the greatest graphic designs of all time

We’ve seen the Futura and it’s beautiful.

by Matthew Whitehouse
22 March 2017, 4:16pm

Wozzeck poster by Jan Lenica for the Warsaw Opera, Poland, 1964.

Bad graphic design. It can never be justified. Thankfully, Phaidon has compiled a book of some of the best examples and wow — it's good. We're not just saying it because i-D gets a mention. From Buljo Jikji Simche Yojeol in 1377, the first text made with moveable type (take that Gutenberg Bible!) to Shepard Fairey's Obama poster from 2008, perhaps the perfect synthesis of image and text, Graphic: 500 Designs that Matter is a breeze through some of the most iconic designs of all time. Posters and advertisements, magazines and newspapers, logos, symbols, and album covers. God knows how they whittled them down.

Vanity Fair magazine cover by Mehemed Fehmy Agha, 1929 to 1936, Condé Nast Publications, US / Vanity Fair. Cover illustration by Jean Carlu, art direction by Mehemed Fehmy Agha. April 1931

What's really nice about it all is how quickly you start to pick up on the peaks and troughs of the medium. The book's laid out not alphabetically or chronologically, but by similarity. A pie chart falling next to the Hinomaru of the Japanese flag. The crucifix-like CND sign alongside a Christ-like image from a United Colors of Benetton ad. There's a smart history of each design in the back if you really want to know who shot the serif (spoiler: it was Paul Renner in 1927) but much of the joy of the book comes from dipping in and out, opening it up on anything from Jan Lenica's expressionistic Wozzeck poster to the I ❤ NY logo. It is, to put it lightly, an invaluable resource to design students the world over (no matter what their type). Here's a few of our favorite examples below.

Esquire magazine cover, George Lois, 1962 to 1972, Esquire, US: Esquire, art direction by George Lois, May 1969

5 Finger Hat Die Hand, poster, John Heartfield, 1928, German Communist Party, Germany: Die Rote Fahne, 13 May 1928

Vertigo, film graphics, Saul Bass, 1958, Paramount Pictures, US

Obama - Progress/Hope, poster, Shepard Fairey, 2008, self commissioned, US

Graphic: 500 Designs that Matter is out now via Phaidon


Text Matthew Whitehouse

graphic design
graphic: 500 designs that matter