Patrick Burgoyne on design and fame

Here, Patrick Burgoyne explores the often fraught role that fame plays in graphic design, especially if you are British

Herb, Seymour, Milton. If you are a designer, or indeed a regular CR reader, these names will mean something to you. They refer, of course, to Herb Lubalin, Seymour Chwast and Milton Glaser – three of the all-time greats of New York design. The threesome (all men, note) have now been afforded the accolade of their very own range of baseball caps, each adorned with their first name, rendered in a typeface associated with their work.

The hats can be purchased in the gift shop of the recently opened Poster House museum in New York and were specially commissioned by the museum as a tribute to the designers of some the most notable works in its archive.

What would the British equivalent be? Peter, Neville, Malcolm? Margaret, Morag, Marina? Would anyone get the reference? And who would buy one anyway?

Perhaps the idea that a British equivalent seems so risible reflects different attitudes toward fame on each side of the Atlantic. We may wish the work of designers to be celebrated and valued, but fame? We seem very equivocal about that.

In most industries, achieving what passes for fame would be seen as a positive, a gateway to future career success. But it doesn’t always work like that in design – not in graphic design anyway. Perhaps the famous example of the difficulties that fame can bring the British designer is the experience of Neville Brody. In 1988, The Graphic Language of Neville Brody, Jon Wozencroft’s extensive book on the designer’s work, was published to great excitement. An exhibition at the V&A accompanied it. But for Brody, this was to prove a decidedly mixed blessing.