incomplet: a podcast about design history

a podcast about design history

Elaine Lustig Cohen

    Elaine Lustig Cohen got an unconventional start as a graphic designer. After deciding not to pursue a career in art education, she began working as an assistant to her first husband, noted modernist designer Alvin Lustig. Her early work in the industry was far from glamorous, as she was mostly doing paste-up and assembling Alvin’s designs. She described her position as more of an “office slave”. As Alvin began to lose his sight due to complications with diabetes, he began to rely on Elaine and his other assistants more and more. When Alvin passed away, Elaine took over the business. Her first commission was to complete the design for signage of the Seagram building in NYC working with architects Philip Johnson and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The success of this work turned into more commissions. She took on some of Alvin’s other clients, leading to a close relationship with, and later marriage to Meridian books editor and founder Arthur Cohen. Elaine closed her studio in 1969 to focus on a career in art, but continued creating designs for Ex Libris, the antiquarian book business she started with Arthur, which imported rare books and documents of the European Avant Garde to America. Though she began her career with little formal training as a designer, Elaine designed over 150 book covers, a number of promotional and catalog designs for exhibitions, pioneered what she called Architectural Identification Design and has since had her work honored through many well-deserved exhibitions and awards.


    1927 – b 1927, Elaine Firstenberg
    1948 – Married Alvin Lustig
    1955 – Alvin Lustig Died
    1956 – Married Arthur Cohen (Meridian Books editor) 
    1969 – closed design studio to focus on art
    1972 – Started Ex Libris w/ Cohen
    1995 – retrospective at Cooper Hewitt curated by Ellen Lupton
    1998 -  Closed Ex Libris
    2011 – Awarded AIGA Medal
    2014 – P! show
    2015 – paintings shown at Philip Johnson’s “Glass House”
    2016 – d 2016
    2018  – Jewish Museum Show, exhibition of art and design work


    Barron, M. (2013, May 8). Elaine Lustig Cohen Interview. Bomb Magazine. Retrieved August 7, 2019 from:

    Belen, P. & D’Onofrio, G. (2012) Elaine Lustig Cohen: The art of modern graphics. The Shelf Journal. Issue N. 2. Retrieved August 7, 2019 from:

    Campbell, A. (2015). Elaine Lusting Cohen. Art in America (1939), 103(8), 153.

    Gates, A. (2016). Elaine Lustig Cohen, Modernist Designer, Dies at 89. The New York Times, pp. The New York Times, 2016-10-09.

    Hagerty, J.. (2016). Elaine Lustig Cohen Designed Elegant Signage and Book Covers; Influenced by European avant-garde, she later turned to painting. The Wall Street Journal. Eastern Edition, pp. The Wall Street journal. Eastern edition, 2016-10-14.

    Heller, S. (2007). Modern pioneer. Print, 61(2), 14. 

    Heller, S. (2011, December 5). Elaine Lustig Cohen. Retrieved August 7, 2019 from

    Heller, S., & Cohen, E. (2010). Born modern : The life and work of Alvin Lustig. Chronicle books.

    Lupton, E.  (1995). Elaine Lustig Cohen, Modern Graphic Designer. Eye Magazine Retrieved August 7, 2019 from:

    MacAdam, B. (1995). Showcasing a New Type of Designer: Lustig Cohen's International Style at Cooper-Hewitt. Forward (New York, N.Y.), pp. Forward (New York, N.Y.), 1995-03-10.

    Sherin, A., & Cohen, E. (2014). Elaine Lustig Cohen : Modernism reimagined (Graphic design archives chapbook series; 5) RIT Press: Rochester, New York.

    And special thanks to Tamar Cohen, Elaine’s daughter, for clarifying some additional details for us. Tamar’s amazing work can be found at