World-renowned graphic designer Mirko Ilic has spent his career committed to making art that makes a difference. In his new class on Skillshare, he candidly discusses how he “can’t do decorative art” and that his childhood in war-torn Yugoslavia has pushed him to create “art that always has some kind of message or reason for existing” he says. Over the course of a distinguished career that has included stints as the Art Director for both Time Magazine International Edition and the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times, he’s remained particularly enthusiastic about projects that must convey political messages, distill conversations about democracy, showcase support for minority rights, or express the pain of historical oppression.

If you’re interested in creating politically meaningful work like Mirko, and want to learn more about the tenants of graphic design and its history as a tool to drive change, check out this list of must-reads that Mirko namechecked in his Skillshare class (and in the comments).

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If you need a crash course on the broader history of graphic design:


Megg’s History of Graphic Design by Philip B. Meggs, Alston W. Purvisin.

Now in its 6th edition, this best-selling reference book is an unparalleled guide to the contributors, technologies, and innovations that have defined the field graphic design. Featuring more than 1,400 images, this award-winning resource covers the evolution of graphic design from the origins of printing and typography to today’s emerging digital trends.


Graphic Style: From Victorian to New Century by Steven Heller and Seymour Chwast

If you are a visual learner, this 700-image survey of graphic design styles will be a particularly useful addition to your library. Written by Steven Heller, an award-winning historian and design critic, and Seymour Chwast, an acclaimed graphic designer, Graphic Style is an completely-visual presentation of the history of design. It showcases beautiful, evocative illustration examples from every era – including our own.


This encyclopedia-style resources features entries that define every notable design concept in the history of graphic design with clear explanations and beautiful visual examples. Translated into more than twelve languages, this comprehensive reference has become de rigueur for design professionals and other creatives who want to strengthen their understanding of the field.

If you want to get into the weeds:


Hyperlinks: Architecture and Design by Joseph Rosa and Zoe Ryan

This catalogue specifically explores the intersection of architecture and design, highlighting cutting-edge projects that rethink form and function to address contemporary challenges around climate change, the need for health and safety, political upheaval and modern spatial needs. The book itself is a work of art – Mirko believes it’s one of the most innovative and cleverly designed books he has come across – which means it’s as joyful to read as it is informative.


The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair

Named by NPR as one of the “Best Books of 2017,” this essential non-fiction delves into the history of 75 shades of color, exploring the way that socio-cultural forces both shaped, and were shaped by, specific hues. With stories about colors that range from Picasso’s blues to Imperial Purple and Acid Yellow, this book is a must-read for anyone who wants to know more about the colors they interact with every day.

If you’re specifically interested in graphic design’s political history:


This comprehensive visual survey showcases both the Allied and Axis powers used the “art of persuasion,” that is, well-designed propaganda materials to further their causes both before and during the war.


Persuasive Images: Posters of War and Revolution from the Hoover Archives by Peter Paret, Beth Irwin Lewis and Paul Paret

This powerful collection examines 317 poster designs from the esteemed collection at the Hoover Institution on War, Peace and Revolution at Stanford University. Each bears witness to conflicts in Russia, Europe and/or the United States over the first half of the 20th century, and each asks us to consider how, when, and why citizens become visually persuaded to act and react to war and its immediate aftermath in specific, sometimes confounding ways.


Graphic Agitation and it’s follow-up volume are together a tremendously popular survey of social and political graphics from the 1960s through the present-day. Written by the former Head of Graphic Art and Design at the Royal College of Art in London, the collections are both studies of how great graphic design can be used to shock, subvert, and protest against the political and corporate status quo.

If you want to learn more about Mirko Ilic himself, check out:


Mirko Ilic: Fist to Face by Dejan Krsic

An thorough retrospective of Mirko Ilic’s 40-year career in graphic design, Mirko Ilic: Fist to Face catalogues the famed designer’s commercial and corporate design work, digital designs, book designs, political work, logo creation and art direction at the New York Times, and more.


Design of Dissent by Mirko Ilic and Milton Glaser

Though it doesn’t directly showcase their own work, Mirko Ilic and Milton Glaser’s Design of Dissent highlights a collection of international graphic responses to contemporary hot button issues (and gives a pretty good indication of what they believe is artistically valuable).

Ready to put the books away? Make sure to watch Mirko Ilic’s Skillshare class, Make Art to Drive Change, the perfect class for anyone interested in making their artistic work more socially and politically impactful.

Written By

Rachel Gorman

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