The work of graphic designers and artists throughout the years has shaped the look and feel of each particular era. From album covers to campaign posters, black graphic designers have played an instrumental role in shaping design trends over the years. From Aaron Douglas to Leroy Winbush, the graphic designers featured here played a significant role in influencing up-and-coming black creatives over the years.
Here are five black graphic designers who paved the way for contemporary black designers.
Aaron Douglas is known for being one of the most influential artists of the Harlem Renaissance. He cultivated a unique African art style that formed a distinctive mix of Art Deco and Art Nouveau design features. His work often included African masks, figures, and patterns. Douglas attended the University of Nebraska and graduated in 1922 with a BFA. He taught high school art lessons for approximately two years and eventually went on to work alongside German artist Winold Reiss.
Douglas was one of the most celebrated artists of his time and he became the go-to choice for black writers of his era. He illustrated covers for Carl Van Vechten's Nigger Heaven and God’s Trombone and James Weldon Johnson’s epic poem. Douglas’s influence in the art world cannot be denied, he eventually went on to head up the art department of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennesse where he lived until he passed away in 1979.
Leroy Winbush became a graphic designer straight out of high school. Moving from Detroit to Chicago, he was heavily influenced by the South Side’s sign designers and he began creating signs, flyers, and murals for the Regal Theater in Chicago.
Winbush also spent some years working for Goldblatt Department Store creating signs and flyer designs.
Winbush launched his own graphic design business in 1945, Winbush Designs where he eventually worked on magazines such as Jet and Ebony.
Leroy also worked as visual communication and typography lecturer, and he also went on to create a sickle cell anemia exhibit and an Underground Railroad exhibit for various Chicago museums.
Winbush didn’t want to be remembered solely for being one of the few professional black graphic designers of his time, he also wanted to be known as a “good graphic designer” too.
Eugene Winslow was born and raised in Dayton Ohio. He studied Fine Arts at Dillard University and he eventually served in WWII as one of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Post-war, Winslow went on to attend The Art Institute of Chicago and the Illinois Institute of Technology. Winslow later co-founded the Am-Afro Publishing house in Chicago, where they eventually published the renowned ‘Great American Negroes Past and Present.’ The publication included Winslow’s distinctive illustrations.
Winslow’s mission was to promote racial equality and diversity in the arts industry and beyond.
George Olden was born in 1920 in Birmingham, Alabama. His passion for graphic design led him to leave Virginia State College before graduating to work as a graphic designer for The Office of Strategic Services. He later landed a job at CBS in 1945 working as Head of Network Division of On-Air Promotions where he was involved with classic programs like I Love Lucy and Gunsmoke.
Olden is also known for creating the vote-tallying scoreboard for the first Presidential Election to be televised in 1952.
In 1963, Olden became the first African American designer to illustrate a postage stamp in the United States. The design featured a symbolic image of breaking chains to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
In his lifetime, he won seven Clio Awards to recognize his excellent work in the creative arts field in advertising and design. He also won the American Institute of Graphic Arts award in 2007.
Thomas Miller was born in Bristol Virginia, he was the grandson of slaves and is celebrated for being one of the trailblazers in the graphic design field. He is known for being one of the first African-American designers to break into mainstream graphic design.
Miller studied Education at Virginia State College and graduated in 1941 with a Bachelor of Education degree. After WWII, Miller attended The Ray Vogue School of Art in Chicago. He later went on to work at the progressive Chicago Studio, Morton Goldsholl Associates. Taking on the role of Chief designer, he took on massive campaigns such as the 7-Up soda design campaign as well as the Motorola rebranding, and the Peace Corps logo.
Miller eventually took on a project that would make him a household name. The DuSable Museum’s founders memorial. He created the Thomas Miller Mosaics which were displayed in the lobby of the museum.
Miller’s self-belief, artistic flair, and brilliant creative mind, as well his determination to excel in the graphic design industry, helped him carve a path for up-and-coming black graphic designers to make a name for themselves in mainstream design.
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