Charles S. Anderson

Born in 1958 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Charles S. Anderson is a designer “recognized for creating a design language that elevates the vernacular into a playful, modern design style and pioneering the role of designer as entrepreneur” as written by Steven Heller for Anderson’s 2014 AIGA Medal recognition. Anderson graduated from Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) in 1981, and since then has gained 30+ years of design experience working with companies such as The French Paper Company and Duffy Design, with whom he later became a partner with (Heller). Anderson now is an entrepreneur of “commercial art” with Charles S. Anderson Design and the Charles S. Anderson Images Archive.

Although Anderson was born in Minnesota he was uprooted at age 8 when his family moved to Iowa where his father was a railroad engineer. In an Interview with Print Magazine Anderson recalls “In 10th grade when I told him I wanted to go to the Minneapolis College of Art And Design, he said, “Absolutely not! No son of mine is going to be a starving artist!” But then he worked overtime to help me pay the high private art school tuition. I never would have made it without Dad’s help, or my Mom’s unwavering faith in me.” This desire to pursue a career in art can first be traced to Anderson’s early love for drawing, creating things, and low-brow comic books (Petit). While growing up in small-town Iowa, Anderson also befriended a commercial artist from California, Clyde Lewis. Lewis would later become an inspiration for one of Anderson’s most prolific creations, with 80,000 illustrations and design elements and an additional 100,000 images in process.

While at Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Anderson met another one of his largest influencers, Peter Seitz. Seitz had studied at the New Bauhaus in Germany, under Otl Aicher and Max Bill, and then at Yale with Bradbury Thompson and Paul Rand, exposing Anderson to the Mid-Century Bauhaus Modernism that has inspired his work throughout the decades. Anderson was hired by Seitz post-graduation, but within the next five years would be joining the Duffy Design Group (Heller).

When Duffy Design was purchased in 1989, Anderson began his career with the French Paper Company, and formed CSA Design to specialize in company identity design, branding, advertising with product design, and more. What makes CSA stand out from other design firms is the extensive archive of licensable work that has been put together over the past few decades (CSA Design). Upon entering CSA Design’s website, one is greeted with the quote “Design is a brand’s signature and its story. We like to think of it as art for commerce, the culmination of research, relationships, strategic thinking, experience, intuition, and aesthetics. We believe that truly great design is about making something that adds richness to people’s lives; something inspiring, memorable, funny, abrasive, ironic, elegant, ugly, human – anything but uninteresting.” (CSA). This quote is especially important because it covers Anderson’s outlook on his archive of work, coined “art for commerce” which he mentions in more than several online interviews. Anderson says his work isn’t graphic design but “commercial art”, made to help average people make above average works of graphic design (DesignBoom).

From the quote above, we can also get a glimpse into Anderson’s perspective on design, the key point being that it must be “anything but uninteresting” to even be noticed and communicate its point (DesignBoom). This outlook on design is reflected when describing Anderson’s work, which he himself states as “eclectic, graphic, illustrative, and conceptual” in his interview with DesignBoom. These adjectives are emulated throughout Anderson’s portfolio of works as well as the CSA Images archive. The starting point of the archive itself was kickstarted by the death of one of Anderson’s biggest influencers growing up, the previously mentioned Clyde Lewis. Lewis was a commercial artist Anderson mentions in several interviews, as he taught a young Anderson many of his art techniques and became a friend. Upon Lewis’ death, he left his supplies and original works from 1930-1970 in Anderson’s care. These works became the initial inspiration for CSA archives and the beginning of Anderson’s historically inspired work, mixing pop culture with new Bauhaus influences.

The Charles Spencer Anderson Archives is a culmination of years of painstakingly recreating photographs, illustrations, typefaces, and design elements, as well as acquiring entire collections of original art. Over 100 designers, artists, and photographers have worked with CSA over the almost 40 years of its creation, alongside those searching hundreds of thousands of historical print in attempts to find even the smallest image that is aesthetically pleasing enough to be included, with some being completely redrawn to fit the identity of CSA. Heavily influenced by the expansive history of graphic design, CSA is still growing and adapting to new markets, with images included in museums throughout the world. Anderson has also contributed to design culture by building on to “American commercial folk art” (Heller). “CSA Images is one of the most highly awarded stock illustration collections and was named, along with Apple, Adobe, and French Paper, as one of the top brands to an audience of designers, an influential group of early adopters and disseminators” (CSA).

While Anderson was first developing his own firm, he was doing so by simultaneously working with his “best and longest client” the French Paper Company (DesignBoom). Working together for almost 30 years, the French Paper Company is also a licensee for CSA Images on paper products. Some of Anderson’s most recognizable works were created for the French Paper Company’s brand design. Founded in 1871, the FPC is one of the last, family owned independent mills operating in the USA today (DesignBoom). Developing the FCP brand identity is what has set Anderson apart from other graphic designers in his era, allowing his work to be showcased while setting a standard for other brands. The FCP website is one of the oldest paper selling sites, and still one of the easiest to navigate. Anderson’s accomplishments with the company don’t end with exceptional web design, but goes on to encompass product design, packaging, and advertising with a good sense of humor too. Anderson quotes in an interview with Print Magazine that “French has stayed in business by producing innovative papers, backed by the print and digital promotions we design. French is a great American manufacturing survival story. And proof that design and innovation can help even small companies compete.”

Anderson has developed one of the industries most influential firms, inspiring designers everywhere who are wedding the past and present into contemporary stylistic manifestations. Throughout his life works he has achieved several awards and honors including the AIGA 2014 Medal Issued by the American Institute of Graphic Arts and is considered to be one of the highest honors for exceptional achievement in the field of design. CSA Design has been awarded top honors in most several design competitions including multiple gold pencils from The One Show, multiple gold and silver awards from the New York Art Directors Club, and Communication Arts Design Annual awards. He has also received the MCAD Outstanding Alumni Achievement Award, a UCDA Honorary Lifetime Membership and on top all that, an STA Honorary Lifetime Membership issued by Society of Typographic Arts for a lifetime achievement award bestowed upon high profile designers who have made unique lasting contributions to the field of professional graphic design, nationally or internationally.

Works Cited

Petit, Zachary. “‘Timely and Timeless’ – The Design of Charles S. Anderson.” Print Magazine, 14 Jan. 2016,

Heller, Steven. “2014 AIGA Medalist: Charles S. Anderson.” AIGA | the Professional Association for Design, March 01, 2014

“Interview with Graphic Designer Charles s. Anderson.” Designboom | Architecture & Design Magazine, 18 Mar. 2014,

“Charles s. Anderson Design Co.” Charles s. Anderson Design Co.,


Feature photo by Laurie DeMartino