When I was in school my design heros were Milton Glaser, best known for the I Heart (Love) New York logo and campaign and Saul Bass, who I remember as the designer of the sixth AT&T logo (1984) but he also designed the Bell System Logo (1969). He's also known as the master of film credits because of his work on Otto Preminger’s movie, The Man with the Golden Arm.
These days I don't think about my early heros, or new heros, of design. Sure I look at what's current in design, but it's the design I look at, not the designer. Is Steve Lopez right, it's different when you do it as your career, or as adults do we find inspiration in sources closer, more personal, to us, or are designers becoming so specialized that standing out in the larger design world is increasingly difficult?
That's a question for someone smarter than me, but for me the next time I see a design that really inspires me I'm going to take a second and try and see who is behind it, and maybe find a new hero.