Victorian-era graphic design is strong on typography and ‘more is more’ was certainly the order of the day. Named for the reign of Queen Victoria, the Victorian-era (and the Industrial Revolution that preceded it) saw radical shifts in manufacturing and production, as well as social and economic changes.
New technologies made printing and paper more affordable and businesses employed graphic design for commercial benefit. Type founders developed new and ornamental typefaces and lettering, and splashed them across posters, advertisements, magazines, and all other printed material with an aesthetic that is elaborate, symmetrical, and heavily patterned.
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Art Nouveau (1880s—1910s)
Art Nouveau is often perceived as a swirling, curling representation of nature. In fact, Art Nouveau is an expression of the psychological shift – and anxiety – that took place at the turn of the twentieth century and much of the flowing and sinuous design reflects the state of flux and change.
There were new discoveries and technologies and greater awareness of the world. In addition, men felt threatened by the increasingly liberated modern woman who studied, worked, and rode bicycles (if you can believe it), and they represented women in a state of entrapment.
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Avant Garde aka Early Modern (1920s-1930s)
The inter-war period was an inventive and innovative era, and the term Avant Garde is often used to refer to the people and works that came from this time. Indeed, experimental and groundbreaking artists pushed the boundaries of design.
In the Netherlands, De Stijl artists abstracted and reduced forms and colors to express a new utopian ideal of spiritual harmony and order.
In Russia, Constructivist designers fused art with new technologies and political ideology to help build the revolutionary new state.
In Germany, Bauhaus proponents merged art, craft, and industry to design better goods for the masses.
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Art Deco (1920s—1930s)
From the roaring 20s to the Great Depression, Art Deco was intended to boost both production and consumption. Art Deco originated in France where luxury goods were seen as pivotal to short-term economic revival.
French craftsman used exotic materials, revived traditional techniques, and incorporated references to the classical and colonial world to create exclusive and one-of-a-kind items.
As Art Deco spread to America, designers embraced the forms of the machine, the city, and commerce to create a new aesthetic suitable for a modern way of living—and consuming.
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Swiss / International Style (1950s—1960s)
Ever wondered where and when that celebrated typeface Helvetica originated? Well this is it. The International Style (also known as Swiss Style) was the pursuit of simplicity, minimalism, and precision after the turmoil of World War II.
In the 1950s and 60s, Swiss designers advanced the modernist ideals of the Avant Garde and experimented with typography and photomontage. They viewed designers as communicators and as such saw no need for personal expression.
Indeed, the style embodied the mantra ‘form follows function’ as designers created a universal, anonymous, and objective graphic language.
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Postmodern design, what is it, really? Well, after the order and rationality that ruled modernist design, postmodern designers sought to throw formality and seriousness out the window and instead worked with bold, flashy, and faddish design.
It was the 1980s after all. They ignored traditional conventions and created expressive and playful graphic design combining high culture and pop culture references.
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Digital / Grunge (1990s)
Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots—a lot of great music came out of the 1990s grunge era; as did some dirty examples of great design. As whacky postmodernism was a reaction to functional modernism, muted grunge was a reaction to colorful postmodernism.
It was intended to be a more accurate and realistic depiction of real life with dirty stains, blurred images, broken icons, and grimy textures. David Carson is the grandmaster of grunge design and he experimented with expressive typography, background images, and textures.
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