Spending A Friday Morning With Tibor Kalman

My copy of Tibor Kalman: Design and Undesign.

I woke up this morning with an itch to write about Tibor Kalman.

Inspired by my recent book purchase Tibor Kalman: Design and Undesign, I thought I should definitely share my new graphic designer finding.

Kalman was, perhaps, the only designer whose work was very controversial for the 80s design community, because no one talked – through type and design – about sex, AIDS, politics and racial issues as openly and graphically as Kalman did.

Tibor Kalman is one of those graphic designers who, despite the fact that he did incredible design work, had been always underestimated and not as widely known as some of his 80s-90s design colleagues like David Carson, Fred Woodward, and Neville Brody were. And if it wasn’t for one of my graphic design professors at SVA, I would have probably not known him as well. However, my typography design professor really encouraged as to learn about the graphic designers who’ve made a difference and influenced so many generations of the designers.

Our professor encouraged us to research, read and study the works of the graphic designers on a weekly basis. I’m very thankful to my professor for it, because no matter how many graphic designers I’ve known myself (before taking the class) like Rodchenko, Neville Brody, Lissitzky and Paula Scher – I’ve learned about so many other graphic designers, like Tibor Kalman, Fred Woodward, David Carson, Louise Fili, Carine Goldberg and Tony Palladino (who, by the way, I’ll be taking a class from next semester and I’m over the moon excited about it – taking a class from a graphic design/art legend, who’s won multiple AIGA awards from?! You betcha!)

Many of these graphic designers are still very much working professionals, who work either as consultants (e.g. Tony Paladino does) or as principals at the most prestigious design firms in the world, like Paula Scher does at the Pentagram. Anyway, I can talk forever about these designers, whose work I absolutely admire and respect.

Unfortunately, Tibor Kalman is no longer with us, he passed away in 1999, but the legacy of his work will live forever. He was a great for-cause/political graphic designer, who pushed the boundaries of one’s comfort zone. E.g. he’d never hidden his political views.


He did for the magazine COLORS, what Neville Brody did for Face, Fred Woodward did for The Rolling Stone and GQ, and what David Carson did for Transworld Skateboarding, Surfer and Ray Gun he revolutionized the Colors in a way no other artist did. He designed some of the most controversial art work for them and made the type ‘talk’. (You can buy current and/or past issues of Colors here.)

He was a true ‘Bad Boy’, who was extremely active in politics and in other society’s social issues, which, pretty much, influenced his work. He took not only the American society’s problems/issues, but worldwide problems, seriously.

Back in the days when no one openly really talked about such issues as race, AIDS and sex, for example, he did incredible designs around these issues that were both shocking and outspoken. Below are just a few of them:



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In 1979 Kalman found a graphic and product design firm in NYC – M & Co.

M & Co.’s designs are described by the Cooper-Hewitt and National Design Museum as being “imaginative and witty.” And even though in 1992 the firm dissolved, you can still see their designs in the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum and the Museum of Modern Art.

They are particularly known for the projects focused around stationery, ID systems, and media artwork, such as album covers. M & Co. also developed their own brand of watches and paperweights.

Legal paper weight, 1984. Designed by Tibor Kalman. M&Co Labs.

Legal paper weight, 1984. Designed by Tibor Kalman. M&Co Labs.

One of the watches, designed by Tibor Kalman. M&Co Labs.

One of the watches, designed by Tibor Kalman. M&Co Labs.

Moreover, Kalman, is also known for the incredibly creative work – for the branding he did for the restaurant Florent.

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Click here to learn about the Kalman-Florent interesting collaboration. And click here to see  more of Kalman’s designs he did for Florent. And he even managed to be ‘political’ with the works he did for the restaurant:

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But one of his absolutely most controversial piece is the portrait of Ronald Reagan he did, where he portrayed him looking like a person with AIDS:


I say that any of the graphic design classes should teach the students about the designers from around the world, because not only it’s inspiring, but it also expands one’s imagination and encourages to think outside the box and not being afraid to be bold, controversial, and shocking! Would you agree?


3 thoughts on “Spending A Friday Morning With Tibor Kalman

  1. Loved seeing your post…I’m assigned to write weekly about Kalman for my Graphic Design class and when I realized he did the Florent ads through your post (thanks Google), I flipped! Used to go there aeons ago for after-hours munchies during the clubbing days (Jackie 60 was right around the corner!) or brunch when I got a bit older (of course now that I think of it, those may very well have been the same hours…). Miss the old place. Good stuff, your blog, and good luck in your design adventures!

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