is a fine designer, but I don't believe a convincing case has been made for his position at no. 9 in I.D.'s list. And this is just one example.
Rick Poynor
01.12.05 at 05:54

First, thanks Rick for comments that mean more to me than any comparative listing.

The statment that Sagmeister peaked a few years ago underscores an inherent problem with most lists: A curse of the ephemeral.

First, let me say that Armin's claim is dubious. While Julie may have exaggerated a bit, Sagmeister is a formidable presence in contemporary graphic design as both practitioner and teacher, and since no quantifiable data supports his "peaking" it is unfair to make this claim.

Manuel's list supports a more accurate truth that talented individuals are not prisoners of a particular phase, cycle, or timeframe but published lists impose a certain kind of imprisonment (or preserve, if you prefer).

For instance, Crumb was indeed extremely popular when he was young. I remember an entire audience at the Fillmore East in New York rising to its feet when his Janis Joplin record cover was shown on the huge screen for the first time behind her Big Brother band. Thousands bought his comics, and quoted his famous lines (like "Keep on Truckin' "). But he never made it onto the Esquire magazine list (which in the 60s and 70s was the most prestigious of them all), and it took decades before a feature-length movie was made of his life (up to that point). Now he's on many lists (although I'm not sure he's on any of ID's past lists). He is, however, a culture hero, based on decades of amazing, witty, taboo-busting, and highly crafted work. Yes, and he's still quite active (albeit not as innovative).

The problem with most lists is this: Editorially speaking each must be different from the previous. So if Sagmeister appeared this year, he won't next, or perhaps the one after that. Does this mean his work is less valid from year to year? Not necessarily, it just means that editors do not want redundancy on their pages. ID's list is actually fairly democratic in that the editor elicits nominations from various "experts" who must be cognizant of those covered already to avoid duplication. It seems to me, however, duplication is inevitable if selection is based on standards of quality.

Perhaps the criterion should be "ideas" rather than people: What is the most important idea of the year (and the individual is swept along with that). After all, we are interested in those listed because of their ideas, not their good looks (unless we're talking about People Mag).

For me lists serve as markers of accomplishment, but they are flawed by editorial prerequisites. Each list must have a different angle, which inadvertently can marginalize someone who was on an earlier list. Perhaps the most enduring (and ultimately important) list is the last one.

Yes, I'm talking about St. Peter's (or Mr. Natural's) list.

Each year The New York Times Magazine publishes a special "The Way They Lived." Without getting too morbid (and I'm not advocating that we wait for the grim reaper before celebrating achievement), I find myself pouring over essays about the lifetime accomplishments of those who recently passed as a textbook of sorts on how to live.
steve heller
01.12.05 at 07:18

Maven: Not true Derrick, I.D. is the abbreviation for Industrial Design Magazine.

Am I mistaken? I thought it stood for International Design Magazine. My apologies if I'm wrong...and it would certainly make more sense...enough sense that I might actually keep my subscription.
Derrick Schultz
01.12.05 at 09:11

What are lists for? To sell magazines and that's it. They are of intellectual interest only as artifacts-of-a-whole that reflect the current emotional state of the field (and with this list, I'd characterize that as conservative and celebrity-obsessed). There's always the claim that such lists will generate controversy and discussion but that ennobles them as these discussions—like the lists—are superficial. To quote myself, it's just buzz.

And this is an example. Another wild generalization that cries out for some—any—proof:
Sagmeister is a formidable presence in contemporary graphic design as both practitioner and teacher
A case may be made for the former, as long as you're considering buzz but the latter evaporates even in that context. Perhaps I'm oversensitive because it's the first week of classes for me and I'm going through my tenure process, but doing workshops and/or adjunct star-turns is not "teaching" and outside the elite-schools circles, has no influence. (And once again, this is NOT a commentary on Stefan's work. If I had any $, I'd invite him to "teach" here.)
Kenneth FitzGerald
01.12.05 at 09:43

Rick, your questions about perspective get to the heart of my issue (and these issues). Compiling the list, we reached for a global view. Given that we were covering so many forms of influence--aesthetic, educational, journalistic/rhetorical, historical/curatorial, financial/philanthropic, and, not the least, commercial--in so many disciplines throughout the world, perspective was bound to be spotty. In a good way. We had to ask ourselves, as all of you are asking, who is important today and why?

The why is invariably connected to the where. Like most design editors, I spend a lot of time talking to people in Milan, Stockholm, Tokyo, Cape Town, Sao Paulo, so I have a pretty good sense of how designers like Sagmeister are regarded throughout the world. I asked the wrong rhetorical question, though. A better one (and it's not rhetorical) is if all of you could pick a single graphic designer/firm who has gained global renown not only for a body of work but also for a way of practicing, whom would you choose? (Keep in mind that long after design insiders have written off someone as old news, the antiquated one may just be beginning to find an audience among a less sophisticated but much larger group, which counts as influence in my book.) Such a question could produce its own list, and the more narrowly defined criteria would make for easier ranking. In this I take your point, Rick. But I.D. is interdisciplinary as well as international, and we kind of revel in the messiness.

Note to Derrick: the magazine was founded as Industrial Design but changed its name to International Design in the late 1980s.
Julie Lasky
01.12.05 at 10:46

> An unexceptional designer can go quite a way merely by saying "look at me", using all those press releases, emails and phonecalls you commend to us.

Well, that's where good editors come in, right? To separate the good from the bluff... without getting carried away by the buzz.
Armin
01.12.05 at 10:56

Ok, I'll bite:

"A case may be made for the former, as long as you're considering buzz but the latter evaporates even in that context. Perhaps I'm oversensitive because it's the first week of classes for me and I'm going through my tenure process, but doing workshops and/or adjunct star-turns is not "teaching" and outside the elite-schools circles, has no influence."


Fact is Sagmeister has taught a full semester course-load in the SVA MFA Design program for seven years, and before that at Parsons undergrad. If you choose to call this "elite-school circles" so be it. If you think its an "adjunct star-turn" whatever that means, you're wrong. He is a dedicated instructor who is continually finding new ways to not only inspire, but extract the best out of students. I know he's also taught workshops around the world, but what's wrong with that? He may not be a tenured professor, but that is not the sole measure of dedication.

Incidentally, your comment:

"(And once again, this is NOT a commentary on Stefan's work. If I had any $, I'd invite him to "teach" here.)"

Is demeaning. Money has never been an issue for him. I have rarely met a more generous a teacher (without quotes).
steve heller
01.12.05 at 11:00

"Am I mistaken? I thought it stood for International Design Magazine. My apologies if I'm wrong...and it would certainly make more sense...enough sense that I might actually keep my subscription".

Please read Ms. Lasky's comments to you.

Word to the wise.I never disseminate
un-truths.

A better one (and it's not rhetorical) is if all of you could pick a single graphic designer/firm who has gained global renown not only for a body of work but also for a way of practicing, whom would you choose?

That's a trick question Julie. As most of the Large Design Firms and Identity Consultancies no longer are independant and are owned by Mega Communication Conglomerates. Such as OMNICOM, WPP, Interpublic, Publicis Groupe, Dentsu, Gray Global Group, Incepta Group plc, etc.

With the exception of Pentagram. An anomaly among Design Consultancies has not SOLD OUT. All our First Tier Consultancies with Global Reach, are no longer independant. Rather dependant of...

Meaning, if the Parent Company, has 200 clients. Said Consultancy work for most of Mommie and Daddy's Clients. Without ever having to look outside of the Parent Conglomerate for work.

On the other hand, Pentagram has Global Reach. Yet, they remain independant and acquire work the old fashioned way. By the sweat of their brow.

As well, Consultancies such as:

1. Chermayeff & Geismar
2. Vignelli Associates
3. Brand Equity International
4. Lister Butler
5. Hornall Anderson
6. Shimokochi-Reeves
7. King Casey
8. Monigle Associates
9. CommArts
8. Sussman Preja
10. Tim Gervin Design
11. Keith Bright Strategic Design
12. Push Pin
13. Uncle Milti to include WB MG.
14. Margo Chase Design
15. Charles S. Anderson
16. Jennifer Sterling

I have provided you with Graphic Design Firms/Consultancies with Global Reach.

Many are Historically Significant. Most important, each has one Design Office in the United States.

I contend as an aficianado of Identity and Design. Albeit, being a practicing Identity Designer. Number(s) 1 thru 13 are producing equal or better Identity and Design than any of the First Tier Mega Identity and Branding Consultancies owned by Conglomerates.

Whether they continue to be relevant, current or influential is in the eye of the beholder.

BTW, I stopped Glorifying Designer(s) in 1996 when BASS and RAND Died !!!!!!!!!

As with my own list. There's always somebody left out, worth mentioning.
DesignMaven
01.12.05 at 02:53

Good thread. Although I think Mr. Heller that you misread Fitzgerald's comment on having any $ for Sag to come to Old Dominion University. I'm sure it was a note on the sickly state of budgetary affairs in design departments of second-tier schools, NOT on Sag's generosity. I think when he said it, he literally meant any money.

Either way, Wallpaper* did the same design-list thing basing their decisions on "the most exciting, clever, dynamic, functional and life-enhancing designs" of the past year. It is more light-hearted coming from a broad design platform where we can include the Daslú girls (sigh) and Bösendorfer speakers. And as a bonus Karim R. ended up on the "what's not" page tucked in at the back with M/Ms ENSAD typeface (not on their site) and the H2 Sports Utility Truck. The tone strikes me as just right for this year-end design list design; not too superficial, not too meta and just tongue-in-cheek enough to honor themselves (for best cocktail!).
Andrew Breitenberg
01.12.05 at 03:52

Having compiled A List, once, I have vowed never to do one (publicly) again. However, there is something incredibly fun in the act of compilation. The debates! The arguments! The racing excitement of watching the names rise and fall as rounds of debate are won or lost. Unless you've ever compiled a List with a group of friends (ore even just one), you've no idea how much fun it is to undergo this process. Try it and experience for yourself the elation as your favourite candidate makes it into the top 10; and the shattering sense of tragedy as someone you care about falls off it altogether.

It's like horse-racing, only better.

This is, I am convinced, why people make these lists. Was there ever one published anywhere that one single person agreed with? I seriously doubt it. The joy is in the making.
marian bantjes
01.12.05 at 04:49

Apologies to my extended Family at Design Observer and our PATRONS.

My brother Larry Maven has just informed me after reading my post Hornall Anderson is no longer independant. Hornall Anderson is owned by Communications Conglomerate OMNICOM.

They are listed under Diversified Agency Services, within Customer Relation Management along with InterBrand, Siegle & Gale, Wolf Olins. (others)

At this time, i'd like to remove Hornall Anderson from my list of Independant Identity and Design Consultancies with Global Reach and
replace them with Frankfurt Balkind, formerly Frankfurt Gips Balkind.

Again, my profound apologies. I stand corrected.

Link below to Omnicom Diversified Agency Services.

http://www.omnicomgroup.com/defaultwindow?thenewpage=crmpopup
DesignMaven
01.13.05 at 02:19

What are lists for? To sell magazines and that's it.

I disagree. Despite the apparent backlash against listmaking, I still feel like this list has a lot of value.

It seems pretty obvious to everyone that the very nature of listmaking is biased. So why can't we assume that readers understand this concept? Readers should look at this magazine, just like anything else, and question the content. Who wrote this? How was this list decided? What are the editors' biases? What does "influence" mean exactly? Is influence measurable?

With those concerns in mind, can't we read this issue and enjoy it for what it is? It's a list, made by a handful of people. It's not a definitive guide to design, and I don't think it wants to be.

I still don't understand the need for ranking all of the designers in a hierarchy. I'd be interested to hear from Julie about the reasoning behind putting the list in a specific order.
Ryan Nee
01.13.05 at 07:28

Ah, Maven, I am so sorry to have to tell you this: Frankfurt Balkind (my former employer) was sold to Hill, Holiday, which is owned by Interpublic.

The good news: I believe that Kent Hunter is still there.
debbie millman
01.13.05 at 10:44

Debbie

Many thanks, is there nothing sacred anymore?

Maybe another thread should be started to investigate, why this trend is so prevalent. Rhetorical question of course.
It began early 1990s.

As I should've done in the beginning.

Nominate and add Sterling Brands to my list, of independant Identity and Branding Consultancies. Shame on me. If Sterling is no longer independant I give up. And throw the towel in the ring.

Seriously, the acquisition of Design Consultancies by Communication Conglomerates is mind boggling. And deserve OBSERVANCE.
DesignMaven
01.14.05 at 01:04

I apologize to Steve for the snotty tone of my question but not for asking it repeatedly (and tiresomely, it seems): what is the proof of your assertion? A tonal in-kind response is deserved (see apology above), yet to respond as "bit[ing]" at my question implies to me that, however presented, it merits no response. I can only assume it's because everybody knows what was asserted is true: it's ignorant to even ask. Perhaps. Yet I'll claim my questions aren't aimless pissing but an attempt to reconcile the assertions with my observed reality. Sometimes I even agree with some of the unsupported statements that litter design discussions. But it's suspicious to me when the answers I receive (when I can get one) are so evasive. I don't have problems with opinions; I just want to know how they're come by.

He is a dedicated instructor who is continually finding new ways to not only inspire, but extract the best out of students.

This is the boilerplate description of a good teacher: no small thing but hardly a unique aspect—it's even been said of me! If this is the requirement to be a "formidable presence in contemporary graphic design as ... teacher," it's not a distinction. Unless you are claiming that Parsons and SVA students are extraordinarily inept; or the majority of design practitioners are lousy teachers; or that design teachers everywhere are incapable. Which is it? I know it isn't the usual route to have a formidable presence in academia: the influence of Stefan's pedagogy through things like the academic articles, papers, presentations, and symposia given by or about his instructional theories and methods.

The "star turn" crack is harsh but can we be honest about priorities and realities? I detect no one on the SVA design faculty roster whose first emphasis is education. Or to put it bluntly: there aren't any Nobodies teaching at SVA or Parsons. I don't object to a program being staffed this way. Except for the implication that to be a "dedicated instructor who is continually finding new ways to not only inspire, but extract the best out of students" at these institutions automatically makes you a "formidable presence in contemporary graphic design as ... teacher." That's demeaning to a lot of design teachers (though I readily assume it wasn't your intention).

My thanks to Andrew for correctly interpreting my "$" comment. I hope that every and any academic read it the way it was intended.

And though no one questioned it, I'll say that I don't object to a commercial magazine trying to sell copies. They'd be foolish not to. But, again, let's simply be honest about priorities and realities. Picking players for your fantasy league team is a harmless distraction. But if it's supposed to be real, start/get real.
Kenneth FitzGerald
01.14.05 at 11:49

What Kenneth raises are valid questions about what is a teacher - in design or otherwise. Our field is indeed comprised of many part-time teachers, in fact that was largely the norm (Yale's early faculty were working designers like Rand, Matter, Ives, Thompson, etc.) who imparted experience, critique, and wisdom. They were teachers in the Platonic sense, but also in the practical sense. That old, tired, and stupid carnard that starts "those who can't do. . . " etc., is just as demeaning as saying practioners that don't have education as their primary concern are questionable as bonefide teachers. Dedication comes in many forms. Teaching prowess is not limited to the full-time, adjunct, or part time.

Kenneth rejects the "boiler-plate" and asks that I apply accepted academic standards to the definition of a pedagog: "articles, papers, presentations, and symposia given by or about instructional theories and methods." Absolutely! All true measures of accomplishment. But I would add that in our field this list also includes designing in a wide range of media for many purposes.

Having reviewed many tenure packages I know the extent to which a dedicated design teacher seeking this status and honor must go. It is grueling and it requires indepth quantifiable evidence to determine expertise and value.

In my statement about Stefan, I was not advocating that he be given tenure, only that he be shown respect (which in the end is in part what his ranking on the list is all about) for his teaching contributions, which are many (sorry if that's boilerplate).

I will say, that Kenneth's question asked "repeatedly (and tiresomely, it seems)," is very important. We must try not to make or accept assumptions, anecdotes, feelings as truth. Newspapers require at least two sources. Scholarly papers demand rigorous support materials. Scientific experiments cannot be left to chance.

But this type of forum is chock full of opinion, and my original post was a response to an opinion that attacked an opinion that underscored another opinion that cast, in my opinion, unfair light on someone who, while not obove criticism, deserves an advocate here.

Kenneth's latest response poses the issue somewhat differently and is worthy of further discussion at one of the AIGA's regional education forums. If there are to be educational standards that define the nature and role of a teacher, what are they?
Steven Heller
01.15.05 at 10:16

Ditto on Heller's Sagmiester defense. The guys deserves to be in the top five, along with another non-promoter- Christoph Niemann, the most influential graphic designer in the past 5 years. He churns out consistantly brilliant ideas at amazing speed and clarity. This list has no illustration.. a huge oversight.
felix sockwell
01.15.05 at 12:25

Felix, the hope was that the initial post would encourage people to check out the I.D. Forty in I.D. itself. There you will find plenty of images.

It would be good to hear a little more reaction to the list as presented in the actual magazine. Kenneth makes effective points about the merits of Sagmeister as teacher relative to non-famous teachers, which Steve hasn't really answered. However, this is rather getting off the subject because the short article about Sagmeister in I.D. has little to say about his involvement at SVA and does not actually suggest that his prowess as a teacher is a reason for his inclusion in the list. Nor, in what is said in the accompanying text, does I.D. make a convincing case for Sagmeister's high position. (I singled out Sagmeister simply as a striking example - we could talk about other names on the list.) Julie responds by suggesting that we nominate someone who deserves a higher placing. But to do that would be to endorse the whole idea of a ranked list and this is what is at question. It's the list itself and how its conclusions were drawn that needs to be explained - unless we think, as some suggest, that it is nothing more than a way of drumming up interest and selling magazines. But I.D clearly sees the list as possessing more signficance more than this.
Rick Poynor
01.15.05 at 02:02

I think I probably misunderstood what Felix was saying. There are no illustrators in the I.D. Forty, though, in fairness, this is not an area that the magazine covers. Nevertheless, illustration and image-making have certainly become central to graphic design again in recent years, especially if you take an international view.
Rick Poynor
01.16.05 at 07:26

The response to the original post by Rick Poyner is evidence to the power of the list as a catalyst for debate. The list has become ubiquitous - TV schedules in Britain are packed full of top 20 films, pop music, inventors etc. The long-term effect of this essentialist turn in media is difficult to tell (but the economic imperatives have been well discussed above). The list can be used to positive effect - 20 years ago the New Your Times Book Review asked a 'group of fiction writers, age 40 or younger, to name the writer or writers who had most influenced their work and to explain how' here was a list which provided context, putting some flesh on the bones of a top twenty. The NYTs Book Review has just asked the same question to young writers of today. One comment made by the novelist Jonathan Safran Foer (dust jacket designed by gray318) seems to be pertinent to many comments made recently 'Like science, art depends on the experiments of others. The great advances are made not by individuals so much as by environments.' And this is the point, we are not interested in whether Stefan Sagmeister is number one or twenty-three, but it is the ramifications of Stephan Heller's comment 'He is a dedicated instructor who is continually finding new ways to not only inspire, but extract the best out of students.' Which gives substance to the list. We have no reason to doubt Heller's comments and can only feel slightly envious as Sagmeister's influence is etched on the young consciousnesses of his students - to reprise, not as a list but in their mark-making.
limited language
01.16.05 at 03:31

Again, the overwhelming problem with list. Except, the list created by Idea Magazine which was inclusive naming Georg Olden in 1957. And the second list I cited from Print Magazine Jan/Feb 1969 created in a Historical Context, of Leaders and Innovators.

Publications that go the extra mile to Nominate, Disseminate, and Create a Hierarchy of Leading Design Practitioners advertingly send the wrong message. These list for the most part are biased. They are not inclusive. Fact of Matter, they exclude. Certainly, the exclusion is by Design.

I'm not pointing the finger at anyone. Will take this time to say. The same argument made for Stefan Sagemeister inclusion and ranking. Can be made for John Maeda. And why Identity Designer(s) never make the list. Identity Design is the Pinnacle of Visual Communication.

The Visual Communicators that made 2005 issue of I.D. Top 40 are WEAK at Identity Design. Bar None !!!!!!

As Rick noted, we lay particular emphasis on recent achievement; if we had compiled this list a year ago, it's possible that neither Gehry, whose Case Western Reserve building was busily dumping snow on passersby, or Koolhaas, who seemed to be losing projects faster than he could win them, would have been on it.

Yes, Rem Koolhaas has lost an enormous amount of projects. IMHO, no concrete and justified rationale why Koolhaas is on the list. Other than Popularity. Albeit, the current Eminence and interest of Dutch Design.

Gehry, get a pass in my book. Snow is an act of GOD, and feat of Nature. No reason to exclude him.

By "influential" we meant people who foster the production, innovation, and recognition of design, which made it hard to avoid some usual suspects.

Here's a KICK ASS Designer that made Headline News in 2003. If memory serve me correctly never made I.D. Top 40.
Most important, is not a Whore Monger for Publicity.(pardon the expression.) His only mantra is, Let the work speak for itself.

Suspiciously, Ed Welburn Designer Extraodinare Flew Under the Radar of Inclusion.

Ed Welburn's Bio.

http://www.cardesignnews.com/news/2003/030926gm-welburn/

Portfolio.Kindly click on forward arrow.

http://www.usatoday.com/money/gallery/welburn/frame.htm

I'll defy anyone writing on this weblog to inform me why this Designer should not be included in any
Top 40 Ranking of International Design.

Suggestion, Instead of making a Hierarchy listing of accomplishment. Why not dedicate a complete issue to Forty Designers of Internationational Repute. That include variable Design Disciplines, Nationality and Ethnicity.

If we are going to accurately Document Design History via Discourse and Dissemination of the most influential vis a vis Designers Internationally. The documentation should at least attempt to be Inclusive.

What Design isn't, is what I.D. Top 40 project it to be ...

As a Design Observer and Speak Up Commentator.

If I may paraphrase my Design Father SAUL BASS.

"This Trend will not change until Design EMBRACE AN ENTIRE CULTURAL HERITAGE".
DesignMaven
01.16.05 at 04:22

May it also be noted that HOW Magazine's current 20th anniversary issue is persuant to this Listing formula. (ie: top 20 things graphic designers like to do, wear, eat, etc)

Interestlingly, there is a top 20 "favorite illustrators" list that does not include David Plunkert. Who is on top of the list? Brian Cronin. And on the cover? David Plunkert doing his best Brian Cronin. Hmmm.
felix sockwell
01.17.05 at 07:05

Whoa, all this commotion over a list!

Unless somehow based on quantifiable criteria (e.g., the Billboard 100, based on album sales), aren't lists like I.D.'s purely for fun and conjecture?

Isn't their real merits only in the discussion they elicit, and maybe a certain moment they might capture in the zeitgeist -- and not in the members-only, Hall Of Fame roll-calling of their rosters?

Wouldn't asserting that they're anything more be a bit pompous and over-reaching -- especially given that they're so fraught with agenda and trend-oriented bias? I mean, they're not absolutes -- right?

This thread reminds me of all the furor over the AFI's Top 100 Films list upon its release some years back. I, too, took that movie roster rather seriously at the time, until I saw that "Tootsie" (No. 62) and "Forrest Gump" (No. 71) somehow trumped the films of, well, a slightly broader, more poignant influence -- say, "Do The Right Thing" or "Manhattan."

And that's when I realized: this list, like most lists, should be taken with nothing but the most light-hearted regard -- for me, anyway.

Nonetheless, as Kenneth Fitzgerald pointed out, they sure are an effective -- if exceedingly shallow -- way to sell magazines. They're cheap and easy to make, and fun and easy to digest.

Evidently, music mags are particularly susceptible: Rolling Stone, Mojo, Spin, etc., can't seem to foist enough "Top 100" features on us.

And Chicago Magazine seems to have foregone the cover story altogether: every cover -- all year long -- is a big ol' "Top This" or "Best Of That" chunk of editorial fluffery, which -- like every other magazine that resorts to list-making as their main attraction more than a few times a year -- doesn't speak highly of its journalistic imagination. (I'm letting my subscription run out.)

Having said all that, I must admit that I like this idea of I.D. (or anybody else) doing something on Top Underrated Designers. Such a list would seem to serve a broader function: giving a national spotlight to the up-and-coming or perpetually overlooked.

I'm always interested in exploring under-the-radar talent in any genre and media, and am encouraged when I find a forum that presents them as such. Michael Pinto's bringing up John Peel -- who I consider a cultural hero for his tireless unearthing of great, often largely unheard music -- is a perfect example.

And I'm with Mr. Poynor: all props to Mr. Heller -- he deserves 'em. I can honestly say I've learned more from Heller's published texts and collections over the years than the work of any single designer. And his prolific output is truly astounding, even downright stupefying. Go Steve Heller!

In any case... all this gets me thinking about the nature of lists themselves. There's been a lot of discussion lately as to why lists are suddenly so abundant, that perhaps there's a strong psychological motivation behind them. Since the "end of the Millenium" list-making mania of 2000, and through the post-9/11 anxiety to the present, lists seem to have permeated every corner of the media.

Some maintain that, appealing to the supposedly natural human urge to categorize, such lists bring a sense of comfort and order in bringing together familiar elements, placing them in a tidy hierarchy of easily comprehendible data.

These compilations, the argument goes, afford us an effortless grasp of an entertaining, nicely bundled collection of subjects that would otherwise flail untethered in this chaotic world.

Yeah, well... who knows. But I would like to point out two wholly complete and inarguable compendia that are far more culturally significant than the I.D. Forty, the repercussions and ramifications of which will have profound, long-lasting, far-reaching, even revolutionary effects on the industrialized world's social strata -- perhaps even fundamentally determining the future course of Western Civilization itself:

VH1's 100 Most Metal Moments

...and even more crucial to the eternal ebb and flow of human endeavor:

VH1's 40 Least Metal Moments

Now that's a list.
Jon Resh
01.18.05 at 09:13

Jon

Many thanks for your warm and insightful comments.

Yes, Designer(s) are very passionate about their profession and HEROS.
Our unbridled passion for our livelyhood and leading practitioners is unriveled by any other profession to include, sports and music.

Do Designer(s) take themselves to seriously? Hell yes. That's the beauty of discourse and dialog. The exchange of ideaology and critique. Which is the beauty of weblogs; Designer interaction and the exchange of ideas. Something you can't get in a monthly publication.

On a more somber note. No Designer writing on this weblog Loves Steve Heller more than me. He is my Champion, Confidant, Counselor, and Friend. If not, he would've blocked my email address long ago. I know what I know because of Steve Heller, and the late Phillip Meggs. I'm sure both are proud.

Steve, I'll take silence as consent.

My dialog was meant to enlighten and open eyes. In the spirit of aiding and giving direction to a wayward passerby.

I come from a lineage of grassroots freedom fighters. My desire is to fight for everyone.
I'm more upset there were no WOMEN listed in I.D. Top 40. Jesus Christ no male Designer has done more for Design than:

1. Elinor Selame, First Lady of American Corporate Identity. In practice 41 years.

2. Margaret Youngblood, Branded more Corporations in the 20th and 21st Century than any Male Designer Living, except Tom Geismar. Perhaps, Landor's most KICK ASS Designer Ever. Bar None !!!!! Currently, Sr. Vice President Banana Republic.

3. Paula Scher, The Reining Queen of American Design.

Personally left our my GODESS Rosmarie Tissi for selfish reasons. Making a point. I can go on and on.

At this time, I'd like to make a Moral Appeal, to I.D. Magazine and Julie Lasky.
In the future, please contact Designer(s) with their finger(s) on the pulse of the profession. Such as Armin Vit, TAN LE, and DesignMaven. Why, because we are an integral part of the Design Rainbow. Albeit, being in the know. Our inboxes are always open for comments and suggestions.

Having said that, I trust I.D. Magazine, in the future will give Favorable Consideration to Feature an Article on Ed Welburn, Designer Extraodinare. Director of Design General Motors.

DesignMaven
01.18.05 at 06:48

Apologies to Julie Lasky and I.D. Magazine.

Reading the list several more times. Ed Welburn is listed at number 24.

My Librarian Eyes have failed me.

Not the first time.

To Error is Human to forgive Devine.
DesignMaven
01.19.05 at 09:58

True, there are not enough women on this list.
However, you are proposing the wrong women. I thought this list was about 2004... I am sorry, Paula Scher just hasn't made any valid contribution to graphic design at all, ever. And yes: Rosemarie Tissi (with Siegfried Odermatt) could have been included... 25 years ago, perhaps. Unfortunately, they have not produced any influential work in more than two decades.
I am not quite sure who to propose, but maybe there is someone out there who feels confident enough to list 10 women in contemporary graphic design currently making their mark. OK there's Linda van Deursen, but there must be a few more?
Tony Esposito
01.31.05 at 04:30


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rick Poynor is a writer, critic, lecturer and curator, specialising in design, media, photography and visual culture. He founded Eye, co-founded Design Observer, and contributes columns to Eye and Print. His latest book is Uncanny: Surrealism and Graphic Design.
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DESIGN OBSERVER JOBS









BOOKS BY Rick Poynor

Uncanny: Surrealism and Graphic Design
MG Publications, 2010

Typographica
Laurence King, 2001

Obey the Giant: Life in the Image World
Birkhäuser Architecture, 2007

No More Rules: Graphic Design and Postmodernism
Yale University Press, 2003

Looking Closer 3
Allworth Press, 1999

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