Black creatives who shaped the course of design history

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The role of Black creatives in the history of design can’t be overstated. But their work is rarely mentioned. That changes now.

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When we look at designers throughout history, we often learn about their groundbreaking and impactful work and how it influences our tastes and preferences. What is often missing from these narratives, however, is diversity. Many Black designers made astonishing achievements and cultural contributions, yet they seldom receive recognition in the design canon.

Now more than ever, inclusion and equality are on the minds of many, and it’s important that the history of design include the Black creatives who made valuable contributions. A more complete narrative can help us paint a fuller picture of design over time and illuminate the stories that history tells. It can also provide valuable lessons for the work we do today and how it can shape the realities of tomorrow.

With this in mind, we looked at 7 Black graphic designers who left their mark in the history of the graphic design field.

Archie Boston

Archie Boston is a graphic designer born who received his formal education at the Chouinard Art Institute (now CalArts). Like other Blacks, Boston was often faced with racism; he responded with courageous and daring design pieces that have influenced the entire industry.

Some of those bold pieces include a promotional poster featuring the headline: “I don’t want to marry your daughter,” placing emphasis on establishing business relationships. In another poster Boston dressed up as a Black Uncle Sam, serving both as a marketing stunt and a racial statement.

Active in the design, advertising, and design education fields, some of Boston’s most enduring work is his packaging design for Pentel Pens. He also served as president of the Art Directors Club of Los Angeles for 2 terms, and was the first African American to win the AIGA Fellows Award.

“I worked hard to become a good designer, so that I would get hired at a good design firm that places value on good work, and not the color of one's skin.”

- Archie Boston

Self-promotional posters for Boston & Boston, 1966-1967. Image sources: AIGA, Design Week.

A poster reading: "I told Pentel what to do with their Pens. And they did it."
An ad for Pentel of America, 1971. Image source: Duke University Libraries

Gail Anderson

Gail Anderson is an accomplished designer, writer, and educator based in New York, with over 35 years of experience. After attending the School of Visual Arts in New York, Gail worked as a designer for various publishers from the New York Times to the Boston Globe to Rolling Stone.

Of Anderson’s many works, she is most proud of her design for the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation USPS postage stamp. She now serves as a member of the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee for USPS.

She’s a partner and co-founder of the award winning design agency Anderson Newton Design. Some of Anderson’s many achievements include awards from the Society of Publication Designers, the Type Directors Club, and the 2008 Lifetime Achievement Medal from AIGA.

A photo of Gail Anderson (left) and a poster design for Manhattan Theatre Club (right).

Photo by Declan Van Welie; source: Inside Design

The SVA Senior Library book design.