Adrian Shaughnessy

Dominic Cruz

History of Graphic Design

Who’s Who in Graphic Design


Adrian Shaughnessy: A Great, Yet Reserved, Designer


Adrian Shaughnessy is a mysterious fellow. While a plethora of information is available on all of his professional work, his personal life remains personal. In my years of research to write biographies, never have I approached a designer with such intrigue and curiosity. This biography starts with pieces of interviews, various Googles, and an array of social media secrets I compiled to create a rough estimate of Shaughnessy’s early life. This is followed up by a summary of his professional life as told by his writings, businesses, research, and teaching opportunities.

The issues started when I quickly Google searched this designer. Of course, many articles came up on this fascinating man yet no biographies listed any schooling. “No university? How absurd!,” I thought to myself while looking through the pages on his professional affairs. Then, after perusing the rubric for this assignment I discovered he didn’t have a listed birth date either, nor where he was born. To find the day of his birth, I began looking in about sections on his previous career websites, peeking through his teaching records, and finally stumbled up on a day when inserting an advanced search on his rather extensive Twitter feed. I assume the Tweet was from a relative, spouse, or other close family member but the day it was posted was June 17th, at 2:47 pm. Huzzah! I had finally found the birth day of this shrouded designer. Next was to find his birth year. Unluckily, I never was able to find an exact date, however, I did research his music tastes and found an article describing his experience as a petitioner of the Vietnam War. As a child, Shaughnessy also enjoyed reading, as evidenced by a questionnaire he partook in on the website Designers & Books. When he was young he was fascinated by adult literature and always knew the “grown-up” books his guardians read were more interesting than the rubbish he was allowed to read. A James Bond novel stuck out to me, Dr. No, which was released around the same time his preferred music was hitting popularity. Seeing as he enjoyed the musings of The Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, and other significant artists of the 50s and 60s, and he despised the Vietnam War, I calculated that, since the age for developing nostalgia is roughly 17-23, he was born in the late 1940s to early 1950s. Where exactly is unknown, although he is of Irish descent, meaning he could be from the UK, also evidenced by his understanding of the area around him. When he was young, he was inspired by his music–the very same music that led me to his age–to enter the field of graphic design. As for schooling, he had no professional education, after High School–another unknown place–he spent his time being “trained in an old fashioned pre-digital studio where [he] was taught the basics by older designers.”  Similar to others in his generation, he could draw but couldn’t very well play any instruments, so he took on album cover artwork. What is important is, in the early 1970’s, he moved to London, England. He states that, “as soon as [he] had an ounce of self-awareness. [He] knew [he] had to live there.” 

After his move, his life opened up. “Everything [he] was interested in – pop music, art, literature, radicalism of all kinds – was there in abundance.” Here he met his wife, with whom he had three beautiful children, and where he started his first design company. His first studio was named Intro, an independent creative agency known for pioneering the idea of cross-media studios. This studio based itself on being the first studio to “do everything under one roof.” From brand identity to film animation, this studio did it all. Through Shaughnessy’s creative leadership, the studio rose from being a run-of-the-mill design business to an award-winning, international success, having almost 50 employees under its belt. After 15 years leading his company into riches and fame, Shaughnessy longed to pursue his love of writing, stemming from the books he read as a child.  In 2004 he left the company and became an independent design consultant where he took on client jobs when he wasn’t busy writing his book. “How to be a Graphic Designer Without Selling Your Soul” was his first major success in the writing world, published in 2005, it became his best seller with over 80,000 copies to date. He had published other books before this, however, they were more so design samplers than full fledged novels. Around the same time his book was published he began writing articles for design-related news sources. Design Observer is the major design news outlet he writes for, although he also writes for Design Week, the first publication service he wrote for. In 2009, he released his second full-fledged book, “Graphic Design: A User’s Manual,” in which he offers an “insider’s guide to the complexities of current graphic design practice and thinking.” That same year he was “awarded a Visiting Professorship at the Royal College of Art, London” where he teaches visual communication and graphic design. That same year, Shaughnessy and his business partner Tony Brook started an “independent publishing venture, producing books for an international audience of designers, design students and followers of visual culture” called Unit Editions. Inside these books you will find high-quality designs filled with insightful texts on a wide variety of subjects. In 2010, just a year after his professorship and the start of his design publishing business, Brook and Shaughnessy released the book Supergraphics based on the 1960s trends. Also in 2010, Shaughnessy also was elected as part of the Alliance Graphique Internationale, an invite only organization composed of some of the most influential designers. As of late, Shaughnessy has been focusing on Graphic Design History through his publication company, creating memoirs, biographies, and bringing the past forward in an attempt to conserve the story of graphic design for future great designers. In Shaughnessy’s words, “I’m increasingly attracted to the history of design, mainly for what we can learn from the past, but also for an understanding of what we might have lost.”