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THE NEW WAVE april greiman’s influence on the world of graphic design BY KYLIE EMERS

April Greiman is a woman who refuses to be boxed in. Her career in the world of art and design spans from Kansas to Switzerland, New York to Los Angeles, beginning in 1966 and running strong through the present day. She is known as a pioneer in the design world, introducing the Apple Macintosh computer to a most skeptical peer group in 1984. Greiman is a woman who pushes the limits, stretches boundaries and walks strong and proud into the unknown. As a forerunner, she has blazed a technological trail for designers young and old. If it weren’t for Greiman, would the Mac be the contemporary designer’s inextricable companion? This paper traces Greiman’s career from student to mentor, and graphic designer to worldrenowned multidisciplinary designer, stopping to highlight all the touchstones along the way.

April Greiman was born in 1948 on Long Island, New York into a family that supported and encouraged creativity and curiosity. Greiman recalls her mother as a steady grounding force, while her father held the role of dreamer, floating through life from one discovery and revelation to the next. The family affectionately

referred to him as the “original astronaut” because his head was always lost within the cloudy regions of his imagination. Greiman’s mother was a professional dancer who taught for the Fred Astaire Dance School in New York. Often she enlisted Aril as a dance partner. Consequently, Greiman is well schooled in all forms of ballroom dance. Her mom often reminded, “April, you can’t fake the cha-cha,” a lesson that made a deep impact on Greiman, teaching her that immersion and integrity are essential in practicing one’s art.

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Greiman attended art school in 1966. She was not accepted to her first choice school, Rhode Island School of Design, and chose to attend Kansas City Art Institute with a major in Graphic 1

Design and a minor in Ceramics. She studied with 1


Hans Allemann , Inge Druckrey and Chris Zelinsky who all drew influence from their education at the Allgemeine Kunstgewerbeschule

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the Basel School of Design in Switzerland. Here Greiman was also introduced to Karl Jung’s book “Memories, Dreams, and Reflections”, “That book was totally pivotal in my life. Jung talks about his travels, immersing himself in various cultures, and his first experience with Native Americans when he was taught not to think with just his head, but also with his heart. Jung has also written some of the most profound books on mythology and symbology.”

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Greiman’s time studying at KCAI inspired her to travel to Basel for Graduate School were she 3

fell under the tutelage of Wolfgang Weingart and 4

Armin Hoffman .

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There she studied the

International Style, or Swiss Style, a design style developed in Switzerland in the 1950s that emphasizes the use of the grid system, clean lines, symmetry and sans serif type. In 2

1970, when Greiman attended the Basel School, Weingart was experimenting with a new style, later referred to as New Wave, that grew from a post-industrial society, placing an emphasis on a more intuitive, free flowing typography with varied type sizes, wider letter spacing and type set on a diagonal.

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The motive was

clearer, more meaningful communication through type, a break from the staunch, restrictive International Style. Weingart and his students’ work had a far-reaching impact on the design community worldwide. New Wave was quickly adapted as a new graphic style of functional AND innovative typography.

The Basel School taught Greiman to trust her instincts. The school was, completely non-theoretical, a profound education in the perceptual. It was what I call my first experience of Zen, because most of my teachers didn’t speak English, they taught in silence and body language. Then, for me, the teacher disappeared and I was teaching myself, which was a really invaluable experience. I believe that all designers come to a task with a unique way of ordering that is particular to their past experience, and perhaps even their genetic structure. As a student I became aware of these tendencies, and began to trust and develop them. Ideas, hunches, and personal visualizations result from the integration between mind and body.


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Greiman is a strong proponent of intuition, of trusting her inner voice to guide her. She sees intuition as beyond thinking, a process that “cuts through socialization, and is therefore our highest form of intelligence.”

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Greiman follows her heart. She has been lucky enough to be able to explore what interests her within a commercial realm. Greiman has never solicited clients. Along each step of her journey clients with similar interests and goals have found her. 4

April Greiman moved to Los Angeles in 1976 where she discovered her love for the west coast. Greiman hired James Odgers, who had been working as an assistant to Paul Rand, to work as a photographer on an initial project in LA. Odgers introduced her to the Mojave Desert, an expanse of “nothingness” that enthralled and captivated her. The scale, space and colors of the desert serve to inspire Greiman through all of her projects. A New Yorker at heart, Greiman loves that she can simultaneously have all the amenities of city life and the possibility of total seclusion and silence within a half an hour’s drive of LA.

During Odgers and Greiman’s four-year creative partnership, they produced some highly notable 5

works including the 1978 CalArts poster and an official poster designed in 1982 for the 1984 6

Olympic Games .

After moving to LA, Greiman was introduced to another key figure in her development, Edith Sullwold, a woman who had studied in Zurich at the Jung Institute. For four years, she guided April in a study of her dreams and assisted her in her research on myth, color and symbols, a practice that Greiman continued for over fifteen years. Specific symbols, colors and themes reappear in Greiman’s work over time, including the golden section and spiral, the Orphic egg, the phoenix and fire, the symbolic representations of order, matter and force, and the colors of the seven vedic charkas.Floating


In 1982, the California Institute of the Arts asked Greiman to direct their Graphic Design program. Here she had access to leading technology and equipment and began to 5

“hybridize” video and analogue technologies. She

knew that innovative technologies would soon be integrated into the field of graphic design. She successfully changed the name of her department to Visual Communications in 1984, and left later that year to commit to her business and a deeper exploration of technology in her design.

In 1984, the year of its birth, Greiman purchased her first Macintosh computer. Of the computer, Greiman said that, “globally, culturally, and economically we’re moving from working with matter to working with light. Now we’ve got a global dialogue working on a network of light—the Internet—where we can actually float our ideas, text, and images in time and space… The computer is the first truly intelligent tool, which means that it is capable of participating in a creative dialogue, and that’s it’s much more than a slave. I’ve always been a very science-friendly person, but I’m also fascinated by magic and the invisible. That’s what is


great about this tool—all the real activity is invisible. Something’s going on there.”

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Greiman made a poster in 1984 for Ron Reznik 7

called Iris Light . This piece shows a turning point in Greiman’s work. The piece is, significant for its innovative use of video imagery and integration of New Wave typography with classical design elements. This work incorporated a still video image at a time when this meant shooting a traditional photograph off the monitor using a 35mm camera… the video technology integrated with the concept of light: light from the video screen combined with light from the lamp resulted in an image wherein the form matched the content.

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Greiman sees Iris Light as her first successful integration of technology and design.


In 1986 Greiman created her most noteworthy and 8

evocative piece entitled Does it Make Sense? , for issue #133 of the publication Design Quarterly produced by Walker Art Center. Each issue of the quarterly was themed and #133 was designed and created by Greiman. Instead of opting for the traditional magazine layout, Greiman chose to produce a pamphlet that folded out to 3 by 6 feet, a spread that revealed Greiman’s nude body to scale integrated with digital images, symbols, and typography. The back showed color video images of the atmosphere along with Greiman’s notations on the digital process. Beyond considering whether digital technologies mage sense, the Design Quarterly poster seemed to embody the disillusionment of a nation deeply wounded by the Vietnam War and shaped by the growth of feminism, spiritualism, Eastern religion, Jungian archetypes, and dream symbolism. “Does it Make Sense?” was also an astounding technical feat. The process of integrating digitized video images and bitmapped type was not unlike pulling teeth in the early days of Macintosh and MacDraw. The files were so large, and the equipment so slow that she would send a file to print when she left the studio in the evening and it would be just finished when she returned in the morning. AIGA Article This piece introduced bit-mapped type, previously unacceptable in comparison to the clean typographical treatments of the International 8

Style, into the world of Graphic Design. Greiman brought the question of technology to the forefront of discussion. In 1986 the computer was viewed as cold and soulless, the beginning of the end of graphic design. Issue #133 started innumerable heated discussion that pushed the world of design to reconsider technology in the creative process and was a catalyst to the contemporary Digital Age of Graphic Design. Greiman said that, “in the tradition of graphic 9

design in the twentieth century, you had to be

either a great typographer, a great designer/ illustrator, or a great poster designer. Now we are confronted with motion graphics, the World Wide Web, and interactive applications. The world has changed and the field is changing to meet it.”

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Greiman helped to open the

world to a new design paradigm.

April Greiman has her own design studio, currently called Made in Space. She has worked 10

with international clients including Esprit, 9

the Walker Art Center, PacTel, SCI-Arc , the US 10

Postal Service , and US West. Her design for the USPS in 1995, a commemorative stamp marking the anniversary of the signing of the 19th Amendment, has been here most widely distributed with over 150 million stamps printed. Through Greiman’s career she has employed a crossdisciplinary vision, resulting in works that


integrate collage, print design, web production, 11

video, television motion graphics , photography, architecture, environmental installations and color, material and surface consultation. Greiman’s strong interest in architecture and space had led her to collaborations with Frank 12

Ghery and Michael Rotondi of RoTo Architects .

Greiman’s most recent projects include a seventy-five foot vibrantly colored oil painting entitled Hand Holding a Bowl of Rice



was affixed to the side of the Wilshire Vermont Subway station and residences in LA. She also held a 2006 exhibition at the Pasadena Museum of 14

California Art entitled Drive-by Shooting , a one-woman exhibition of her digital photography.

Greiman currently focuses on trans-media identity, surfaces-materials consulting and branding projects for various cliental including Amgen, Inc, AOL Time Warner, Dosa 818, and the

new Prairie View School of Art and Architecture, Texas A+M. Greiman has received numerous prestigious art, architecture and design awards from organizations including the American Institute of Architects, the AIGA and the Chrysler Corporation.


April Greiman’s “ability to blend words and images with texture and space, mix technology and science with symbol and myth, as well as combine different creative disciplines, has had a fundamental impact on a profession and art form that, until the 1980s, was informed by one overriding, logic-oriented ideology: Modernism.” Floating Ideas,p9

I have deep respect for Greiman’s

role as a technological pioneer in the field of graphic design. In a field where so many are driven by money and ego, Greiman has stayed true to herself, never compromising her beliefs and dreams to make a buck. She persistently follows 12

her intuition and yearning for knowledge and exploration in each piece that she tackles.


Greiman is a true inspiration to me in that respect. In ways, though, I find it difficult to disconnect from the advanced state of present day technology to view Greiman’s work without comparison to the work of today’s designers. To my 2008 eye, much of her work looks sloppy and antiquated. I think this is ok, though- her work from the 80s and early 90s is dated, there’s no denying it, but I still have some difficulty viewing her pieces as the technological feats that they represented. To me, Greiman is an inspiration in her spirit and practice of interdisciplinarity, but I am not all that impressed by her work. I am sure that if I was designing in the late 80s, though, her work would have had an undeniable impact on my design


References American Institute of Graphic Arts. “April Greiman, Medalist, Inspiration.” AIGA. 1998.


aprilgreiman>. Farelly, Liz. April Greiman, Floating Ideas into Time and Space. New York: The Ivy Press, 1998. Greiman, April. Made In Space. <>. Greiman, April. “Profile.” Made In Space. < home/AprilGreiman.pdf>.

Images Cover Image: Greiman, April. Big Fish. 1994. 1. Allemann, Hans. Package Design. Poster, 1979. 2. Druckrey, Inge. Yale Symphony Orchestra. Poster, 1979. 3. Weingart, Wolfgang. 18 Didacta Eurodidac, 1979. 4. Hoffman, Armin. Giselle. Poster. 5. Greiman, April. Odgers, James. CalArts. Poster, 1978 6. Greiman, April. Odgers, James. Olympics. Poster, 1982. 7. 7Greiman, April. Iris Light. Poster, 1984. 8. Greiman, April. Does it Make Sense?. Design Quarterly. #133, 1986. 9. Greiman, April. SCI-ARC Building in LA: brochure and fold-out map, 10. 1997. 11. Greiman, April. 19th Amendment Commemorative Postage Stamp, US Postal Service, 1995. 12. Greiman, April. Identity Spot. Lifetime Television, 1987. 13. Greiman, April. Carlson-Reges Residence. Palette of colors, finishes, and materials (with RoTo Architects), 1996. 14. Greiman, April. Hand Holding a Bowl of Rice. Mural. Oil painting. LA, 2007. 15. Greiman, April. Flaps from Drive-by Shooting. Digital Photography Instillation. Pasadena Museum of California Art. 2006.


The New Wave  
The New Wave  

April Greiman's Influence on the World of Graphic Design