Are heroes of design a thing of the past?


Well-Known Member
Reading the thread regarding the death of Storm Thorgerson got me thinking. Are the design heroes like Thorgerson that we all studied at college a thing of the past? With the list of living, influential groundbreaking Graphic Designers becoming ever shorter, who's going to take their place? in 60 years will students be learning about the works of a new wave of ground breaking designers who are are yet to begin their design careers. Or will the over saturation of 'designers' and cost effective middle of the road design leave the history of design as just that, history?
Interesting food for thought.

I'd like to think that in future the fundamentals of design will still be taught, and honestly, I can't see why not. Design is a pretty elitist field, and there are enough traditionalists that the 'old ways' of design will persevere. It wouldn't surprise me if names like Vignelli, Barnbrook, Sher, Brody, Sagmeister, etc, etc were still used when referring to infuencial designers, but I have no idea who the future equivalents will be.

I find a lot of the design work I see nowadays as average. I don't mean that in a negative way, I just find that so many studios and individuals are producing brilliant design work, that it's often hard to find anything exceptional. When I look at one design portfolio, I feel like I've seen the work a million times before.

Myself and a few friends were looking for studios to visit when we were in New York. Naturally, we tried the big names like Pentagram, Sagmeister & Walsh and James Victore, but they all declined, so we set about finding other less well-known studios. Their portfolios all looked alike, so rather ignorantly we just kind of picked some at random. One studio in particular produced some fantastic, clever and imaginative work. Seeing it in isolation in their studio helped you appreciate it, but when you compare it to the other work out there it just looks average (because the other work is equally as good).

Also, we no longer rely on authoritative publications to show us work, the designers can tell us about their work themselves, and with so many designers promoting their work, how are we expected to find the outstanding work in the visual noise? The internet also means unique work is quickly imitated, resulting in a trend that very quickly becomes dull.

On a slight side note, we live in very narcissistic times where people, including designers are becoming more and more obsessed with themselves. Many designers seem to be obsessed with the lifestyle of a designer rather than the actual work. They use sites like instagram to show off their latest work, with their iphone alongside it and their iMac and MacBook Pro just visible in the background. I see many 'respected' designers showcasing their above average (at best) work in these pretentious and elaborate ways that seem to be saying more about themselves than their actual work. Craig Oldham, a designer at Manchester agency Music has an interesting musing on contemporary presentation methods of design work.

This narcism possibly devalues design, or at least the quality of it. In the past, famous designers were known for their work, where as it seems now they are famous for being themselves, regardless of the quality of their work. Get enough blog subscribers and twitter followers and you can appear to be whatever you want. It reminds me of the countless bloggers who claim to be making money online by writing about the fact they're making money online.

It's a sort of empty cycle. Tell people you're a good designer and eventually enough people will believe it for you to be seen as one.
...On a slight side note, we live in very narcissistic times where people, including designers are becoming more and more obsessed with themselves. Many designers seem to be obsessed with the lifestyle of a designer rather than the actual work...

Weird, isn't it; I never met a builder with a Christopher Wren complex but the world is bursting at the seams with designers who think that knocking out flyers for the local gas showroom puts them in the same space as Damien Hirst.
I think that taking inspiration from those you learned about when training is an important developmental step, but shouldn't really be given too much gravity in context of a full and successful career. I've learned far more from those I've worked with, including; colleagues, managers, clients and random associates than I ever did by salivating over glossy pages in some must-read book or gazing at my shoes in a rose-tinted, wistful memory of a time that probably never really existed where designers ruled the world of cool and were bashing out incredible, unique works of art that pale in comparison to today's digital fug. I've always thought it was more important to strive to be better by whatever means are available to you as an individual, than to accept that you are mediocre or presume that you are incredible.