Tibor Kalman – Thought provoking design


Tibor Kalman was born in Hungary but grew up in America after his family was forced to flee from the country. He pursued journalism briefly at NYU. While there, he worked at the university’s book exchange (now known as Barnes and Noble). Initially he was just sorting books alphabetically but then he started designing ads, store signs, shopping bag and the original logo for them.


Kalman had a very strong belief in the power of design, more importantly thought provoking design. He felt that good design for good causes can improve the condition of the modern world. He stressed on the idea that designers should incorporate a global approach to their work and take more responsibility in the potential of the discipline to impact culture.

Kalman founded the design company M&Co (named after his wife Maira), that produced numerous thought-provoking political messages through product, identity and corporate work. He also took up the offer by Italian firm Benetton and designed for them. Kalman’s work can also be seen on colors magazine for which he was editor-in-chief.

controversial-benetton-advertisment-showing-diaporama kalman-heartscontroversial-benetton-advertisment-showing-diaporama

tibor tibor02

Kalman’s works have also proven to be very controversial. Some very famous ones include examples from his commentary on Racism:

Black Arnold Schwarzenegger
Black Arnold Schwarzenegger
Black Queen Elizabeth
Black Queen Elizabeth

One of the most fascinating examples of his though provoking ideas was a gift box he sent out to his clients for christmas:

"Pretend for a minute that you just stood in line for two hours in the freezing cold, and at the end of the line they gave you this."
“Pretend for a minute that you just stood in line for two hours in the freezing cold, and at the end of the line they gave you this.”

The christmas box example alone speaks volumes about his understanding of design and its power to influence.

Lastly, the following video is an interview of him taken during the time he was fighting cancer and towards the end of his life. it is a very long video, but at about 11:00 minutes they talk about designers and their capability to manipulate:


4 thoughts on “Tibor Kalman – Thought provoking design”

  1. Nice review of a design legend. I interviewed with him in the mid-eighties at pretty much the height of his influence. He was great to meet with, not particularly warm, but strong, bright and to the point. Clearly, his personally carried through to his work. Which begs the question…Should one’s work reflect the client he or she is serving or should the work reflect the designer’s point of view? And “both” is too easy an answer.

  2. In this context, it is important to remember that designers too are in the ‘business’ of design. Like any other business, the product offering has to align with the views of the customer, or the client as in this case. Thus the designer has to make an effort to find some balanced common ground.

    I think that in the area of graphic design, people are bound to approach designers who they think are best suited to their needs. For example, if i were somebody very conscious of controversial or provoking ideas, I would definitely steer clear of a designer like Tibor Kalman.

    A designer has to maintain his/her own personality in their work because that’s what differentiates them from others. Yet the clients needs cannot be forgotten. ‘Both’ may seem to be too easy an answer, but the truth is it is perhaps the hardest and trickiest to achieve.

  3. Great answer! I would agree that the designer way of thinking or “personality” is what will set them apart in the highly competitive arena. And the “easy say, hard do” is for the designer and the client to choose each other because of “a good fit.” Which is really to say, we are at least like minded or open minded enough to collaborate to solve the problem at hand.

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