The Wild Ducks of the IBM Poster Program

THE IBM POSTER PROGRAM was first initiated by Ken White, a staff graphic designer, during the late 1960s. White, who had studied under [Paul] Rand at Yale University, was recommended by him to lead the graphic design efforts within the new IBM Design Center at Boulder. Shortly after, Ken added two new designers to his staff, John Anderson and Tom Bluhm.


Ken, John, & Tom: The Wild Ducks



  How to Stuff a Wild Duck, Ken White, 1973. Illustrations by Greer Miceli of Ken, John and Tom. 


Born in Kansas City, Missouri, KEN WHITE (American, 1935–85) graduated from Kansas City Art Institute, School of Design in 1960. Following four years working at Meredith Publishing, he pursued an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) at Yale University studying under some of the leading modernist graphic designers of the twentieth century: Alvin Eisenman, Bradbury Thompson, Herbert Matter, and Paul Rand. While Rand was known by students and colleagues as being a particularly demanding critic, he became one of White’s key mentors in design, ultimately recommending him for a job at IBM upon his graduation in 1967. As one of the first designers in the IBM Boulder Design Center, White immediately established himself as an effective corporate leader of design, and lobbied management to hire his former boss, John Anderson. Known for the thoughtful humor in his work, and for striving to advance the visibility and excellence of IBM’s visual communications programs, White was promoted to lead IBM’s new Design Center in Tucson, Arizona in 1977. Following his 14-year career at IBM, White worked as director of design at International Telephone & Telegraph (ITT), and was associate professor at Arizona State University prior to his death in 1985.




 Ken White: Do You Have a Need to No? 1973; Let's Give Safety a Hand, 1972; Lock Your Desk at Night, 1969-79; Hypothesis _ Suggestion, 1978. 


Growing up in southern Minnesota, JOHN ANDERSON (American, 1925–2017) graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in commercial art. After initially working in the Minneapolis area, he was hired as art director for Meredith Publishing in Des Moines, Iowa designing magazine layouts for Better Homes and Gardens. In 1960, he hired Ken White, a young, talented graphic designer, to join his creative staff. During these years at Meredith, Anderson and White frequently discussed the disciplinary and practical distinctions between commercial art and design. In 1968, after White suggested Anderson join him at IBM, they began implementing projects that would explore and reconcile these concepts.



John Anderson: Tailgating is Problematical, 1969-79; Virtual Storage Systems: IBM System 370, 1972. 


TOM BLUHM (American, 1943–) was born in Rochester, Minnesota, and first joined IBM there as a contract illustrator prior to his formal training in design. In 1968, he transferred into the Boulder Design Center becoming part of the graphic design team. Known for his artistic craft, and propensity for life-long learning, Bluhm studied printmaking, art history, and geology at the University of Colorado, earning his degree while working at IBM. In 1985, he left the United States to study at the Basel School of Design under acclaimed Swiss typographers, Armin Hofmann and Wolfgang Weingart. Upon completing his advanced degree, Bluhm rejoined IBM as Program Manager of Graphic Design Operations in 1990, where he became the chief liaison between IBM management and Paul Rand. From 1993–96, Bluhm served as chair of communication design at Art Center-Europe, and later as an art history professor at Surval Montreux, an international school for girls. Today, he lives and paints in his studio based in Vernamiège, Switzerland.



Tom Bluhm: Ride Share Month, 1983; Our Innovators' Coat of Arms: National Inventors Day, 1969-79.


These extracts were taken from The IBM Poster Program by Robert Finkel and Shea Tillman, which is OUT TODAY! 12th March 2021. Find out more > click the cover...