We’re not really sure what to make of the glaring discrepancy between Joseph Binder’s outsized influence on the world of design and his negligible global presence online. It certainly seems strange considering his AIGA Medalist status and the numerous awards he received during his lifetime. And yet the seminal designer doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry—that honor goes to the 18th-century Austrian painter of the same name, and he only gets three sentences. And what, no Binder biography or coffee table book dedicated to his influential work? A little action here, Steve Heller.
Also Austrian, our Joseph Binder was born in Vienna in 1898. He was trained as a lithographer and attended the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts, where he won numerous poster competitions, including one for the American Red Cross, thus bringing his reductive modernist design sense stateside. Alongside follow AIGA Medalist, German designer Lucian Bernhart, Binder helped introduce architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s “Less is more” approach to young American designers, including AIGA Medalists Lester Beall and Paul Rand.
Upon graduation in 1924 he began his own studio, and in 1927 helped found Design Austria, to promote his country’s design work, which is still in operation today.
However, with an American profile and the unrest at home, emigrating to the United States seemed a logical next step. Soon after Binder settled in New York City in 1934, he won a competition sponsored by the nascent Museum of Modern Art, and continued his winning streak with posters for other American organizations, including the National Defense and the United Nations. In addition to his poster work he illustrated and design magazine covers for Graphis and Fortune.
In 1939 he designed and illustrated the iconic poster for the New York World’s Fair. Despite his AIGA Medalist status, that poster is one of only three entries in the AIGA Design Archives (the others are a 1947 illustration for Jantzen Sportswear and a 1952 poster for the Association of American Railroads). All three display his simplified color palette and abstracted geometric forms that make for clear and quick communication.
Binder gained official U.S. citizenship status in 1944, and in 1948 he became art director for the for the U.S. Navy. His recruitment posters hold their own against Montgomery Flagg’s and give a nod to A.M. Cassandra’s signature style.
During this time, he was also guest lecturer at the Chicago Art Institute and the Minneapolis School of Art, but he retied in 1960 to dedicate himself to painting. The abstract works he created during this period have been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Applied Art (MAK) in Vienna, among others. He died in 1972, and Design Austria continues to honor his legacy through (fittingly enough) an annual international design competition, the Joseph Binder Award.