In the last post, we saw the responsiveness of the design style to its surroundings and how various social, economic and political events shaped graphic design.
In this post, we will explore the era from 1930 to 1960 and the rise of graphic design as a discipline.
American modernism and its effect on visual art
As twenty-first-century design concerns seem to centre increasingly on the depiction as well as the use of technology. Modernist style emerged in America in the mid-1900s in various media – advertising, information design, identity, magazine design, print, dimensional design and posters.
In 1930’s, intellectuals like artists, designers, writers, thinkers who preferred to move away from Nazi oppression and cruelty, and those who emigrated to cross ocean countries for professional reasons, by drawing attention with the designs they made in Europe, contributed to the emergence of Modern movements in the United States of America and the development of Modernism, adapting it to American cultural features.
Abstract art, minimalism and pop art were the key features of the visual arts under modernism. With the advent of commercial viability of the design, the graphic design focused more on expression through various forms rather than sticking to realism and conventional styles.
The poster age
In the middle of twentieth century, the posters became form of expression.
This was the era before advertising became a mainstream boom. Posters served the dual purpose of advertising and informing. The new printing techniques led to lot of experimentation and variation in the posters. At the beginning of the 20th century, graphic design attained a new artistic style in form of posters.
The poster art went from individual creations by famous artists to stunning images that could be rendered repeatedly and affordably. This was called the Golden Age of Poster Art, and it is from this era that we take much of our inspiration.
World War ll and graphic design
World War ll gave another dimension to the graphic design, strengthening the aspect of functionality to it. Graphic design played an important role in the war.
While the German government used the design to promote Aryan culture as supremacist and extol the Nazism, the other nations involved in the conflict used graphic design to make propaganda and broadcast perceptions, information on offensive and defensive attacks, education, or to weaken a culture. The United States and England used designs with the colors, phrases and situations of their culture that gave them good results among the civilian population.
Few of the famous posters like ‘Keep calm and Carry on’ used for British army and ‘Jap you’re next’ by James Montgomery Flagg were created during this period.
Post war demobilization
After World War II, designers in Switzerland and Germany codified Modernist graphic design into a cohesive movement called Swiss Design, or the International Typographic Style. Teachings of Ernst Keller, lovingly known as the ‘father of Swiss design’, marked the beginning of the grid systems for which Swiss Style is known, and the belief that design should adapt to content placed focus on the importance of typefaces. One of the strongest characteristics of the Swiss style typography is the use of sans-serif typefaces such as Akzidenz Grotesk and Neue Haas Grotesk (a.k.a Helvetica).
The designers constructed modular grids of horizontal and vertical lines and used them as a structure to regularize and align the elements in their designs – the style that is still followed for creating UIs. This design style also preferred photography as a source for imagery because of its machine-made precision and its ability to make an unbiased record of the subject.
In the east, Japan witnessed mainstreaming of graphic design post WW ll as the industries started emerging in the country. The first generation of graphic designers to emerge after the war was led by Kamekura Yusaku. The Japanese style drew heavy influence from European Constructivism and Western design, though retaining the traditional art theory.
The New York School
Starting 1940s, New York city acted as an incubator for artists from across the globe. Many of the Europeans artists and designers fled the continent during the war, which resulted in the exposure of Americans to avant-garde and European modernism.
Due to the economic and technological advancement, the highly competitive society needed a breakthrough in how the communication was presented and ideas were expressed. The New York school of design was more communicative and playful and less formal and decorative. This led to emergence of corporate branding.
Paul Rand was the front runner of the modern American design.
The discussed movements and the entire era led to the main streaming of graphic design for commercial purposes. Design that we know today, is majorly influenced from the above mentioned schools and time spans.
In next post, we would be discussing how this entire set up led to the contemporary design.
Stay tuned. 🙂