Katherine McCoy

Katherine McCoy

Katherine McCoy is a distinguished American graphic designer. Besides, she is a well-reputed educator, who held the co-chair of the graduate Design program for Cranbrook Academy of Art. She also worked with some of the leading firms, such as Unimark and Chrysler Corporation.

Katherine Jane Braden on October 12, 1945 in Decatur, Illinois. She discovered the field of industrial design on a family trip to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. As a result, she decided to graduate in Industrial Design from Michigan State University. After graduating in 1967, McCoy went on to work at Unimark International, a prominent design firm operated by some of the noted Modernist graphic designers. There McCoy had exposure to strict Swiss typographic and design approaches. American corporate communications during 1960’s and 1970’s was dominated by this typographic technique and approach. After leaving Unimark, McCoy found work at the corporate identity offices of the Chrysler Corporation, where she stayed for a year.

Subsequently, she joined the Boston design firm Omnigraphics. There McCoy had a chance to collaborate on several projects for the MIT Press, with another eminent graphic designer, Muriel Cooper.  It was followed by her job appointment at the Detroit advertising design studio, Designers & Partners. At D & P she met Edward Fella, the celebrated cartoonist, illustrator, and designer. The firm mainly dealt with advertising agencies and had an army of professionals from various design fields. McCoy felt that the advertisement and designing are two separate entities which complicate design thinking and ethics. Besides, she also served at several major design firms and advertising agencies including Xerox Education Group.

After years of practicing in designing, McCoy decided to lend her expertise to the educational side of design. She took her first step in that direction when she was nominated along with her husband, Michael McCoy, to co-chair the Cranbrook Academy of Art graduate design program. She took the responsibility of managing the graphic design program, while Michael supervised the industrial design program. Her earlier experiences at Unimark and other firms assisted in combining the objective typographic approach with an interest in the social and cultural activism. The design program at Cranbrook was highly influenced by Robert Venturi’s book Learning from Las Vegas and McCoy’s personal interest in social design. The visual design influences were based on a Yale project by Dan Friedman, commercial vernacular collages of Edward Fella and the Basel experiments of Wolfgang Weingart.

McCoy is credited for developing many projects for the Cranbrook Educational Community. These projects include Art Academy departmental posters, art catalogues, museum exhibitions and quarterly magazines. The McCoys revised the design program as it was now based on experimentation, self-evaluation, and weekly critiques and offered its students independence from deadlines and conventional exams. They encouraged their students to develop their own design voice and vision. In fact, sometimes McCoy provided students opportunity to be involved in her personal design projects. The McCoys’ effort introduced a new chapter in designing which culminated in fundamentally altering the landscape of design.

In 1995 McCoy left Cranbrook and upon which she joined other distinguished art institutes such as the Royal College of Art in London and Illinois Institute of Technology’s Institute of Design. Currently, she consults in communications design and plans design curriculum at Kansas City Art Institute. Along with her husband she organized a series of workshops known as High Ground Tools and Strategies for Design for professional designers.