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Bradbury Thompson and his Contributions to Graphic Design

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Bradbury Thompson and his Contributions to Graphic Design

Bradbury Thompson was a multi-talented designer, typographer, and educator, fondly remembered for his incredible creativity and contributions to graphic design. Born in Topeka, Kansas in 1911, Thompson was exposed to art at an early age and continued to develop his skills throughout his career. In this article, we will delve into the life and work of Thompson, analyzing his contributions to modern-day graphic design.

Early Life and Education

Thompson attended Washburn College in Topeka, where he studied painting and design. He then went on to study at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, finishing in 1931. After completing his studies, Thompson began his career in graphic design at Marshall Field & Co., a Chicago-based department store. In 1941, he became the art director of Mademoiselle magazine, a position he held for over two decades.

Typographic Innovation

Thompson is largely remembered for his contributions to typography, an aspect of graphic design that involves the selection and arrangement of typefaces to make written language legible, readable, and appealing. Throughout his career, he experimented extensively with his typography, exploring new ways of arranging and spacing letters to create visual effects. He is credited with adding a modernist touch to typography while maintaining its legibility, influencing several designers and typographers who followed him.

One of Thompson’s most significant contributions to typography is the alphabet he designed in the 1950s, the “Alpha-Beta,” which has since become iconic. This typeface set the standard for modern, sans-serif typefaces, remaining relevant and widely used over half a century later.

Design Direction

Thompson’s design works extended beyond typography. He designed layouts for magazines, books, posters, and even stamps, leaving a lasting legacy in each field. He had a unique and creative approach to design, allowing him to create visually striking designs that were still functional in their use of space and layout. Thompson’s contributions to this field remain highly considered throughout the design world, with his attention to detail, use of color, and asymmetrical balance still relevant today.


Throughout his life, Thompson taught at various places, including Princeton University, Washburn College, and the Institute of Design in Chicago. His teaching style was highly influential, and his students went on to become successful designers and educators themselves. Thompson believed in instilling a sense of individuality in his students, emphasizing that they should never copy another designer’s work or style but rather strive to be unique.


Bradbury Thompson was an innovative and highly accomplished designer, typographer, and educator who left a lasting legacy in graphic design. His contributions to typography, design, and teaching have influenced countless designers who followed him. Through his experimentation with typography, he set a new standard of modernity that still resonates today. Thompson’s work remains highly recognized in the design world, inspiring diversity and creativity among graphic designers.


Q: What was Bradbury Thompson’s most notable contribution to typography?
A: Bradbury Thompson’s most significant contribution to typography was his “Alpha-Beta” typeface, which set the standard for modern, sans-serif typefaces that are still relevant in design today.

Q: How did Bradbury Thompson’s teaching style influence his students?
A: Thompson’s teaching style was highly influential in individuality. Rather than copying the work of other designers, he encouraged his students to develop their style, be creative and unique.

Q: What were Thompson’s views on the use of color in design?
A: Thompson treated color as an essential element of design, using it to convey meaning and emotion, and creating a visually appealing sense of balance in his work.

Q: What types of design work did Bradbury Thompson specialize in?
A: Thompson worked in various types of design work, including magazines, books, posters, and stamps. He was highly regarded for his innovative approach and ability to create visually striking designs while maintain functionality.

Q: How did Bradbury Thompson influence the design world?
A: Bradbury Thompson’s contributions to typography, design, and teaching have influenced countless designers who followed him. His legacy remains highly regarded and continues to inspire creativity and diversity among graphic designers today.

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