The Future History of Graphic Design

Posted inDesign Education
Thumbnail for The Future History of Graphic Design

By: Ken Carbone | November 19, 2012

Every generation of graphic designers looks to design heroes from the past for inspiration. For Paul Rand, it was A. M. Cassandre. For Ivan Chermayeff and Tom Geismar, it was Paul Rand. For me, it was Chermayeff & Geismar. This cycle continues as today’s budding graphic designers begin to shape their own careers.

But which designers practicing today have the brightest future? Who is doing work that is influential, inspiring, and will stand the test of time? In other words, who will be the future history of graphic design?

I posed this question to a group of students while lecturing at the University of Maryland’s graphic design program last spring. I challenged them to select a contemporary designer whose work they found exciting and personally inspiring. I wanted them to dig deep and think beyond the usual suspects—including any designers known today by their first name alone!

In an intense five-hour workshop, the students were then asked to design a poster promoting an imaginary exhibition for their designer of choice. Their assignment was to capture the essence of that designer’s work and not simply mimic a style. Who did these young design students choose? The results were surprising and refreshing, as these selected examples show:

Design army

Deanna Romero (May 2012): Design Army

“I chose Design Army due to their simple, clean, and bold approach to design. They are daring and like to push boundaries in their work.”


Martín Allais

Aurora Colón (May 2012): Martín Allais

“His work is experimental, chaotic, and takes into account the ways geography and globalization influence contemporary graphic design.”


The Heads of State

Sabrena Sesay (May 2013): The Heads of State

“The design duo Jason Kernevich and Dustin Summers, who make up The Heads of State, combine illustration and design. They have inspired my goal to develop my own style that harmonizes my two artistic passions.”


Justina Blakeney

Emily Hein (2013): Justina Blakeney

“I enjoy Justina Blakeney’s use of vibrant colors, tribal patterns, and organic shapes. She inspires me to add more whimsical and playful elements into my own work.”


Post Typography

Michael Cantor (2012): Post Typography

“I selected the Baltimore design firm Post Typography because of their playful energy, sardonic sense of humor, and clever design execution.”


Oliver Munday

Kristen Yeung, 2013 Oliver Munday

“Munday’s clever designs blend images and meanings in a way that is multifaceted, witty, and original yet never extravagant.”


These students worked damn hard and I was pleased with their posters. I also learned something about today’s great design talents in the process. After visiting their websites, I found stunning work that was highly personal, stylistically broad, and visually arresting. As this cycle of influence continues, it’s very possible that one of these students will become a future design “rock star” and inspire a generation of graphic designers in years to come.

Ken Carbone is a designer, artist, musician, author, and teacher. As the co-founder and chief creative director of the Carbone Smolan Agency, he has created design programs for such clients as W Hotels, Morgan Stanley, Christie’s, Tiffany & Co., the Museum of Modern Art, and the Musée du Louvre. In addition, he is the co-author of the newly releasedbook Dialog: What Makes a Great Design Partnership; a professor in the MFA Designer as Author program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City; and a featured blogger for Fast Company magazine.


Related reading: The Heads of State were one of the judges of this year’s Regional Design Annual, which is out now.