5 Famous Designers Who Never Graduated Design School

August 10, 2010

Today's technology has allowed many designers to pursue their passions, often without a formal graphic design degree. In many ways this is good - “unschooled” designers are perhaps more apt to break the mold and develop revolutionary design styles.

On the other hand, a lack of training can make for a poor design foundation, and I've often run into groups who harbor a distinct bias against non-degreed designers. If you're in that camp, don't be discouraged – you're actually in good company. As the achievements of the following famous designers indicate, you don't necessarily need a design degree to revolutionize the industry – much less launch a lucrative graphic design career. William Bernbach – The man behind Volkswagen's “Think Small” and Life Cereal's “Mikey” campaigns did not graduate design school. Rather, he earned his degree in literature. He started his career in the ad industry as an underdog who beat the odds to become one of the most successful advertising creative directors in history. Alexey Brodovitch – Brodovitch had no formal training as a graphic designer when he emigrated from Russia to Paris to become a painter. He won a poster design competition that earned him public recognition and served as a springboard for an award-winning design career that ultimately had him – ironically – teaching design students. Tibor Kalman – The famous editor-in-chief of Colors magazine and founder of the M&Co design firm was a New York University journalism school dropout. Wally Olins – Olins is world renowned as an expert in corporate branding and identity, and his firm Saffron Brand Consultants is one of the globe's finest. It’s difficult to imagine that he studied history, not art or design, at Oxford. Raymond Loewy – The father of industrial design who was behind iconic images for BP, Shell, Exxon, the Pennsylvania Railroad, Lucky Strikes and many more (at one time it was said that the average person couldn't go through a day without coming into contact with something that Loewy was behind the design for) didn't attend design school.

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About Brian Morris

Brian Morris serves in various capacities as a freelance writer, content developer and public relations specialist for growing small businesses. When he’s not writing, he can be found on the racquetball court - usually getting his tail kicked by guys 20 years older.

Anonymous's picture
January 07, 2016 03:21 am #

I think it can go both ways. I have met people who have made amazing strides as designers who have never set foot in the classroom. But I've also met some folks who never had the opportunity to experiment who are working strictly for their clients and as a result produce mediocre and non revolutionary work. School helps you make mistakes and "revolutionize" design. At the same time some kid could be sitting in his room for on photoshop 8 hours a day to become the next digital rembrant. So there is no knowing who will revolutionize design. Most of the revolutions this past 20 years, imo, are done by transdicplinary teams. So not all of them are or needed to be schooled.

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Brian January 07, 2016 03:21 am #

You're absolutely right, Ryan, and thank you for posting. Astute observation: "School helps you make mistakes and 'revolutionize' design." Well-said!

Anonymous's picture
January 07, 2016 03:21 am #

[...] Do you need a degree in design to excel in the design field? Yeah, not so much. Brian lists five designers whose outside-the-box thinking turned them into design superstars despite the absence of a degree in design or art in his blog post, “5 Famous Designers Who Never Graduated Design School.” [...]

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