Dan Friedman

Dan Friedman (1945-1995) was an American designer and educator.[1] Friedman worked with many companies including Citibank[2] before his death is 1995 from acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).


    1. Early Life and Education
    2. Teaching Career
    3. Design Career
    4. Later Life
    5. Death
    6. More on Friedman’s Work
    7. References

Early Life and Education

Dan Friedman was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1945.[3] Friedman attended the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University)[2] in Pittsburgh, PA, and received his Bachelor’s in Fine Arts (BFA).[3] There, he met a professor from Allgemeine Gewerbeschule, Basel named Ken Hiebert.[4] Hiebert saw a great amount of potential in Friedman and encourage him to study abroad for his postgraduate degree.[4] With Hiebert’s encouragement and a Fulbright Scholarship, Friedman decided to travel to Ulm, Germany to get his Master’s in Graphic Design[3] from Hochschule fur Gestaltung, the spiritual successor to the Bauhaus.[4]

At Ulm, Friedman learned about the more austere tenets of modernism.[4] His education at Ulm was rational and systematic, focusing on semiotics and information theory.[4] However, a year into his education, Ulm became politically unstable, forcing Friedman to transfer to Allgemeine Gewerbeschule, Basel in Switzerland.[4] Friedman’s education at Basel was the opposite of his time at Ulm, with his courses being more humane, intuitive, and focusing on aesthetic asceticism.[4]At Basel, Friedman met Armin Hormann, a professor who focused on drawing, color, and formal refinement; and Wolfgang Weingart, a typography professor who was knowledgeable about Swiss/German typography, but critical of its impersonal bias. Weingart was in the process of finding a new, less dogmatic approach to typography and took Friedman under his wing after seeing his like-minded nature.[4]

Teaching Career

In 1969, Friedman returned to America and, with a recommendation from Hofmann, began to teach full-time at Yale in their graphic design program.[4] At Yale, Friedman developed a series of projects for students to reflect the dichotomy that he experienced from his duel education at Ulm and Basel.[4] Friedman wanted his students to explore the extremes of design without being bogged down by preconceptions about what the final product should.[4]

In 1973. Friedman published these projects in the journal Visible Language, which helped spread his methodology throughout the design educator community.[4] In the same year, Friedman traveled across the US to give lectures for Weingart to help spread their more spirited alternative to European modernist typography.[4] Friedman, as well as other Basel graduates, introduced New Wave Typography to America, which was more energetic and playful than its predecessor.[4] New Wave Typography would proliferate throughout the ’80s and ’90s thanks to their efforts.[4]

Friedman would go on to accept a second teaching job as an Assistant Professor and Chairman of the Board of Study in Design at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Purchase in 1972.[3] One year later, he dropped his professorship at Yale and began to work solely at SUNY Purchase[3] While Friedman designed catalogs and brochures for both universities during his time there,[3] he grew frustrated with the administration at SUNY Purchase who didn’t understand his approach.[4] In 1975, Friedman was offered a job at Anspach Grossman Portugal (AGP) in New York City and left his academic career behind.[4]

Design Career

In 1975, Friedman began his career as a graphic designer when he took up a job as a senior designer at AGP until 1977.[3] While working for AGP[4], Friedman designed the corporate identity programs, logos, letterheads, packaging, posters, and publications of Citibank and Williwear[3], helping Citibank to global appear more modernist.[4] Eventually, Friedman gained the attention of Colin Forbes, receiving an invite in 1979 to be the first associate at Pentagram’s new studio in New York.[4]

From 1979 to 1984, Friedman worked with Pentagram Design in New York City, turning out a number of projects in his time there. Instead of going for bigger clients like Citibank, Friedman pursued smaller, less profitable projects that he enjoyed.[4] These projects were usually for his friends in the fashion industry, causing a rift between him and Pentagram.[4]

As Friedman became more disillusioned with corporations, he sought new ways to contribute to society.[4] Friedman began to spend more time with artists and designers in Soho and the Lower East Side and grew increasingly interested in late-night club culture.[4] In 1984, Friedman left Pentagram[3] and began to explore what New York nightlife had to offer.[4]

Later Life

As Friedman began to explore personal projects rather than professional mandates, his design became more experimental.[4] This was most obvious in his one-bedroom apartment near Washington Square Park, which became his laboratory for investigating color, form, materials, and meaning.[4] On the topic of his home, Friedman said “I have, for many years, used my home to push modernist principles of structure and coherency to their wildest extreme [. . .] I create elegant mutations radiating with intense color and complexity in a world that is deconstructed into a goofy, ritualistic playground for daily life.” [4]

During his explorations, Friedman found a group of like-minded individuals that included Keith Haring, Jeff Koons, Kenny Scharf, Tseng Kwong Chi, and Jean-Michel Basquiat.[4] Thanks to his new friends, Friedman entered a new era of inventiveness and productivity.[4] His apartment would soon be littered with his experiments, like furniture that incorporated recycled trash, raffia skirts, fetishes, and typography.[4] Some of his furniture would be branded as Day-Glo in the ’80s.[2] He also developed huge post-nuclear installations for local exhibitions and coauthored Cultural Geometry in 1988[3], Artificial Nature, and Post Human in 1992[3] with Jeffrey Deitch.[4] Friedman would also go on to design the book Keith Haring in 1982[4] for his close friend Keith Haring[3] and in 1994 he wrote his own book, Dan Friedman: Radical Modernism.

When the HIV/AIDS crisis began to take the world by storm, Friedman devoted his skills to AIDS activism, having close friends who were infected as well as being infected himself.[4]

In 1994, Friedman returned to academia as the Frank Stanton Professor of Graphic Design at The Cooper Union in New York City until his death in 1995.[3]


In 1995, five years after his friend Keith Haring[5], Dan Friedman passed away from complications related to AIDS.[2] Friedman was 49 at his time of death. Ellen Lupton, curator of contemporary design at the Cooper-Hewitt National Museum of Design in Manhattan, had this to say about Friedman after his passing:

“Dan was one of the people who created what is known as the new typography in the United States, which he helped reinvent by mixing typefaces, setting type at angles and using asymmetry in his design.”

More on Friedman’s Work

Ulm und Basil | Dan Friedman



  • β€œDan Friedman.” Christopherpullman.com, AIGA, http://christopherpullman.com/home/dan-friedman-radical-modernist/.


    1. Dan Friedman: Radical Modernist April 28th – August 12th 2017.Exhibitions. Design Museum of Chicago. Retrieved 9 April 2020.
    2. Dan Friedman, Graphic Designer, 49.” Obituaries. The New York Times. Retrieved 9 April 2020.
    3. Dan Friedman.” Collections. Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. Retrieved 9 April 2020.
    4. Dan Friedman.” AIGA. Retrieved 9 April 2020.
    5. Keith Haring, Artist, Dies at 31; Career Began in Subway GraffitiObituaries. The New York Times. Retrieved 9 April 2020.