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The best picture books do what great graphic design does: share a story that stays. Built with the tools of layout, typography, color, contrast, shape, and line, picture books can guide attention, expand imagination, evoke emotion, inspire change and reveal a different perspective into the world. When constructed skillfully, they create an experience that remains with us for life—one that is passed to the next generation, page by page, bedtime by bedtime.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, for decades graphic designers have turned to the picture book as a communication device, as an artistic challenge, and as a means to share stories with a younger generation. Many have served as both writer and illustrator of the books, though some have only illustrated stories that other wrote. Some shifted their careers to produce children’s books primarily, while others remained active in designing logos, posters, magazines and such.
In order of the publication year of their first children’s book, here are 13 graphic designers who have ventured into the craft of children’s literature. Five are winners of the AIGA medal, the highest honor in the graphic design industry. Three come from the cofounding quartet of Push Pin Studios. Two are women. But they all have one notable thing in common: bringing their skills as designers to an audience just getting started in learning to read and see the world.
The Picture Books of Paul Rand, Milton Glaser, Saul Bass, Paula Scher, Christoph Niemann, Bruno Munari & More
1. Seymour Chwast
First children’s book: Farmer Goosby Gives In (mid-1940s, year uncertain)
In a 2016 interview with Co.Design, Seymour Chwast said, “Electronic books are something I don’t really understand. I love to do children’s books, and I don’t think there’s a big concern that they’re going to become electronic. I think children want to see pictures in real ink.” Chwast is among the most prolific living children’s illustrators, and has written and illustrated numerous picture books for children (and some for adults). Chwast is a cofounder of Push Pin Studios, where he has worked on a wide range of design and illustration projects, from paperback books to posters. His broad range of graphic styles and sense of humor is evident in his illustrations for children.
2. Bruno Munari
First children’s book: The Elephant’s Wish (1945)
Described by Picasso as “the Leonardo of our time,” Bruno Munari was a graphic designer, inventor, sculptor, writer, poet and (of course) children’s book creator. He began creating children’s books around the time he was an art director for two magazines by Mondadori, and eventually published more than 10 books for children. His books use paper textures, die cuts and layout in unexpected ways, inviting the reader to explore the book as an object. Munari also invented toys for children, and his many accolades include the Hans Christian Andersen Award for his contributions to children’s literature (1974) and the LEGO Prize for fostering creativity in children (1986).
3. Tom Eckersley
First (and only) children’s book: Cat O’ Nine Lives (1946)
Tom Eckersley built a career around captivating the public eye with bold, bright graphics. His skill in designing posters not only led him to the Westminster School of Art, where he taught poster design, but also to a role in the Publicity Section of the Air Ministry during WWII, services for which he was granted an Order of the British Empire. Eckersley illustrated only one children’s book, Cat O’ Nine Lives, which was written by his wife, Daisy Eckersley. Not unlike his posters, the illustrations for this book often feature one bold graphic as a page’s focal point, and employ substantial blurring effects that he used throughout his graphic design career.
Cover image from AbeBooks
4. Paul Rand
First children’s book: I Know A Lot of Things (1956)
Paul Rand, the legendary corporate branding designer behind the IBM and UPS logos, is the creator of four children’s picture books, all of which he produced with his wife Ann Rand after their daughter Catherine was born. Their first picture book was published in 1956, the same year of his first redesign of the IBM logo. Rand was a pioneer of American Modernism, which is reflected in the artwork of his picture books.
5. Leo Lionni
First children’s book: Little Blue and Little Yellow (1959)
Although Lionni produced more than 40 picture books, four of which were Caldecott winners, all were created in the latter part of a diverse and illustrious career. After earning a doctoral degree in economics, Lionni produced advertisements for Ford Motors and Chrysler Plymouth, provided over a decade of art direction for Fortune magazine, directed design for Olivetti, headed the Graphic Design Department at the Parsons School of Design, taught at the Cooper Union, and served as a co-editor for Print magazine. He is considered the first to use collage as the primary medium in children’s literature—his first book was inspired by an effort to amuse his grandchildren on a train ride by ripping colored shapes out of a magazine.
6. Milton Glaser
First children’s book: If Apples Had Teeth (1960)
Perhaps best known for his iconic I ❤ NY logo and Bob Dylan poster, Milton Glaser is a cofounder of Push Pin Studios and the illustrator behind three books for children, all of which were collaborations with his wife, Shirley Glaser. Glaser’s illustrations in these books are gentler in color and line than the bold shapes and strong colors dominating his other work. For The Alphazeds (2003), Glaser drew each letter (each a character in the book) from a different typeface.
7. Ivan Chermayeff
First children’s book: Blind Mice and Other Numbers (1961)
Cofounder of the notable design firm Chermayeff & Geismar, Ivan Chermayeff is known for creating some of the most recognized logos in history, including the marks for the Smithsonian and HarperCollins Publishers, as well as large-scale architectural projects (like the gigantic red ‘9’ in front of 9 West 57th Street in Manhattan). But Chermayeff illustrated and authored numerous children’s books during his career. Undeterred by a less-than-glowing review of his 1981 book Tomato and Other Colors in the New York Times, Chermayeff went on to publish several more books for children before his death in 2017.
Cover image from Penguin Random House
8. Edward Sorel
First children’s book: Gwendolyn the Miracle Hen (1961)
Edward Sorel is a cofounder of Push Pin Studios, where his career in illustration began to take off. He has illustrated more than 40 covers for The New Yorker and numerous books for both children and adults. His signature style is highly detailed, depicting busy scenes and intensely expressive faces. In an interview with Esquire magazine, Sorel described his passion for making pictures convincing, noting the value of movies for studying gesture and composition and paying attention to background.
9. Saul Bass
First (and only) children’s book: Henri’s Walk to Paris (1962)
“Symbolize and summarize,” famously said Saul Bass. In a sense, this is what Bass did in the only children’s book he illustrated, Henri’s Walk to Paris, which he published in the middle of a flourishing design career. Bass began his career designing print ads for films, before going on to design animated title sequences and movie posters for many notable films. His illustrations for Henri’s Walk to Paris mirror the graphic style of many of the film title sequences and posters he created around that time, such as The Man with the Golden Arm, North by Northwest, and Vertigo. He later shifted to designing corporate logos, including the iconic marks of Bell Telephone, AT&T and United Airlines.
10. Paula Scher
First children’s book: The Brownstone (1973)
One of the most eminent female designers of our time, Paula Scher is the author of (so far) one children’s book, The Brownstone, illustrated by Stan Mack and published early in her graphic design career. In an interview on Words for Designers, Scher said, “What’s dangerous is when designers use a language that people can’t understand.” Her writing in The Brownstone reveals a long-standing relationship with this statement—writing for children demands a sensitivity to language accessibility and relatability.
11. Christoph Niemann
First children’s book: The Police Cloud (2007)
From the New York Times Magazine to The New Yorker, Wired, Atlantic Monthly and more, Christoph Niemann’s illustrations are ubiquitous. His first picture book, The Police Cloud (2007), is illustrated with crisp digital forms, but subsequent books have shown his skill with simple line drawings, LEGO blocks and stamps made from potatoes. In an article by Steve Heller for Eye, Niemann relates design to the challenge of creating picture books: “In design it’s always hard to take something you know a lot about, and boil it down for the reader who knows nothing.”
12. Frank Viva
First children’s book: Along A Long Road (2011)
After opening Viva & Co., a graphic design firm that has serviced the likes of Le Creuset, Krups and Aéropostale, Frank Viva added children’s picture books to his growing list of design accomplishments. The Museum of Modern Art in New York invited Viva to create its first children’s picture book, Young Frank, Architect, as well as the second in the series, Young Charlotte, Filmmaker. His illustrations have appeared on the cover of The New Yorker, in the New York Times, and inside hundreds of subway cars run by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York.
13. Jessica Hische
First children’s book: Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave (2018)
The youngest designer in this list, Jessica Hische was born in 1984 and has established her name as a lettering artist and typeface designer. After graduating from the Tyler School of Art, Hische worked for Headcase Design and then as a designer at Louise Fili’s studio. Her first children’s picture book, Tomorrow I’ll Be Brave, will be published in October 2018. Previews hint that it will be bursting with dramatic lettering and stunning typographic details.