Photo: Private archiv: Mirko Ilić
A man with an unusual personal biography, unpretentious and direct in communication, and committed to the topics he considers important both in conversation and in business, Mirko Ilić has, for decades, been one of the world’s top graphic designers and illustrators.
After becoming famous in Croatia and the former Yugoslav countries as a very young man, he packed his bags and moved to New York 35 years ago.
He had no money and did not know anybody, but he was confident and daring, and besides the talent that he had, Ilić also got very lucky in New York. In just a few days he was already doing a cover for Time magazine. The fact that his English was bad didn’t matter either. It was his first New York job. Later, he would design many anthological covers for Time, and for a while he was its art director as well. He was also graphic editor at the New York Times Op-Ed site, which he revolutionised by toying with typography, inspired by the 16th-century German typographical design.
He has won a number of awards; about thirty posters of his are part of the permanent exhibition of the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA); he has designed a number of famous posters; and he is behind many human rights campaigns. In his career, he has designed theatre, film and other posters, created memorable album and newspaper covers, and also designed book covers, hotels, yachts etc.
How aware are people in general of the role of design in everyday life?
“In America, they are somewhat less design-oriented than, say, in Zagreb. In the centre of Zagreb, I see more fancy cars in one day than I see in New York in seven days; there are many more trendy bags on the streets of Zagreb than New York. This is the city where the largest number of billionaires in the world live, but people don’t quite show how much money they have, because not bragging publicly about your wealth is part of Protestant culture. Design is important, but in the last year, a strange thing happened to it because of the coronavirus pandemic. Since it started, people have turned to wearing simple, often black, clothes; they have started going out much less often, and not wearing make-up. There is not much showing off, and there is no reason to have a very good hairstyle; what do you need a good lipstick for when you’re wearing a mask anyway!? New York is becoming less a city of snappy dressers than it was before. That’s not bad. On the contrary. Some other values are now becoming important. For example, it’s important who you live with. If you chose your partner badly and you were ‘trapped’ in one place with that person for the pandemic year, it must have been terribly difficult. In these times, a considerable amount of closeness has returned to families; a reliance on each other.”