The Most Influential Designers of All Time

From the logos that litter our social media feeds to the buildings we pass by every day on our way to work, design infiltrates our lives, even when we don’t realize it. And when we do start to pay attention, it’s impossible not to wonder who’s behind the shapes, colors, textures and structures of the brands, media, and objects that surround us in our daily lives.

Sometimes we don’t even realize the ubiquity of design until something changes, like when Google releases a new Google Doodle—suddenly we’re aware that the logo we see every time we open our Chrome browsers is different. Other times, design smacks us in the face, like when a new monumental building fills up the skyline. If you’ve ever looked at architectural renderings of the future, you can imagine how dizzying these design changes can be. Take a handful of proposals for upcoming projects — the world might look a whole lot different in the future.

While architecture may be the most noticeable form of design, graphic designers have a big impact on our lives as well. Many of the most prominent ones today you can even find on Twitter. And of the ones that are no longer alive, their influence still lives on in everything from the New York subway map to the Coca-Cola label.

Besides graphic and architecture, which may be on two different ends of the design spectrum, our list also covers people who are behind some of the most useful objects ever invented, from the cars we drive to the chairs we sit on. And don’t think we left out Apple’s head designer, Jonathan Ive, either. The fact that there’s an impeccably constructed object in almost everyone’s purse or pocket speaks to how impactful design can be. Check out our list of the most influential designers of all time.

 

Antoni Gaudi

Medium: Architecture, Furniture, Interior Design etc.

Spanish Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí's magnum opus is the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. The Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia is probably a singularly unique structure: part Neo-Gothic, part Naturalistic, part hallucinatory dream. It is mind blowing that Gaudí was thinking of and designing spaces such as these so early in the 20th century, markedly different from the architecture of Victor Horta's Art Nouveau influence. Gaudí also designed interior spaces, doors, and furniture that look as though they are a part of the bizarrely seductive universe that his architecture hails from. He even created pieces like a Gossip Chair, which is a series of seats conjoined at the armrests.

Saul Bass

Medium: Print Design and Animation

If you have ever seen the title sequences of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, Spartacus, or Anatomy of a Murder, or seen the posters for Vertigo or West Side Story, you have encountered Bass' most well known works. Other contributions to our society rank among the Girl Scouts' and United Airways' logos.
 

James Dyson

Medium: Product Design

Forbes may have said it best: "Dyson brought a level of excitement to housekeeping that's usually reserved for cell phones and plasma televisions." They're right; 360-degree-swivel vacuums and bladeless fans have never felt so compelling.

Marcel Breuer

Medium: Architecture, Furniture Design etc.

Like many of his brilliant contemporaries, Marcel Breuer also studied and taught at the Bauhaus in the 1920s, where he would then take on a teaching position as the head of the university's carpentry workshop. His familiarity with unforgiving materials of Industrial design eventually lead to this Hungarian Modernist's most widely-recognized work: the Wassily Chair. The name may not be familiar to all of us, but the bent tubular steel chair is no stranger in our lives. Breuer is also responsible for the Whitney Museum of American Art building (1966) uptown, which is a familiar façade for New York City aesthetes and civilians alike.

Stefan Sagmeister

Medium: Graphic Design

Austrian native Stefan Sagmeister's most jarring (and recognizable) work was the infamous poster he designed for AIGA in 1999, where he opted to have the text of the event excised into his skin and photographed as the result. So, if Sagmeister doesn't type typography personally — we don't know who does.

Massimo Vignelli

Medium: Graphic Design etc.

Massimo Vignelli's famous adage "If you can design one thing, you can design everything" may not hold true for everyone, but his idealism is much appreciated. Utopian aspirations aside, Vignelli re-branded familiar companies such as American Airlines, Knoll, Bloomingdale's and Xerox, as well as created the signage for the NYC and DC Metro systems. So, next time you are in New York City, and you realize that the MTA arrows point you in the right direction, you have Vignelli to thank.

Kenichiro Ashida

Medium: Product Design

Kenichiro Ashida is to thank for all the time we have spent burning calories and time with the Nintendo Wii. His original design and creation of the Wii controllers, as well as its subsequent accessories, have truly changed the way that we interact with virtual games in real space and time.

Rem Koolhaas

Medium: Architecture

Rem Koolhaas is still hot; just last week, his design for the Miami Beach Convention Center Competition was chosen as the winner. In addition to his continuing contributions to contemporary architecture, Koolhaas is a Professor in Practice of Architecture and Urban Design at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture) was co-founded by Koolhaas in 1975. In the late '90s, as OMA was confronted with a transition into the virtual domain, they decided to create a new company called AMO, a think tank dedicated to operating in "areas beyond the tradition boundaries of architecture, including media, politics, sociology, renewable energy, technology, fashion, curating, publishing, and graphic design."

Zaha Hadid

Medium: Architecture
 
Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid was the first woman to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004. Her Starchitect status and global notoriety speak to her success and recognition as a designer of space and structure. In 2013, Hadid proved she had made it with her first New York City project: a boutique condo complex near New York City's High Line park. In addition to her geometric megastructures, she created furniture installations, and had a hand in the design of a three-wheeled automobile. She even dabbled in footwear design to produce a boot with clothing brand Lacoste in 2009. Hadid passed away in 2016.