The Most Influential Designs of the Past 33 Years


Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth

Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth was published in 2000, with the paperback published in 2003. The Pantheon graphic novel gave Ware an outlet to tell a story full of romance and disappointment, humor and surprise—and with fold-outs and paper cut-outs as an added bonus, making for a truly experiential reading encounter.

image courtesy of Pantheon

Gotham (2000) by Hoefler & Frere-Jones

Gotham (2000) by Hoefler & Frere-Jones was inspired by Manhattan’s Port Authority Bus Terminal signs and lettering, and famously used by President Obama for his Presidential campaign materials. It’s considered one of the most successful typefaces of the 21st century.

Gotham courtesy of Hoefler & Co.

Ben Visser on Interactive Design and the Bygone-Era of Flash

“Sites like Presstube by James Paterson were really intriguing and inspiring to me during the mid-2000s. Paterson was doing some really experimental Flash work that blended interactivity, art, design and motion in a really mind-blowing way.”

Ben Visser is a partner, art director, technical director and developer at Social Design House in Rock Hill, SC

ALIB1 Flash Screensaver image courtesy of James Paterson. 

Speak Up (2002–2009) and Design Observer

Speak Up (2002–2009) was one of the early design blogs—along with Design Observer—that included essays, book reviews, interviews and everything in between, including comments and criticism from its readers. Founded in 2003 by Jessica Helfand, William Drenttel, Michael Bierut and Rick Poynor, Design Observer continues to flourish online. Although Speak Up came to an end in 2009, it was part of UnderConsideration, which continues to be successful with online endeavors such as Brand New, and the Brand New Conference (BNC).

Speak Up image courtesy of UnderConsideration, Design Observer image courtesy of Design Observer

Jesse Reed on What Motivated Him to Be a Graphic Designer

“The answer is very simple, (I suspect) very common and not very deep: lines. Lines, specifically the lines found within Armin Hofmann’s Graphic Design Manual: Principles and Practice, originally published in 1965, then brought back to life by Niggli in 2004. I was a freshman at the University of Cincinnati majoring in fine arts, specifically photography. I went through just about the whole year of classes, and then I saw three white squares mounted to a piece of mat board from a friend majoring in graphic design. These squares were filled with line internal studies, the same studies found on pages 104-105 of Hofmann’s book. For reasons unknown to my brain, it triggered a gut reaction. Coming from a year’s worth of fine art foundation courses, having zero knowledge of design, seeing these thin to thick black lines situated perfectly in a white square gave me a rush—their sophistication, order and clarity was incredibly seducing and I drank the Kool-Aid from that day forward. A week later I submitted my application to the graphic design program, an hour before the deadline, and I was thankfully accepted. It was the single-most important decision I’ve made in my life so far, and I have one person to thank: Armin.”

— Jesse Reed is a designer and partner at the design office Order. You can get your own copy of Hofmann’s book at Standards Manual.

photograph courtesy of Jesse Reed

The Complete Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz

The Complete Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz, designed by the award-winning cartoonist Seth, won numerous awards including multiple Eisner Awards and Harvey Awards. The series contains the entire Peanuts collection in one place, a beautiful series of books, with equally beautiful slipcases to hold them. If you know—and love—Peanuts, consider this a must-have.

Cover courtesy of Fantagraphics Books

Gary Hustwit’s Helvetica (2007)

Gary Hustwit’s Helvetica (2007) celebrated its 10-year anniversary in 2017. The documentary film told the story of one of the most popular typefaces of all time, starring … well, one of the most popular typefaces of all time—Helvetica. Interviews with leading experts, designers, historians and critics paint a portrait of how Helvetica has impacted lives all over the world.

Helvetica poster courtesy of Gary Hustwit

Parakeet’s Alexa Grafera on David Lanham’s Designs

“Lanham’s work, along with others at The Iconfactory around the advent of the iPhone App Store, first inspired me to apply my digital painting skills to icono-graphy. Their app icons and icon systems have always set an incredibly high standard and driven the principles that have guided me and others in the industry.”

— Alexa Grafera is an icon designer at Parakeet.

Amy Papaelias on Technology, Typography and Type Design.

“For over 20 years, OpenType has helped make digital typography better: It works across Windows and Mac operating systems, supports character sets for most languages and bolsters advanced typographic control (think small caps or fancy swash glyphs). A collaboration between Microsoft and Adobe, OpenType does all of this in a single font file. It’s impossible to select a typeface that represents all of what makes OpenType so influential. Instead, I’ll pick two. Bello Pro (Underware, 2004), designed by Bas Jacobs, Akiem Helmling and Sami Kortemäki, is a brush script typeface with ligatures, small caps, contextual alternates and swashes. Source Han Sans (Adobe and Google, 2014), designed by Ryoko Nishizuka along with Ken Lunde, is an open source typeface family that provides full support for Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Japanese and Korean (the entire family includes nearly half a million glyphs).”

—Amy Papaelias is an associate professor of graphic design at SUNY New Paltz and co-founder of

Bello Pro image courtesy of Underware

Source Hans Sans with annotations courtesy of Adobe


Hamish Smyth on Bringing Back NASA in 2015

“I think one of the most influential pieces of design the universe has ever seen is the 1975 NASA worm by Richard Danne and Bruce Blackburn. Growing up in the ’80s, this logo was NASA for me. It was on my shuttle model and it looked like all the high-tech stuff they were doing. I didn’t know what design was, but the way they had written NASA looked like space to me. Having the opportunity to work with that logo’s designer 40 years later to reissue the NASA Standards Manual was a dream come true for me. Now I know what design is, but that logo is still as amazing to me as when I saw it as a child. And even though NASA tried to get rid of that logo, it’s still out there, painted on the side of spacecraft, heading out into the universe.”

— Hamish Smyth is a designer and partner with Jesse Reed at the design office Order, and the two also own and operate the Standards Manual bookstore. Their NASA Standards Manual was printed in November 2015, and released in 2016, and is in its third printing—soon to be fourth.

photograph courtesy of Standards Manual

Meagan Cignoli on Short, Short Films

“Perhaps it is more of a personal impact, but despite it not living too long, I do think Vine (2013–2016) had a huge impact on digital art and advertising. It shifted the industry’s idea of video length. Ten years—50 years—ago, no one would have imagined that you could tell a story or create a commercial that was only a few seconds long and make it as impactful and full of information as you were able to with Vine’s looping videos. Adverts are growing shorter and shorter. Vine proved that it was possible and took us to a place that was uncomfortable and rigid, but also in a weird way creatively

— Meagan Cignoli is a creative director and partner at Visual Country.

Wonder Woman Leaps from Comic Book Pages to the Big Screen

Directed by Patty Jenkins, and starring Gal Gadot, 2017’s Wonder Woman brought the strong, powerful, fearless female superhero to the big screen in what proved to be a landmark event. The motion picture blockbuster dominated the summer 2017 box office and continues to get people talking—especially when it comes to her follow-up solo film, currently slated for 2019.

image courtesy of Warner Brothers

Adrian Shaughnessy on Unit Editions

“Our success comes from the reason we set up Unit Editions: to produce books on graphic design, for graphic designers, by graphic designers. This came out of a frustration with the ways in which mainstream publishers failed to understand what graphic designers treasure in books—everything from typography to format. Designers value the fine details of book production. Plus, we wanted to publish books with subject matter that other publishers had failed to spot or declined, and which we knew there was an appetite for.

All our books take hundreds and hundreds of hours to complete. I also think that readers appreciate the fact that we do everything ourselves—apart from printing and the physical mailing out of books. There is an artisanal quality to our books which people seem to like in an era of increasing standardization.”

—Unit Editions published its first book in 2010, and the company was formed by Tony Brook, Patricia Finegan and Adrian Shaughnessy to publish books on graphic design and visual culture.

image courtesy of Unit Editions