Graphic Design and the Modernism Culture

With the advance of technology, Modernism began to break through at the end of the 19th century into the beginning to the 20th century. Western society began to develop new ways to shape human culture and improve the constructed environment.

Modernism is a trend of thought which affirms the power of human beings to make, improve and reshape their environment, with the aid of scientific knowledge, technology and practical experimentation. Broadly, Modernism describes a series of progressive cultural movements in art and architecture, music, literature and the applied arts which emerged in the decades before 1914.

Embracing change and the present, Modernism encompasses the works of artists, thinkers, writers and designers who rebelled against late 19th century academic and historicist traditions, and confronted the new economic, social and political aspects of the emerging modern world.

Modernism covered many creative disciplines from design and art to influencing architecture, music and literature. The power of machines forced designers to strategically re-think their practice, the results were revolutionary and still influences designers until today. This technology provided the opportunity for mass production, and the machine itself became a theme in modernism.

Modernism particularly inspired fine art. These art styles include Impressionism, Cubism, Fauvism, Futurism, Brutalism and Surrealism. With the influence making such an impact across multiple creative disciplines Modernism is arguably being the most influential movement of the 20th century.

In particular the development of modern industrial societies and the rapid growth of cities, followed then by the horror of World War I, were among the factors that shaped Modernism.

By 1930, Modernism had entered popular culture. The popular culture at that time was not derived from high culture, but instead from its own realities fueled much of the Modernist innovations. Modern ideas in art appeared in commercials and logos, the famous London Underground logo being an early example of the need for clear, easily recognizable and memorable visual symbols.

One of the most visible changes of this period is the adoption of objects of modern production into daily life.

Modernism vs. Postmodernism

When people think of Modernism, they think of utting edge, new, fresh, and original looks. And when they think about Postmodernism, they think of all these things, but with also an added element of irony and/or deeper meaning such as a radical political statement, deconstruction of historical benchmarks, or socio-economic commentary.

Modernism attempted to rethink science, art, culture, ethics, philosophy and psychology. It attempted to the find new or hidden meaning in the human experience and had to deal with coming to terms with new ideas.

Modernism, since the early beginning as once economic conditions, improved designers to reassess their work, adapting it to a mass markets, and sometimes even to the demands of fascism. Initially before this time modernism was only largely experimental but then moved from the sketch board to the real world. Modernism has survived for all this time and still remains a powerful force.

One of the most famous Modernist designers is Paul Rand. He's best known for his corporate logo designs, including the logos for IBM, UPS, Enron, Westinghouse, ABC, and Steve Jobs's NeXT. He was one of first American commercial artists to embrace and practice the Swiss Style of graphic design (a graphic design style developed in Switzerland in the 1950s that emphasizes cleanliness, readability and objectivity).

On the other hand, Postmodernism is a term used within the graphics design world since around the 1980s. Postmodernism describes the postmodernist movement in the arts, its set of cultural tendencies and associated cultural movements. It is in general the era that follows Modernism. It frequently serves as an ambiguous overarching term for skeptical interpretations of culture, literature, art, philosophy, economics, architecture, fiction, and literary criticism. It is often associated with deconstruction and post-structuralism because its usage as a term gained significant popularity at the same time as 20th post-structural thoughts.

One of the most well-known postmodernist concerns is "deconstruction," a concern for philosophy, literary criticism, and textual analysis developed by Jacques Derrida. The notion of a "deconstructive" approach implies an analysis that questions the already evident deconstruction of a text in terms of presuppositions, ideological underpinnings, hierarchical values, and frames of reference. The term "Postmodern" was first used around the 1870s.

One of the famous Postmodernism is Rick Poynor that founded Eye Magazine in 1990. Poynor stated that even twenty years of the term Postmodernism was used, that it still remains a difficulty topic, and he goes on to stat that there is already a vast amount of literature devoted to every aspect of Postmodernism, as well as new books about arriving all the time about the subject and publications running whole series of articles attempting to explain what it meant.

Graphic Design and Typefaces

Modernism especially changed the thinking process for communications, graphic design and typography, the style of design shifted drastically from the prior 19th century approach. Before the concept of Modernism, graphic design and typography was 'overly decorated' and elaborate, with filled imagery and type.

Designers of the era of Modernism abided to strict, structured grid system with emphasis on negative space, just as important was the use of clean sans-serif type. The idea was to create strong graphics that were against commercialism, greed and cheapness. Typical typefaces used in the Modernism era include Franklin Gothic, Monotype Grotesque, Futura, and Helvetica Neue.