Freedom, the Most Important Ingredient: Mirko Ilic in Graphis Journal #373

Greatly influential in the world of design with a portfolio that spans lots of different design aspects, Mirko Ilic was born in Bosnia. In Europe, he drew comics and illustrations, as well as art-directed posters, books, and record covers. In 1991, he became the art director of the international edition of Time Magazine, and then in 1992 became the art director of the op-ed pages of The New York Times. In 1995, he established his eponymous firm, which designs for a wide range of clients, from pro bono organizations to high luxury hospitality brands. Ilic co-authored the book The Design of Dissent with Milton Glaser and ten books with Steven Heller. His work is in collections of institutions such as the Smithsonian Museum, SFMOMA, and MoMA, and he organizes and curates his own shows as well. The best-known of these is the Tolerance Poster Show, which has appeared more than 130 times in 39 countries around the world. Ilic teaches in the MFA Illustration program at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

When it comes to subject matter, Mirko has a clear and unique insight into society, politics, globalization, and new technology, bringing a sense of social responsibility to the design world while also championing how designers are a group of people with their own independent ideas, rather than subordinates to their clients. Mirko is also not afraid to try new technology when designing, skillfully employed new techniques such as 3D and computer modeling, creating a style that, in the words of graphic designer Jianping He, “is full of richness, wisdom, humor, and, as usual, his sharpness, linking and carrying forward the tradition of European graphics.”

Here’s a sample of Mirko Ilic’s interview:

Who among your contemporaries today do you most admire?

It is similar to my great influences in the past. My admiration for contemporary designers is changing, but in the last ten years, I can probably highlight three of them.
The first one is Russian poster designer Peter Bankov. He not only has an amazing production of posters and is constantly changing his style, but also the amount of creative freedom that he is able to carve for himself is astonishing.
The second one will be Jianping He, a Chinese graphic designer who has his studios in China and Germany and who pretty much can do anything—posters, book design, shows, and publishing. Books that he designed and published are these amazing objects close to being sculptures/pieces of art on their own. They are giving me hope for the future of book publishing.
The third one will be the advertising agency Bruketa&Zinic&Grey from Croatia, who every year, again and again, manage to get top awards from all over the world for their innovative approach to advertising and product branding. And that’s not a small task considering the very competitive environment in which they are working.

Who have been some of your favorite people or clients you have worked with?

Throughout the past, I have had quite a few clients that I liked. And I noticed that they all had one thing in common: the process of communication. It is that I always communicated with one person, and that person is the one who can actually make a decision. Frequently, when I worked with a committee, it didn’t go that smoothly. Having the chance to talk to the decision-maker directly, explaining the process of how I came to the design that I am presenting, and showing understanding and passion for what I do makes a huge difference.

What are the most important ingredients you require from a client to do successful work?

Freedom. That can be only achieved with the trust of the client.

What is your greatest professional achievement?

This question is really hard to answer. Probably the only correct answer is that I am still working in my field. And, according to others, it may be having 38 designs of mine in the collection of MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York.

To read the entire QA and discover other great designers, you can purchase Graphis Journal issue #373 at

Author: Graphis