Tibor Kalman

Tibor’s influence in the Graphic design world can be seen everywhere- from Posters, Books, Music Videos, Film titles, to Magazine Design, package design,  corporate ethics and logos. But the legacy he left the world, perfectly described by Steven Heller:-

Of the two names that changed design in the ’80s and ’90s—Mac and Tibor—one changed the way we work, the other the way we think. The former is a tool, the latter was our conscience-

( http://www.printmag.com/imprint/lest-i-forget-tibor/ )


Born in Budapest, Hungary in 1949. Aged 7 he and his family arrived in a new land called America, as impoverished immigrants fleeing the Communists in 1956. Although he became very successful he never forgot his experience of poverty- being displaced – practically homeless.

Tibor attended the New York University and studied journalism. However he dropped out and worked for a small book store as a clerk. One day he helped by arranging a window display and this highlighted a successful interest in design, which led to him becoming director of design – for ( the now giant Literary firm,) Barnes and Nobel in New York. This led to opening his own design agency M&Co in 1979. He then went on to serve as as creative director of Magazine ‘Interview’ in 1990 and later as editor chief of ‘Colours’.

He is greatly known for his multidisciplinary design work with the conceptually progressive firm M&Co in New York which he started with Bokuniewicz and Trovato and named after his author/ illustrator wife, Maira. M&Co’s work represented another kind of postmodernism-  witty, ironic, referential, but never sentimental, informed by a practiced cosmopolitarian sense, that defined the ‘quintessential New York-ness’. Tibor believed that since graphic design is mass communication, it should be used to increase public awareness, of a variety of social issues and responsibilities.


He savored the nuances of type and had a fetish for vernacular design—the untutored or quotidian signs, marquees, billboards, and packages that compose mass culture—but understood that being a master of good design meant nothing unless it supported a message that led to action. Even most stylistic work must be viewed in the context of Tibor’s persistence.

Everything had to have meaning and resonance. 

M&Co had developed a house style of its own based on vernacularism, the so-called “undesign” that Tibor celebrated for its unfettered expression, which also fed into the post-modern penchant for referencing the past. While Tibor’s ire sometimes seemed inconsistent with his own practice he rationalized M&Co’s use of vernacular as a symbol of protest —

a means of undermining the cold conformity of the International corporate style.

Known for his reactionary attitudes to Social concerns he combined visual elements and associations never thought of before with innovative ideas , humour and style. This new way of ‘Capturing’ the audiences attention, he did with sophistication and used this platform to promote his views regarding the concious responsibilities Designers have or should have to their consumer audiences. He did not stop there, he also approached the subject of corporate social integrity with his fellow designers and clients, often using his influence which declared – that designers can and must be responsible for the content of the message as well as the presentation – must be image conscious professionals. His promotions projects ranged from 1980’s art rockers ‘Talking Heads’, to the furniture company ‘Knoll’ and the ‘Restaurant Florent’.


The magazine ‘Colours’ epitomises this sensibility. He used to be inspired by the former  ‘Life Magazine’, and decided to take social ethics to new heights and jolted the world to see things a different way. Tibor took a provocative stance on Social Problems and has been criticised and praised for its sensationalism, obscenity and sexual statements. He placed dialogue between advertisments and consumers up for debate and to state political opinions. He encouraged his audiences to engage by exposing the ‘formula’ the advertising industry used, with its choices of images of sexual, violent or multicultural, as context in design, to sell products and promote social conformity.

ColoursBaby95_tibor02 ColoursRace95_tibor01 Colours Hand95_tibor00 ColoursEye95_tibor03

He asked moral questions of consumer society and its manufacturers.
He wrote a book entitled ‘Perverse Optimism’, aptly describing himself and attitudes and continued to teach post Graduate students from the School of Visual Arts in New York till the end,
in his fight with cancer in May 1999.

Colours was the first magazine aimed at the Global Village – A quarterly, in 4 languages,
launched to a world audience of young and flexible minds or
just curious people of any age that were interested.
The Magazine provided an outlet for Tibor’s beliefs in socio-political activism.

The heart of Tibor’s accomplishment was enlarging the parameters
of design from service to cultural force – Steven Heller.

His Final Communication was his exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art titled : -‘Tiborosity’ – August 1999 – which later toured the USA and the world.


Tibor Kalman @ Art + Culture :  http://www.artandculture.com/users/179-tibor-kalman

Steven Heller : Lest I forget Tibor : http://www.printmag.com/imprint/lest-i-forget-tibor/

Tibor Kalman, ‘Bad Boy’ of Graphic Design, 49, Dies: New York Times, 1999. http://www.nytimes.com/1999/05/05/arts/tibor-kalman-bad-boy-of-graphic-design-49-dies.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

TIBOR KALMAN:  Biography by Steven Heller: http://www.aiga.org/medalist-tiborkalman/

Obituary: Tibor Kalman: The Independent obituary by Rick Poynor, May 17, 1999. http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/obituary-tibor-kalman-1094136.html

Tibor Kalman: Perverse Optimist by Andrew Blauvelt (2004) : Design Book Review, Issue 43, Fall 2000


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