His work is included in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Library of Congress. He spent 23 years as a partner at Pentagram and currently owns his own studio. He has co-authored four books, been interviewed by Martha Stewart and won countless awards, including the AIGA Medal—but he’s still not done. Kit Hinrichs has had a legendary career as a graphic designer and he continues to influence design and business today.
THEN AND NOW
With more than 50 years of experience in graphic design, Hinrichs has seen the industry go through many changes.
“When I began, all type was set either by hand or linotype,” he recalls. “You specified type with a typographer and used rubber cement to adhere it to a mechanical board. It was then photographed, stripped, plated and printed. Today, I can do five times the work I could before, thanks to technology. But the thinking doesn’t change; only the tools we use to express it.”
For Hinrichs, print is still one of the most important implements of great design.
“In an increasingly digital world, print is a refreshing and effective tool in communication,” he says. “There is the advantage of scale, touch and special printing techniques that draw the audience into a tangible printed piece.”
THE POWER OF COMMUNITY
Kit Hinrichs was educated at the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, California and began his career in New York. There, he met many of the most influential designers in the U.S. at meetings of the AIGA, a single national organization in the ‘60s.
“When you went to a meeting at AIGA in the 1960s, every one of your heroes was in the room,” he says. “Guys like Milton Glaser, Tom Geismar, Herb Lubalin and Seymour Chwast…It was just outstanding.”
Today, the organization has more than 70 chapters and 25,000 members. Hinrichs has been active in AIGA throughout his career, from attending meetings to designing posters—and, of course, winning awards.
“It’s very important for young designers to get involved with organizations like AIGA,” he says. “Not only do they get to understand what is going on in the industry, but they get a chance to network with people in their city, state or nationally.”
THE PENTAGRAM YEARS
Hinrichs served as Principal in several design offices before becoming a partner at Pentagram. There, he produced some of his best work, including posters for the Art Center College of Design and AIGA, logos for Design Within Reach, Napa Style and the California Academy of Sciences, packaging for Dreyer’s Dreamery Ice Cream and The Pentagram Papers. He remembers those years fondly.
“Pentagram was an absolutely fabulous ride. I had great friends and partners, and it was a very inspirational time,” he says. After more than two decades with the firm, he felt the timing was right to explore new projects through his own studio. So in 2009, he created Studio Hinrichs.
“Studio Hinrichs allows me to do more nonprofit work and local work—and I am able to choose the types of jobs I want to do. Life is good and I am doing interesting work. Ultimately, that is the most important thing in your career,” he says.
Still, he admits missing the prestige that comes with the Pentagram name.
“If I called someone and said I was a partner in Pentagram, they paid attention. Now, if I call and say I am from Studio Hinrichs, they say, ‘Yes, and who is that?’” he says with a laugh.
DESIGN AS ART
When asked whether design should be considered art, Hinrichs explained that the first job of a designer is to solve the problem. In seeking the best way to execute that solution, designers may find the opportunity to create a piece of fine art.
“Design must incorporate a percentage of art to be effective. Done best, it transcends the design aspect and can be appreciated beyond its message,” he says. However, he also believes deeply in the value of design itself. “I’m honored to be included in several museums—and I’d like to think that when the work goes on display, it also educates the next generation of the public about the value of design.”
Hinrichs has been a major influencer in design throughout his life, and he hopes those that follow in his footsteps will continue to make a contribution through design.
“The responsibility of the designer is to understand that what we do in our time, the quality of the ideas and imagery we produce, defines the value of our culture,” he says. “If we don’t understand that responsibility, we might be tempted to create something terrible because it’s quick or less expensive. Instead, we should be sure that everything we do is the best it can be. If we do that, the next generation will be in fine shape.”