I hardly knew anything about graphic design, or its history, as an art student in the college of Visual and Performing Arts. As part of my work-study program, I was getting paid $5 an hour to assist students load Microfilm and Microfiche machines in the basement of Byrd Library. The “computer consultant,” who sat on the other side of the desk from me, helped visitors copy photos on the flatbed scanner and import them into a program called, “Photoshop.” She made $7.50 an hour.
I wrote an essay about Nike in high school, so I suppose I knew what a logo was. I was also once asked to develop a “graphic” for a T-Shirt that would include type on it. That vague understanding of how design works, plus the allure of a sweet $7.50 an hour salary, lead me to declare “Communications Design,” as a major my Sophomore year. But, to tell you the truth, I still couldn’t name one professional designer if my life depended on it.
So you can imagine the horror I faced, when, on my first day of Intro to Communications Design I (CMD 251), our professor, @wonderingthealphabet, played a bit of an ice-breaker with the class: let’s go around the room, introduce yourself and name your favorite graphic designer.
I drew a complete blank.
Luckily, the library was right next door the Schine Student center, where I had just picked up my stack of required textbooks the week before. Among them, “The Elements of Typographic Style,” by Robert Bringhurst, “Stop Stealing Sheep & Find Out How Type Works,” by the genius, Erik Spiekermann, and “The History of Graphic Design,” by the saint, Phillip Meggs. I had thumbed through all of them because, to tell you the truth, students weren’t exactly clamoring to scan Microfilm.
As we went around the room, my classmates confidently claimed their design heroes. I was nervous, perhaps a little sweaty. Who declares a major they hardly know anything about? Think, John, think!
“Josef... Müller... Brockmann? Yeah, Josef Müller-Brockmann.” That’s what I said.
My professor said he respected that response, made some remark about the grid and his education in the International Typographic Style, and the class moved along. Josef Müller-Brockmann saved me from embarrassment. To this day, I have no idea how a hyphenated name, complete with umlaut, popped into my head.
After class, I rode my skateboard back to my apartment, looked up the Swiss Style in my textbooks, and vowed to learn more about the history of graphic design.