Katherine McCoy



Katherine McCoy is an American graphic and educator, born in Illinois in 1945. She studied Industrial Design a Michigan State University, after which she joined an American design firm, Unimark International, where she received her typographic training. She continued on to work as a graphic designer for Chrysler Corporation’s Corporate Identity Office, Omnigraphics of Boston, and Designers and Partners, an advertising design studio in Detroit.[1] In 1971 she became co-chair of the design department at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. She restructured certain of the school’s design programs; instilling the “objective” typographic approach with an interest in the social and cultural activism.[2]


One of the early posters she created for the graduate design program contrasts idealistic texts with alluring designs from the twentieth century. It is displayed as a map with four quadrants with text: view, read, text and image. The poster compels us to first read and see the images and then see and read the text. It has both symmetry and depth, conveying a sense of looking inward where numerous thoughts and ideas and surprises are waiting to be discovered.



– Poster for the Cranbrook Graduate Program in Design, 1989, Katherine McCoy[3]


In her redesign of the graduate design program of the Cranbrook Academy of Art, McCoy insisted on a completely different approach to learning. The classes were unstructured with few formal assignments, with the main emphasis on experimentation. This provided a free learning environment with weekly critiques, self-evaluations, and a single final project. The goal of the program was to help each student develop their own identity in design without restrictions and to concentrate on their personal interests. The atmosphere was ideal for mature students who were motivated and dedicated to their work. Although the program had little formal structure and no official reading lists, McCoy encouraged the students to research a wide variety of design, social, cultural, and historical subjects. This allowed each student to develop his/her own area of expertise and focus.


Katherine McCoy is a skilled graphic designer but is most well known for her role in re-inventing the design education. Her approach has been important in fostering individual creativity in an academic environment.


The challenge is for the graphic designer to turn data into information and information into messages of meaning. – Katherine McCoy


Written by Gabrielle Marcel


[1]”Katherine McCoy”, High Ground, accessed April 26, 2014, http://www.highgrounddesign.com/mccoy/kmframe.htm.

[2]”Katherine McCoy”, AIGA, accessed April 26, 2014, http://www.aiga.org/medalist-katherinemccoy.

[3]”Katherine McCoy”, AGI, accessed April 26, 2014, http://a-g-i.org/member-work/work/321.


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