Elaine Lustig Cohen is a pioneering graphic designer and artist. A prolific figure in graphic design of the 50s and 60s, she broke glass ceilings for generations of female designers to follow. Her work has been celebrated in a special exhibition at Cooper-Hewitt in New York City and in 2011, Lustig Cohen was named an AIGA Medalist for her achievements in graphic design.
Lustig Cohen grew up with an interest in the arts and at the encouragement of her mother, studied fine arts at the University of Southern California. But even then, Lustig Cohen did not dream of becoming an artist, she only thought she could be a teacher. “The idea of being an artist never even occurred to me,” she said. “Coming from a middle-class Jewish family, I didn’t know what it was to be an artist.”
After graduation, Lustig Cohen was interning at the Modern Institute of Art in Los Angeles and met graphic designer Alvin Lustig. They were married the same year.
The newlyweds moved to New York, where Lustig Cohen served as an assistant to her husband’s visions. He believed that she was meant to only execute his ideas, not create something new. She learned graphic design techniques through observation and this, paired with her fine arts background, prepared her to be a leading creative. But no one knew it yet!
When Alvin Lustig passed away in 1955, 28-year-old Lustig Cohen, with no formal design training, took over the studio. A very rare turn of events back in those days. During her baptism by fire working with big name clients, Lustig Cohen thrived and eventually began completing commissions in her own style.
Throughout her career, Lustig Cohen worked for major clients and created more that 150 designs for book covers and museum catalogues. Known for integrating European avant-garde style with modernist influences, her work evolved into a distinctly American, mid-century aesthetic of communication design.
I love Lustig Cohen for her attitude and gusto. Beginning her career in the shadow of her husband, it’s amazing how she stepped up and run the firm and created her own distinct style. I admire her confidence, especially during a challenging time for women in the workplace.
Lustig Cohen retired from commercial design work nearly 50 years ago, focusing on her fine art, but she’ll always be a remarkable figure in American graphic design history.
Want to learn more? If you have 3 minutes to spare, you have to see Elaine Lustig Cohen in action!