Cris and I have a business partnership, but we’re also life partners. There are quite a few famous power-couples in the art, design, and business world who we admire. Here are our top 5:
1. Charles & Ray Eames
Charles and Ray Eames were nothing short of a Renaissance couple. Together and individually they were famous for their contributions to modern architecture and furniture as well as industrial and graphic design, fine art, and even film. They are probably most known for the Eames chair.
2. Jasper Johns & Robert Rauschenberg
Johns and Rauschenberg were artists who led the way beyond Abstract Expressionism toward Pop Art in the 1950s and ’60s.
Though their romantic relationship which spanned 6 years often goes unmentioned in museums and text books, it greatly influenced their work. Their arrival toward Pop Art was built not only on their rejection of Abstract Expressionist ideals, but also their rejection of societal norms such as hyper-masculinity and heteronormativity.
The collaboration and competition Johns and Rauschenberg had between them, even through their eventual breakup, propelled each of them to create many of their greatest works.
3. John & Eunice Johnson
John and Eunice Johnson founded Johnson Publishing Company in the 1940s, the holding company of Ebony and Jet magazines. They also hosted the Ebony Fashion Fair which was an iconic traveling showcase of Black models and designers. They also created the first department store beauty line for women of color.
Eunice and John were the first Black Americans to be listed in the Forbes 400 in 1982.
For more on the influence of Ebony, particularly on mid-century modernism, I highly recommend reading Mid-Century Modernism and the American Body: Race, Gender, and the Politics of Power in Design. It discusses how mid-century modernism influenced—and was influenced by—racial identities of the mid-century period. It recognizes the profound design advancements of the time through a more realistic and wholistic lens—one that includes the contributions of Black designers, women, and others whose contributions have been left out of the history books.
4. Massimo & Lella Vignelli
Massimo Vignelli is perhaps most recognized for his work designing the New York City Subway system’s signage. Both the Vignellis were also jacks-of-all-trades and are famous for their Modernist package and houseware designs, furniture designs, and corporate identities—most notably the American Airlines identity.
I had the pleasure of seeing the Vignellis speak at Northern Illinois University in 2009. I recall Massimo suggesting a good designer only needs two typefaces—Bodoni and Helvetica.
5. Paul & Ann Rand
Paul designed logos for IMB, UPS, ABC, and many more. Ann was a writer, and she and Paul collaborated on countless children’s books, most notably Sparkle & Spin. I inherited a first edition of this classic a few years ago and just got another copy for my first little nephew who will arrive this month!
Perhaps Paul Rand’s largest contribution to the design profession was convincing businesses that design is an effective business tool.
Here’s to some of the greatest power-couples who have influenced design. We’re humbled to stand on their shoulders as partners together, and as partners with our clients.