Michael Patrick Cronan was an American graphic designer, artist and an American Institute of Graphic Arts Fellow based in Berkeley California. He was one of the founders of the San Francisco Bay Area postmodern movement in graphic design that became known as the "Pacific Wave", and a recognized corporate identity designer, acknowledged for the naming and the identities of TiVo, Verio, the Indigo, Onyx and Crimson computer lines for Silicon Graphics (SGI) and naming Amazon Kindle.
Early life and education
Cronan was born in San Francisco, California in 1951 and grew up near Sacramento. As a teenager he learned letterpress printing and became an artist in a local print shop where he created posters. He studied at the California College of Arts and Crafts (now known as California College of the Arts), where he later served as adjunct professor of graphic design from 1981 to 2001. In 1971, he went abroad to study archeology and work as an archeological dig manager for Hebrew University in the Negev Desert and the at Dead Sea. In 1974 he received a Bachelor Degree in Fine Art from California State University, Sacramento.
Cronan and partner Karin Hibma established Michael Patrick Cronan Design in 1980 with clients including Levi Strauss & Company, Apple Computer, Estée Lauder Origins and Williams-Sonoma as well as the San Francisco Symphony, the Oakland Museum, The Pickle Family Circus, and SFMOMA. He was a founding member of the American Institute of Graphic Art (AIGA) chapter in San Francisco and the AIGASF chapter president after serving on the AIGA national board for three years.
Recognition for innovation in graphic design
In 1981 Cronan designed SUSHI, a book that launched a new form of food book. In 1985 Cronan was included with thirty-five American Designers in "Pacific Wave" an exhibition of graphic design curated by Giorgio Camuffo at Museo Fortuny, Venice, Italy.
In 1989 Cronan and Hibma expanded their design palette to include clothing with the creation of the Walking Man, a line of apparel which became the focus of a number of articles and books about designers creating their own products as well as attracting a loyal customer following. In 1992 and 1993 Walking Man clothing won the I.D. Magazine Consumer Product of the Year/Gold Award presented at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, New York.
Also in 1993 Cronan was featured in "In the Public Eye - the work of Four Graphic Designers" including Michael Manwaring, Gerald Reis and Michael Vanderbyl. It was the first graphic design exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), and its popularity ushered in an expanded presence of graphics in the museum's floor space and permanent collection. In the commentary for the exhibition New York designer Michael Bierut described Cronan's logos as, "the effortless transmutation of dumb drawings into potent icons." SFMOMA's Curator of Architecture and Design, Paolo Polledri, wrote, "For Cronan, design is an experience the designer shares with an audience. The designer investigates and clarifies needs expressed by others. This process requires a high degree of empathy, since the designer must sense the dreams, memories, and expectations of others and translate them into images that can be commonly understood. As a result, the audience gains something from the process. For Cronan, design is more than art, it is a service," and "Humor performs an important function in Cronan's polymorphic designs. Never completely absent, it is never abrasive. It adds a human touch, rather than subtracting from the seriousness of the subject."
In 1998 SFMOMA commissioned Cronan to create the SFMOMA symbol which graphically captures the distinctive oculus at the center of the museum building designed by Mario Botta.
Later that year Cronan created the stamp commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of NATO for the United States Postal Service and later the Prostate Awareness stamp.
In 2002 Cronan's work was included "US Design: 1975-2000," a survey of 250 objects and images first shown at the Denver Art Museum, organized by the Museum's curator R. Craig Miller. ArchNews described the exhibition as "some of the most exciting work produced by American-based designers during the past 25 years."
His graphic design work is currently in the permanent collections of SFMOMA, the Denver Art Museum, the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, The Smithsonian National Postal Museum and London's Victoria and Albert Museum.
Cronan was Chairman of the Board of the Pickle Family Circus, attended the Aspen Leadership Summit in 2005 and served on the Board of the Aspen Design Summit 2005-2006. He created identities for and served on the advisory boards of non-profits such as the Family Violence Prevention Fund - Founding Fathers, among others.
Cronan has been subject of profile articles in Communication Arts Magazine, I.D. Magazine, Linea Graphica (Italy), Graphis Inc., HOW, and many others, and books including Designing Brand Identity: A Complete Guide to Creating, Building, and Maintaining Strong Brands, A History of Graphic Design, Meggs, Making Graphic Design History and The Design Entrepreneur, Graphis Brand. His award-winning work has been published extensively in graphic design annuals and other publications. He has spoken to design communities and judged design competitions throughout the United States and internationally.
Cronan was an accomplished fine artist and regularly exhibited his artwork, as well as doing private commissions. His work can be seen at . From 2005, Cronan focused on creating names, visual identities and brand strategies for new products, companies and emerging technologies. In June 2009, he and Karin Hibma were named two of Fast Company's list of 100 Most Creative People in Business.
On January 1, 2013, Cronan died at his Berkeley home after a long battle with cancer. He had been diagnosed five years previously. He was 61.