Celebrating the Life of Alina Wheeler, Former SEGD Global Design Award Juror

Alina Wheeler, second from the left in the back row, has passed away
Alina Wheeler is second from the left in the back row.

Alina Wheeler, a beacon of creativity and innovation in the world of branding and design, passed away peacefully at her home in Philadelphia on December 5, 2023, surrounded by her loving husband, Ed, and daughters, Tearson and Tessa.

Born on October 14, 1948, in South Orange, New Jersey, to Stanley and Leonarda Radziejowski, she grew up with her beloved Polish cousins and her younger brother Stanley.

Alina graduated from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia in 1970, and in 2012 received the university’s Silver Star, an award given to outstanding alumni. In 1980, she co-founded Katz Wheeler, one of Philadelphia’s top graphic design firms until its dissolution in 1993. In 2003, she published Designing Brand Identity, which quickly became an industry standard—now in its sixth edition, the book is available in eleven languages and has consistently held a position on Amazon’s best seller list. Notably, in Wikipedia under “Corporate Identity,” it is cited as further reading. In 2011 she co-authored Brand Atlas: Branding Intelligence Made Visible, a comprehensive guide to the brand process enriched with illustrative diagrams. 

Alina was committed to design leadership throughout her life. In 1980 she was a founding board member of AIGA Philadelphia, and became its president in 1985. She served on AIGA’s national board from 1991 to 1994, and was honored as an AIGA Fellow in 1999, the inaugural year of this prestigious award. In 2020 she was a founding board member of African Design Matters, a global partnership cataloguing the creative work of people of African descent.

As a designer, consultant, author, and entrepreneur, she influenced design professionals the world over—in one week, she was contacted by an entrepreneur in Bavaria, a business owner in Barcelona, a brand strategist in India, and design firms in Ghana and Dubai. At the end of her life countless individuals reached out to express their gratitude, crediting her with launching their careers or businesses. One such testament is a young designer from Ghana who she mentored, and who is now pursuing an MFA at Yale. For a glimpse into Alina’s brilliance, one need only listen to her 2021 interview with Rob Meyerson on the podcast How Brands Are Built [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KdzI9hZI4iM].

Half of each year, Alina found solace at Skylight, her home in Keene Valley, New York, surrounded by cherished friends and the mountains she held dear. 

In remembering Alina, we honor a luminary whose impact radiates through the world of design and beyond—a legacy of inspiration, mentorship, and unwavering dedication. She is survived by her husband Ed Wheeler, daughters Tearson Wheeler Morrison and Tessa Wheeler, and grandsons Aiden and Easton Morrison.

A celebration of Alina’s life will be held on January 27, 2024, at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. An additional celebration will be held in Keene Valley, with date and location to be determined.

Rob Meyerson’s Farewell

We are heartbroken. On December 5, surrounded by family at home, Alina Wheeler passed away. You can find an announcement on social media here.

Alina was, of course, far more than our leader—she was a friend, a mentor, and an inspiration. She is known around the world as the author of Designing Brand Identity, but (as you likely know) she also founded her own graphic design firm, served on boards at AIGA and the University of the Arts, mentored young designers and entrepreneurs, and frequently spoke about branding and design. (This talk is a classic.) Our global branding community has truly lost a guiding light.

Alina had a hand in every aspect and every page of the upcoming 6th edition; I am so grateful she saw the final proofs, which were sent to the publisher just a few months ago. And, ever the strategist, Alina devised a plan for the future of Designing Brand Identity beyond this edition, entrusting me, creative director Robin Goffman, and collaborators around the world with the honor and privilege of carrying her legacy forward.

In what turned out to be one of our last conversations, Alina declared Designing Brand Identity “the only branding book with a sense of humor.” Along with her warmth and wisdom, I think it’s Alina’s humor that I’ll miss the most.