Tibor Kalman

Tibor Kalman

Tibor Kalman was a renowned American graphic designer of Hungarian descent. He is recognized for his position at Colors magazine as editor-in-chief. He also authored numerous books on the subject. His accomplishments were legend within the field and widely known outside as well.

Born on July 6, 1949 in Budapest, Hungary and later moved to United States with his family, attaining the residency in 1956. His family escaped Hungary under dire circumstances which involved the Soviet invasion. They permanently settled in Poughkeepsie, New York. There he studied at the New York University, although he dropped out a year after, attending journalism classes. During 70s he did a stint at a small New York City bookstore which would become one of the nation’s leading bookstores, Barnes & Noble. Soon after, he was appointed the supervisor of bookstore’s in-house design department.

Subsequently, in collaboration with Carol Bokuniewicz and Liz Trovato, Kalman founded the design firm M & Co. The studio managed the corporate work providing a diverse range of solutions to their clients. The company dealt with various clients including the new wave group Talking Heads, Restaurant Florent in New York City’s Meatpacking District and the Limited Corporation. Early 90s is marked as the time when Kalman served as the creative director of Interview magazine. Moreover, the Benetton-sponsored Colors magazine sought his expertise as founding editor-in-chief. Consequently, Kalman had to dissolve M & Co. in 1993, and as to work exclusively on the magazine he relocated to Rome.

Colors focused on multiculturalism and global awareness as its motto says, a magazine about the rest of the world. The viewpoint was communicated through typography, bold graphic design, and juxtaposition of photographs and doctored images. The magazine also ran a series which featured the renowned figures, for instance the Pope and Queen Elizabeth, as racial minorities. He played an instrumental role in transforming Colors into a global phenomenon and remained a driving force behind it. Sadly, in 1995 the onset of non-Hodgkins lymphoma resulted in him withdrawing from the job and his return to New York.

Upon his arrival to New York, Kalman re-opened M & Co. in 1997. He continued to work for the firm for another two years until he couldn’t fight the fatal disease anymore and passed away in Puerto Rico, in 1999. A retrospective of his graphic design work entitled Tiborocity was mounted by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, shortly after his death. Furthermore, Princeton Architectural Press published a book about Kalman and M & Co’s work, Tibor Kalman: Perverse Optimist. It has been years since Kalman’s demise, but the influence of M & Co is still strong. His legacy is still carried on by Alexander Isley, Stefan Sagmeister, Stephen Doyle, Emily Oberman and Scott Stowell. All these eminent designers had the benefit of learning from his firm and later they established their own studios. Kalman’s associates Howard Milton and Jay Smith, whom he worked with in the late 1970’s founded their own Smith & Milton studios in UK.

Besides, Tibor Kalman served as a board member of Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI).  The American Institute of Graphic Arts presented him with the highest honor of graphic art, AIGA Medal, in 1999. Among the 33 signers of the First Things First 2000 manifesto, Kalman was also the one who signed the manifesto. He remained married to the author and illustrator Maira Kalman till his death.