1999 AIGA Medal
Born: 1949, Budapest, Hungary
Deceased: 1999, San Juan, Puerto Rico
In the mid 80s two names changed graphic design: Macintosh and Tibor. The former needs no introduction. Nor, with various books and articles by and about him. Tibor Kalman, who died on May 2, 1999, after a long, courageous battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, was one of the few graphic designers whose accomplishments were legend within the field and widely known outside as well. Tibor may not be as influential on the daily practice of graphic design as the Mac, but his sway over how designers think — indeed, how they define their roles in culture and society — is indisputable. For a decade he was the design profession’s moral compass and its most fervent provocateur.
Kalman taught himself to design advertisements, store signs, shopping bags, and the original B&N bookplate trademark. For the next eight years he directed the advertising and display of what had grown from one to fifty-five outlets. In 1979 Kalman accepted a high-paying offer to design signs for a discount department store chain, and soon after left to open his own graphic design studio.
Tibor saw himself as a social activist for whom graphic design was a means of achieving two ends: good design and social responsibility. Good design, which he defined as “unexpected and untried,” added more interest, and was thus a benefit, to everyday life. Second, since graphic design is mass communication, Tibor believed it should be used to increase public awareness of a variety of social issues. His own design firm, M&Co (named after his wife and co-creator, Maira), which started in 1979 selling conventional “design by the pound” to banks and department stores, was transformed in the mid-1980s into a soapbox for his social mission.
Kalman was best known for the groundbreaking work he created with his New York design firm, M&Co, and his brief yet influential editorship of Colors magazine. Throughout his 30-year career, Kalman brought his restless intellectual curiosity and subversive wit to everything he worked on -- from album covers for the Talking Heads to the redevelopment of Times Square. Kalman incorporated visual elements other designers had never associated with successful design, and used his work to promote his radical politics. The influence of his experiments in typography and images can be seen everywhere, from music videos to the design of magazines such as Wired and Ray Gun.