February 4, 2022

Look and learn: The Great designers of the 20th century

We have the Greatest designer behind us. Our everyday lives are surrounded by shapes, colors, textures, and structures that make us wonder who’s behind them: the great designers of the 20th century.

Every day, we pass buildings and logos in our social media feeds and on our way to work that is part of the design, even when we don’t realize it. We have the Greatest designer behind us. Our everyday lives are surrounded by shapes, colors, textures, and structures that make us wonder who’s behind them: the great designers of the 20th century.

When something changes, like with a new Google Doodle, we realize how omnipresent design really is. Design hits us in the face when a new skyscraper dominates the skyline. You can imagine how dizzying these design changes can be if you’ve ever seen architectural renderings. 

Graphic designers have a big impact on our lives. Today, you can even find many of them on Twitter. 

There is an impeccably constructed object in everyone’s purse or pocket, which speaks to the power of design. Learn about the great designers of the 20th century.

Woman Artist. Greatest designer, great designers of the 20th century

Some great designers of the 20th century: Stefan Sagmeister

His most recognizable work (and most jarring) is the AIGA poster he designed for the organization in 1999, which included having the text of the event excised into his skin, photographed as a result.

AIGA poster.

The Greatest designer: Saul Bass

Bass is best known for his title sequences for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, Spartacus, or Anatomy of a Murder, or his posters for Vertigo and West Side Story. The Girl Scouts and United Airways’ logos are his other contributions.

Kenichiro Ashida

He deserves praise for all the time spent with the Nintendo Wii burning calories. In his original concept and creation of the Wii controller and subsequent accessories, he changed the way we experience virtual games in real space and time. He is the Greatest designer in the actual days.

Nintendo Wii.

One of the great designers of the 20th century: Tadao Ando

He’s a self-taught architect from Japan. Over the past two decades, he has challenged canonized Western designers and won a Pritzker in 1995. In his architecture, Ando plays with the depressing and uplifting qualities of gray concrete and sparse geometric shapes. A good example is the Chichu Museum, an underground masterpiece that would feel like a bomb shelter if not for the way it filters daylight into its cavernous galleries. Known for his ability to portray beauty in simplicity, his style is influenced by Japanese culture. 

Chichu museum. Greatest designer, great designers of the 20th century

The Greatest designer: James Dyson

Forbes said it best: "Dyson has brought a level of excitement to home cleaning that’s usually reserved for phones and Plasma TVs." The appeal of 360-degree swiveling vacuums and bladeless fans has never been so compelling.

James Dyson

Marcel Breuer

A brilliant Bauhaus student, Marcel Breuer became head of the school’s carpentry workshop after studying at the university in the 1920s. Part of the great designers of the 20th century. The Wassily Chair, one of this Hungarian Modernist’s most widely recognized pieces, is the result of his familiarity with the unforgiving materials of Industrial design. The bent tubular steel chair is common in modern life. He designed the Whitney Museum of American Art building (1966) uptown, one of the most recognizable facades in New York City.

Wassily Chair. Greatest designer, great designers of the 20th century

Rem Koolhaas

Rem Koolhaas won the competition for the new Miami Beach Convention Center. The Harvard Graduate School of Design is home to Koolhaas, a professor of practice at the Graduate School of Design and a prolific contributor to contemporary architecture. Koolhaas co-founded the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) in 1975. As part of the great designers of the 20th century, AMO was established in the late ’90s to address the domain’s boundaries outside of traditional architecture: politics, sociology, renewable energy, technology, fashion, curating, publishing, and graphic design.

OMA from Koolhaas.

The Greatest designer of Iraq: Zaha Hadid

In 2004, this architect born in Iraq was the first woman to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize. Her status as a Starchitect and her global notoriety as a designer of space and structure speak volumes. With a boutique condo complex near New York’s High Line park, Hadid proved she was a success in 2013. She was also involved in the design of a three-wheeled automobile in addition to her geometric megastructures. 

Building from Hadid. Greatest designer, great designers of the 20th century

Charles and Ray Eames

When it debuted in the 1950s, the Eames’ molded plywood lounge chair was the first and best of its time. Part of the great designers of the 20th century. There have been constant productions of the chair and ottoman since then. MoMA in New York City even has it in its permanent collection. The Eames’ Pacific Palisades home stands out as a liveable fantasy interior that remains fresh and unfettered by passing trends.

Charles and Ray Eames.

The Greatest designer: Paul Rand

Louis Danzinger once said of Rand, "He almost single-handedly convinced business that design was important." He has rebranded corporate identities. Rand’s designs are distinctly reductive and seemingly uncomplicated and are regarded as model models by today’s graphic designers.

Richard Buckminster Fuller

He knew no boundaries. A cultural theorist, an inventor, an architect, an automobile designer, a simple game designer, and a builder of geodesic domes, this man did it all. Retrospectively, his two dismissals from Harvard University seem like a historical joke. The geodesic dome was Fuller’s first international recognition. Even set up the World Design Science Decade (1965-1975, as part of great designers of the 20th century) based on the idea of "applying science to human problems." As Great designers of the 20th century, the man was centuries ahead of his time; encouraging designers to use renewable energy sources and developing affordable, sustainable works for the citizens of the world.

Richard Buckminster Fuller. Greatest designer, great designers of the 20th century

The Greatest designer: Frank Gehry

In Bilbao, Spain, Gehry designed the titanium-covered Guggenheim Museum, and in downtown Los Angeles, his Walt Disney Concert Hall. Gehry is credited specifically with the design and scale of these huge structures. The Experience Music Project in Seattle and the Dancing House in Prague were also designed by him. His forms themselves are quite stunning in their own right

Guggenheim Museum. Greatest designer, great designers of the 20th century

Great designers of the 20th century: Philippe Starck

As artistic director at Pierre Cardin’s publishing house, he developed his career as an internationally renowned product designer. The Greatest designer. Phillipe Starck then established his own industrial design company. He worked in Driade, Alessi, Kartell, Drimmer, Vitra, and Disform. He created mass-produced consumer products instead of bespoke pieces. From furniture to domestic appliances, toothbrushes, staplers, to lemon reamers, to tableware, clothing, food, and architecture, He expanded into every possible genre. Starck’s vision is not limited by the medium, it’s liberated by their respective possibilities.

Great designers of the 20th century: Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright completed over 500 works in his career and designed more than 1,000 structures. Fallingwater (1935) demonstrates how man and nature can live in harmony. Wright was also the architect of the famed Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City. It has a striking façade, and its structure and contents have been completely revamped by Wright. He also designed the interior and the furnishings.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

The man is accomplished. At Illinois Institute of Technology, where he developed the Second Chicago School, he served as director of Berlin’s Bauhaus and department head of architecture. He is regarded as a modern architecture master (or peer, as some might describe them) along with Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, and Alvar Aalto. Mies strove for minimal architecture, with open spaces, and with the minimal framework; "less is more." He pursued what he called "skin and bones" architecture. The Greatest designer in this theme.

Aleksandr Rodchenko

Rodchenko, a member of the Productivism movement in the early great designers of the 20th century Russian avant-garde scene (which preceded landmarks like Bauhaus and De Stijl), is widely considered one of the founders of that movement. The artist is also a sculptor, photographer, graphic designer, industrial designer, and architect. In his work, Rodchenko combined all media in public service for a socially aware and engaged purpose. His bold graphics and posters conveyed his disdain for propaganda by depicting modern monuments of his time.

Logo by Rodchenko

The Greatest designer: Dieter Rams

He was Braun’s director of design. Rams usually belongs to the Functionalist school of industrial design, and he has even outlined ten principles on how to define "good design" for us non-professionals. To Rams, good design is innovative, integrated, useful, aesthetic, understandable, non-obtrusive, honest, long-lasting, environmentally friendly, and as few pieces of design as possible.

The Greatest designer of NY: Milton Glaser

He made the I ♥ NY logo, essential of the great designers of the 20th century. In 1968, Glaser and Clay Felker founded New York Magazine. As well as the Coach, JetBlue, and Target logos, Glaser also left some graphical gifts to future generations. Furthermore, Milton Glaser’s work, as illustrated in the 2009 documentary film To Inform and Delight: The World of Milton Glaser, embodies his ethos: design that is legible, informative, and visually pleasing. Obama also awarded Glaser the National Medal of Arts that year.

I love NY logo

Le Corbusier

He could create just about anything. An architect of high modernist design, he was a visionary when it came to urban planning. His perfect designs include the infamous Villa Savoye (that elaborated on his five main points of architecture) and Chandigarh, India’s unfinished capital city complex. The Greatest designer.

Walter Gropius

In 1919, Walter Gropius founded Germany’s Staatsbauhaus, a legendary institute that teaches craft, design, and the fine arts together. He was a pioneer of modern architecture. Part of great designers of the 20th century. 

En of the great designers of the 20th century: Sir Jonathan Ive

At Apple Inc., he is Senior Vice President of Design and oversees Industrial Design, including that for the MacBook Pro, iMac, MacBook Air, iPod, iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, iPad Mini, and iOS 7. We all succumb to Apple’s sleek monolith at some point in our lives.

iPhones

Louis Kahn

A major figure in modern architecture, Louis Kahn was known for his heavy, monumental architecture in the ’40s and ’50s, part of great designers of the 20th century. The Greatest designer. In his work, he focused on blocky public housing projects in Philadelphia and abroad, informed by his populist political views. In addition to modernizing traditional architectural styles, his work does not conform to the strict conventions of his time, proper of the Greatest designer.

The Greatest designer of Italy: Massimo Vignelli

His idealism is appreciated, as part of the great designers of the 20th century. He said, "If you can design one thing, you can design everything". Although he has utopian aspirations, Vignelli created the signage for the New York and Washington Metro systems as well as rebranding American Airlines, Knoll, Bloomingdale’s, and Xerox. 

Massimo Vignelli. Greatest designer, great designers of the 20th century

David Adjaye

This Ghanaian-British architect was an unlikely choice for the National Museum of African American History in Washington, D.C. He said of the project: “There’s no doubt that African-Americans are part of the hope of almost every black person I know...I grew up believing that African-American history is part of modern history, which is the history of all minorities.” His museum expresses this with the visitor able to literally rise through history. The Greatest designer.

Like the great designers of the 20th century: Thomas Heatherwick

It was he who brought viewers on a whirlwind journey through Heatherwick Studio. Heatherwick designed a structure filled with optic fibers holding 60,000 plant seeds for the 2010 Shanghai Expo, for which the U.K. was representing. In his work, he often uses amorphous structures that seem alive, and he tends to re-invent everyday objects, such as a chair that spins. Heatherwick was also behind the Olympic Cauldron and the Garden Bridge concept in London.  

Garden Bridge in London. Greatest designer, great designers of the 20th century

Daniel Libeskind

Although it is a greatly simplified version of his original design, New York’s Freedom Tower is his most famous work to date. However, Liebeskind has undertaken politically and socially wrought commissions before. As the architect of Berlin’s Holocaust Museum, he aimed to give visitors a way to reflect on the horror of the massacre more than the museum itself. The Greatest designer.

Berlin’s Holocaust Museum.

Bjarke Ingels

Danish architect who refuses to follow tradition has become the "young bad boy" of international contemporary architecture. Even far from the great designers of the 20th century, he won more than one award every year since 2001, his "gives no fucks" attitude has gotten him far. BIG is Ingles’ firm, it doesn’t shy away from the spotlight. 

Bjarke Ingels. Greatest designer, great designers of the 20th century

Elizabeth Scofidio

She’s one-fourth of Diller, Scofidio + Renfo, and perhaps the most famous contemporary architect in New York. The Greatest designer. Scofidio’s participation on relevant panels about New York’s development and the intersection of design and community has contributed to raising awareness of many pressing issues. As well as creating the high-profile High Line on the West Side, DS+R is also working on the expansion of the Museum of Modern Art.

Born as the great designers of the 20th century: Craig Edward Dykers and Kjetil Trædal Thorsen

Library of Alexandria in Egypt.

Snøhetta is Norway’s tallest mountain, so it’s fitting that Craig Edward Dykers and Kjetil Trædal Thorsen used the name of Norway’s tallest mountain for their firm’s name. As well as redesigning Times Square and building the National September 11 Museum, the firm’s buildings are also as immersed in the public landscape as they are striking. Among their most famous recent architecture projects is the Library of Alexandria in Egypt.

The Greatest designer of Spain: Antoni Gaudí

Building by Antoni Gaudí. Greatest designer, great designers of the 20th century

The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona is the magnum opus of Spanish Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. Sagrada Familia’s Temple Expiatori is probably a singularly unique structure: Neo-Gothic, Naturalistic, and reminiscent of a dream. It is astonishing to think of and design spaces like these, as great designers of the 20th century. Gaudí also created interiors, doors, and furniture that look as if they are a part of the bizarrely seductive universe that his architecture hails from. Greatest designer of Spain.

Did you enjoy some of the great designers of the 20th century? Stay to become the Greatest designer:

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