The dead people designers should know | by T. Robert Roeth | Jan, 2024


A long list of short biographies and their lasting lessons about design, art, and creativity.

In this article, I present concise biographies of the individuals listed below, offering condensed insight into their relevance in contemporary design. Emphasizing design education as an interdisciplinary study, these introductions showcase notable figures from diverse backgrounds to broaden the scope of design education and incorporate a historical context into the practical lives of today’s designers.

1. John Burke
2. Walter Gropius
3. Pamela Colman Smith
4. Frederick Law Olmsted
5. Charles and Ray Eames

Tinker Hatfield once said“When you sit down to design something, it can be anything, a car, a toaster, a house, a tall building or a shoe, what you draw or what you design is really a culmination of everything that you’ve seen and done in your life previous to that point.”

Tinker’s quote is a decent explanation for why I have kept and curated a long list of interesting and inspirational people for over 25 years, and have committed to learning as much about each as I can. It seems to be a good time to share a small portion of this list. I am writing this article in the quiet and reflective final days of 2023. In the past 365 days, it is estimated that a quarter of a million design jobs have been eliminated in the technology sector alone. As design jobs are reduced and roles consolidate, the necessity for a diverse skillset — and mindset — expands. The need for well-rounded designers who are able to pull information, insight, and inspiration from a variety of disciplines is mandatory. In 2024, we need to specialize in being a generalist.

What is the best way I accomplish this? I’d add to the above quote “…what you draw or what you design is really a culmination of everything that you’ve seen and done and everyone that you have met in your life previous to that point.”

What you design is a culmination of what you know. You can learn from books and blogs and tutorials. But I have learned my most valuable lessons by knowing and learning about and from other people. You can’t meet most of the people in this list — they are…


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