Celebrities you never knew were designers

Eva Mohyrova
Freddie Mercury, Alan Rickman, Andy Serkis, and many others: these celebrities are known for exceptional talents in their fields. However, they have one thing in common not all of us know about. All of them have studied graphic design and some even worked as designers at some point in their life.


Celebrities you never knew were designers

If you are a graphic design student or enthusiast, you probably know something about the design celebrities like Stefan Sagmeister or Tom Geismar. However, did you know that many celebrities, like musicians and actors, have or had a design background too?
If you’re looking for some extra motivation to make the most out of your graphic design education or career, we got one for you. Here’s a list of 11 amazing and talented celebrities, who were designers at some point in their lives.


Jemima Kirke is well-known for her role of Jessa Johansson in a television series called Girls. However, she wasn’t always an actress. In 2008, Kirke graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design, where she got her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.
Despite her acting success, Kirke considers herself first and foremost an artist. Before taking a role in Girls, she held a painting exhibition titled A Brief History. In late 2017 to early 2018 she had a show at Sargent’s Daughters, a Lower East Side gallery. Her exhibition consisted of portrait-style paintings of women wearing their wedding dresses. Kirke said that her own divorce inspired her to create this exhibition.


Ronnie Wood is a world-famous rock star, but this Rolling Stone member has artistic talents too. In the ‘60s he attended Ealing College of Art along with Pete Townshend (we’ll talk about him later). In fact, two of Wood’s older brothers studied graphic design at the same college earlier and even ran a graphic design business together. Wood followed their footsteps and his childhood passion. When he was young, his drawings were even featured on Sketch Club, a BBC television programme.
He continues drawing and creating prints even now. Wood’s works have been featured in various exhibitions across the world. Furthermore, he was the person who created the cover artwork to a fellow musician. Wood designed Eric Clapton’s box set titled Crossroads.
Crossroads (Eric Clapton album)


Ricky Wilson is the frontman of an indie rock band named Kaiser Chiefs—and a graphic design graduate. He received his BA in Graphic Design at Leeds Metropolitan University in 2000 and even taught graphic design part-time at Leeds College of Art. Wilson did this for almost a year until Kaiser Chiefs had their big break.


Pete Townshend plays the guitar, writes songs, leads the world-famous band The Who, and surprisingly knows a lot about graphic design. In the 1960s he studied graphic design at Ealing College of Art (yes, the same one Ronnie Wood attended) and was very satisfied with his education.
Townshend even admits that his education helped shape his playing style and musical career in general. Furthermore, his skills and knowledge helped him in the visual branding of his band.


Peter Capaldi is best known for his role of the 12th Doctor in the popular sci-fi TV series Doctor Who. However, before he went on to pursue an acting career, Capaldi studied design. In 1980 he graduated from Glasgow School of Art, where he studied graphic design.


Chuck D is the founder of the American rap group Public Enemy. However, his talents lie not only in the music world. He studied graphic design at Adelphi University in Long Island. Unfortunately, Chuck D couldn’t make it to graduation the first time; he was kicked out. According to him, this happened because he was partying too much as a freshman.
However, Chuck D’s education didn’t end then. Eventually, he decided to return to college to finish his final year. In 1984, he graduated with B.F.A. degree and even made the Dean’s list. Furthermore, in 2013 Chuck D received an honorary doctorate from his Alma Mater. While he didn’t pursue a career in graphic design, Chuck D put his visual skills to good use. He designed Public Enemy’s famous logo and he has been responsible for most of the band’s visual identity.
Andy Serkis studied visual arts at Lancaster University.


Many of us admire Andy Serkis for his amazing portrayal of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. Many of us also adore his Caesar in the Planet of the Apes reboot. However, there was a real possibility that he wouldn’t become that cinema king of mocap we like so much.
In fact, acting wasn’t the first choice of career for Serkis. He studied visual arts at Lancaster University and picked theatre studies as his minor almost by accident. Back then, Serkis struggled to pick a minor and eventually decided he could design posters for university theatre productions. This made him involved in these productions, he started acting in them and then had a moment of realisation that this was what he wanted to do. Isn’t it amazing how life turns out sometimes?


It actually shouldn’t surprise us much: after all, we all know that David Bowie loved to express himself visually. He tried his hand at many things during his life. In the early ‘60s, Bowie studied at Bromley College of Art. He specialised in typesetting and layout. While we all know that he didn’t pursue this career, we can say for sure that studying design influenced his life and work.
Bowie’s outfits and performances were always stunning, original and full of colour and style. Now we know that they looked so well not only because he had great vision and taste, but also because he’s got a design education.
In the early ‘60s, Bowie studied at Bromley College of Art.


Just like David Bowie, Freddie Mercury proved numerous times that he had that visual flair. Queen was as much about bold lyrics and stunning performance as it was about Mercury’s vision and design talent.
Mercury studied at the same Ealing College of Art Ronnie Wood and Pete Townshend attended, and graduated with a diploma in graphic design. He designed that Queen’s iconic crest that later was used on the covers of a few of their albums. This crest is used on Queen merchandise even today.


Kanye West attended the American Academy of Art after graduating from school. However, he transferred to Chicago State University shortly after and at age 20 dropped out, claiming that he wanted to pursue his musical dreams. West even named one of his albums College Dropout, being honest about his bold decision.
Nevertheless, he’s got a degree! In 2015, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago awarded West an honorary doctorate, officially making him a Doctor of Fine Arts. It isn’t surprising. After all, even without a degree, West has massively influenced popular culture, design and fashion industries.


Last but not least, the great Alan Rickman. He is known for so many stunning roles: Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series, Hans Gruber in Die Hard, Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility, Harry in Love Actually, and many more. He was a designer before he became an actor, and even made a living from it.
Rickman graduated from Chelsea College of Art and Design in 1968 and went on to the Royal College of Art to complete a postgraduate degree. There, he worked on a student journal and eventually set up his own design agency named Graphiti. However, his heart was set on acting, therefore he closed his agency right after being accepted into the Royal Academy for Dramatic Arts in 1972.
As you see, so many amazingly talented people turned out to be talented in the design field as well. Hopefully, this and TED Talks about design will serve as an extra motivation to you and demonstrate that it’s never too late to change career or to apply the acquired graphic design skills to another field.