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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. The term covers a variety of political, cultural and artistic movements rooted in the changes in Western society at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. 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.

Art Deco/modernist everyday objects.

Modernist magazine advertisements of the mid 20th century

By 1930, Modernism had entered popular culture. With the increasing urbanization of populations, it was beginning to be looked to as the source for ideas to deal with the challenges of the day. Popular culture, which was not derived from high culture but instead from its own realities (particularly mass production) fueled much modernist innovation. 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. Electricity, the telephone, the automobile—and the need to work with them, repair them and live with them—created the need for new forms of manners, and social life. The kind of disruptive moment which only a few knew in the 1880's, became a common occurrence. The speed of communication reserved for the stock brokers of 1890 became part of family life.

Art Deco
also known as Style Moderne or 1925 Style, was a twentieth century movement in the decorative arts that grew to influence architecture, design, fashion and the visual arts. The name Art Deco derived from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, a World's Fair held in Paris, France in 1925, though the term was not used prior to the late 1960s. Art Deco was influenced by many different cultures, particularly pre-World War I Europe. The movement occurred at the same time as, and as a response to, the rapid social and technological advances of the early 20th century.

The Art Deco buildings of New York City: The Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and the Rockefeller Center.

Art Deco cigar labels.

The paintings of Tamara de Lempicka (1898 - 1980) convey the mood of the Deco period unlike any other.

Corresponding to these influences, Art Deco is characterized by use of materials such as aluminum, stainless steel, lacquer, inlaid wood, sharkskin, and zebraskin. The bold use of zigzag and stepped forms, and sweeping curves (unlike the sinuous curves of the Art nouveau), chevron patterns, and the sunburst motif are typical of Art Deco. Some of these motifs were ubiquitous — for example the sunburst motif was used in such varied contexts as a lady's shoe, a radiator grille, the auditorium of the Radio City Music Hall and the spire of the Chrysler Building. Art Deco was an opulent style and this lavishness is attributed to reaction of the forced austerity caused by World War I. Its rich, festive character fitted it for "modern" contexts including interiors of cinema theaters and ocean liners such as the Ile de France and Normandie. A parallel movement called Streamline Moderne or simply Streamline followed close behind. Streamline was influenced by manufacturing and streamlining techniques arising from science and the mass production shape of bullet, liners, etc., where aerodynamics are involved. Once the Chrysler Airflow design of 1933 was successful, "streamlined" forms began to be used even for objects such as pencil sharpeners and refrigerators.

Eventually the style was cut short by the austerities of World War II. In colonial countries such as India, it became a gateway for Modernism and continued to be used well into the 1960s. A resurgence of interest in Art Deco came with graphic design in the 1980s, where its association with film noir and 1930s glamour led to its use in ads for jewelry and fashion. South Beach, Miami, FL has the largest collection of Art Deco architecture remaining in North America.

Adolphe Mouron Cassandre
(1901 – 1968) was an influential Ukrainian-French painter, commercial poster artist, and typeface designer. Cassandre became successful enough that with the help of partners he was able to set up his own advertising agency called Alliance Graphique. Serving a wide variety of clientele, during the 1930s, his creations for the Dubonnet wine company were among the first posters designed in a manner that allowed them to be seen by occupants in fast-moving vehicles. His posters are memorable for their innovative graphic solutions and their frequent denotations to such painters as Max Ernst and Pablo Picasso. In addition, he taught graphic design at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs and then at the Ecole d'Art Graphique.

The posters of Cassandre

With typography an important part of poster design, the company created several new typeface styles. Cassandre developed Bifur in 1929, the sans serif Acier Noir in 1935, and in 1937 an all-purpose font called Peignot. In 1936, his works were exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City which led to commissions from Harper's Bazaar to do cover designs.

The posters of the WPA
In stark contrast to the oppulence of Art Deco was the poverty generated by the Great Depression in the United States. Interestingly enough, some of the most beautiful graphic design work comes from the WPA, which was a work relief program that provided jobs and income to the unemployed during the Great Depression in the United States. It built many public buildings and roads, and as well operated a large arts project. Until it was closed down by Congress in 1943, it was the largest employer in the country--indeed, the largest employer in most states. Only unemployed people on relief were eligible for most of its jobs. The wages were the prevailing wages in the area, but workers could not work more than 20-30 hours a week. Before 1940 there was no training involved to teach people new skills.

The silkscreen posters of the WPA

Further reading and images

Editorial Design between the two wars: Fortune Magazine
Fortune was founded by Time co-founder Henry Luce in February 1930, four months after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 that marked the outset of the Great Depression. Briton Hadden, Luce's partner, wasn't enthusiastic about the idea, but Luce went forward with it after Hadden's October 15, 1929 death. Luce wrote a memo to the Time, Inc. board in November 1929, "We will not be over-optimistic. We will recognize that this business slump may last as long as an entire year."

Fortune magazine covers

Fortune magazine, double spreads of information graphics

Herbert Bayer for Fortune magazine

Single copies of that first issue cost $1 at a time when the Sunday New York Times was only 5c.[3] At a time when business publications were little more than numbers and statistics printed in black and white, Fortune was an oversized 11"x14", using creamy heavy paper, and great art on a cover printed by a special process. Fortune was also noted for its photography, featuring the work of Margaret Bourke White and others. Walker Evans served as its photography editor from 1945-1965. An urban legend says that art director T M Clelland mocked up the cover of the first issue with the $1 price because nobody had yet decided how much to charge; the magazine was printed before anyone realized it, and when people saw it for sale, they thought that the magazine must really have worthwhile content. In fact, there were 30,000 subscribers who'd already signed up to receive that initial 184-page issue.

Economic and social influence aside, Fortune magazine's creative staff set a trend in magazine and editorial design, from page layout to usage of photography, illustration and typography which is still in use widely today.

Further reading and images

Post WW2
The years around and following the second world war saw graphic design in the modern style gain widespread acceptance and application. A booming post-World War II American economy established a greater need for graphic design, mainly advertising and packaging. The emigration of the German Bauhaus school of design to Chicago in 1937 brought a "mass-produced" minimalism to America; sparking a wild fire of "modern" architecture and design. Notable names in mid-century modern design include Adrian Frutiger, designer of the typefaces Univers and Frutiger; Paul Rand, who, from the late 1930's until his death in 1996, took the principles of the Bauhaus and applied them to popular advertising and logo design, helping to create a uniquely American approach to European minimalism while becoming one of the principal pioneers of the subset of graphic design known as corporate identity; and Josef Müller-Brockmann, who designed posters in a severe yet accessible manner typical of the 1950s and 1960s.

Swiss Style
A new graphic design style emerged in Switzerland in the 1950s that would become the predominant graphic style in the world by the ‘70s. Because of its strong reliance on typographic elements, the new style came to be known as the International Typographic Style.The style was marked by the use of a mathematical grid to provide an overall orderly and unified structure; sans serif typefaces (especially Helvetica, introduced in 1957) in a flush left and ragged right format; and black and white photography in place of drawn illustration. The overall impression was simple and rational, tightly structured and serious, clear and objective, and harmonious.

Max Bill, work from 1948 to 1969

Armin Hoffman, work from 1948 to 1996.

Fridolin Mueller, work from 1960 to 1990.

Joseph Mueller-Brockman, work from 1960 to 1970.

The style was refined at two design schools in Switzerland, one in Basel led by Armin Hofmann and Emil Ruder, and the other in Zurich under the leadership of Joseph Muller-Brockmann. All had studied with Ernst Keller at the Zurich School of Design before WWII, where the principles of the Bauhaus and Jan Tschichold’s New Typography were taught.

The new style became widely synonymous with the "look" of many Swiss cultural institutions which used posters as advertising vehicles. Hofmann’s series for the Basel State Theater and Muller-Brockmann’s for Zurich’s Tonhalle are two of the most famous. Hofmann’s accentuation of contrasts between various design elements and Muller-Brockmann’s exploration of rhythm and tempo in visual form are high notes in the evolution of the style. In addition, the new style was perfectly suited to the increasingly global postwar marketplace. Corporations needed international identification and global events such as the Olympics called for universal solutions which the Typographic Style could provide. With such good teachers and proselytizers, the use of the International Typographic Style spread rapidly throughout the world. In the U.S., Hofmann’s Basel design school established a link with the Yale School of Design, which became the leading American center for the new style.

Further Reading and images:

The New York School
The New York School was an informal group of American poets, painters and musicians active in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s in New York City. The poets, painters, composers, and musicians often drew inspiration from Surrealism and the contemporary avant-garde art movements, in particular action painting, abstract expressionism, Jazz, improvisational theater, avant-garde music, and the interaction of friends in the New York City art world's vanguard circle.

For the purposes of Graphic Design, however, the New York School denotes the group of graphic designers active during the 1950s in and around New York. The older generation of these designers had fled from Europe earlier in the century, while the younger consisted of students which they educated at institutions such as the Cooper Union, Blackmountain College and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and who in turn become educators themselves, setting up a chain of innovative, modernist design firmly embedded within an instructional tradition.

Alexey Brodovich
(1898-1971) was a Russian emigrant photographer and designer who worked in Paris, then America, at the beginning of the twentieth century. He went on to become the art editor for Harper's Bazaar. He is considered to be one of the most influential 20th century designers in the field of graphic design.

Alexei Brodovitch, editorial design at Harper's Bazaar, 1940's and 1950's.

His contribution to contemporary magazine design while art director of Harper’s Bazaar would be sufficient enough to honor Alexey Brodovitch as a pioneer in graphic design, but his influence was much greater. He was one of the first to introduce European modernism of the 1920s to the United States both by his own work and by commissioning art and photography from leading European artists and photographers, including A.M. Cassandre, Salvador Dali, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Man Ray. Through his lifelong dedication to teaching, he created a generation of designers who shared his belief in visual vitality and immediacy. Fascinated with photography, he fostered an expressionistic approach that became the dominant photographic style of the 1950s.

Born in Russia in 1898, Brodovitch fled the Bolsheviks in 1920 with his family and future wife and settled in Paris. Brodovitch’s design career flourished in 1924 after his poster design for Le Bal Banal, a benefit dance for poor artists, was selected over many other artists including Pablo Picasso. Soon he was in great demand, designing fabric, jewelry, restaurant décor, posters and department store advertisements.

Invited to the United States in 1930 to start an advertising art department at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art, Brodovitch began his teaching career while completing numerous freelance assignments. In 1934, Carmel Snow, the new editor of Harper’s Bazaar, saw his design work and immediately hired him to be its art director. It was the beginning of a 24-year tenure that would revolutionize both fashion and magazine design.

By the 1950s, Brodovitch had perfected his style of combining text and photography with copious amounts of white space. Despite his easily recognizable work, Brodovitch did not formulate a theory of design. “There is no recipe for good layout,” he said. “What must be maintained is a feeling of change and contrast. A layout man should be simple with good photographs. He should perform acrobatics when the pictures are bad.” Henry Wolf, Brodovitch’s successor at Harper’s Bazaar, commented on his unique approach to magazine layout. “Oh, of course he was a good designer and superb typographer and had an innate sense of elegance about space,” Wolf said. “But his layouts were done only as approximations. He stood in the middle of the room and, with a scissor, cut out photostats which he taped to a piece of paper. Others later straightened them. It was communicating an idea, a mood, a criticism that he was precise and masterful.”

Besides his achievements at Bazaar, Brodovitch’s legacy as a publication designer included the influential but short-lived Portfolio. Only three issues were published in 1950 and 1951. An innovative quarterly aimed at the design profession, Portfolio contained vividly illustrated features on Alexander Calder, Charles Eames, Paul Rand, Saul Steinberg and others. It also contained the work of pioneering photographers, many of whom were Brodovitch’s students. As art editor, Brodovitch helped determine the magazine’s contents, and created its distinct design with the help of elaborate devices such as die-cuts, transparent pages and multi-page foldouts. Those three issues are considered by many to be the pinnacle of Brodovitch’s design.

He continued to teach throughout his career. His Design Laboratory, which he began in 1941 at the New School for Social Research in New York, focused on illustration, graphic design and photography. As a teacher, Brodovitch was considered harsh in his criticism but inspiring, and his student list reads like a who’s who of visual communication, including photographers Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Art Kane and Hiro, and art directors Bob Gage, Helmut Krone and Steve Frankfurt.

Further reading

Paul Rand
(1914 – 1996) was a well-known American graphic designer, best known for his corporate logo designs. Rand's education included the Pratt Institute (1929–1932), the Parsons School of Design (1932–1933), and the Art Students League (1933–1934). He was one of the originators of the Swiss Style of graphic design. From 1956–1969 and beginning again in 1974, Rand taught design at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Rand was inducted into the New York Art Directors Club Hall of Fame in 1972. He designed many posters and corporate identities including the logos for IBM and ABC. Rand died of cancer in 1996.

The editorial design of Paul Rand, 1937- 1941

Paul Rand: Advertising design, 1941- 1954

Paul Rand: Corporate Identities, 1954 - 1996

In an interesting way the chronology of Paul Rand’s design experience has paralleled the development of the modern design movement. Paul Rand’s first career in media promotion and cover design ran from 1937 to 1941, his second career in advertising design ran from 1941 to 1954, and his third career in corporate identification began in 1954. Paralleling these three careers there has been a consuming interest in design education and Paul Rand’s fourth career as an educator started at Cooper Union in 1942. He taught at Pratt Institute in 1946 and in 1956 he accepted a post at Yale University’s graduate school of design where he held the title of Professor of Graphic Design. In 1937 Paul launched his first career at Esquire. Although he was only occasionally involved in the editorial layout of that magazine, he designed material on its behalf and turned out a spectacular series of covers for Apparel Arts, a quarterly published in conjunction with Esquire. In spite of a schedule that paid no heed to regular working hours or minimum wage scales, he managed in these crucial years to find time to design an impressive array of covers for other magazines, particularly Directions. From 1938 on his work was a regular feature of the exhibitions of the Art Directors Club. Most contemporary designers are aware of Paul Rand’s successful and compelling contributions to advertising design. What is not well known is the significant role he played in setting the pattern for future approaches to the advertising concept. Paul was probably the first of a long and distinguished line of art directors to work with and appreciate the unique talent of William Bernbach. Paul described his first meeting with Bernbach as “akin to Columbus discovering America,” and went on to say, “This was my first encounter with a copywriter who understood visual ideas and who didn’t come in with a yellow copy pad and a preconceived notion of what the layout should look like.”

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, a pioneer typographer, photographer, and designer of the modern movement and a master at the Bauhaus in Weimar, may have come closest to defining the Rand style when he said Paul was “an idealist and a realist using the language of the poet and the businessman. He thinks in terms of need and function. He is able to analyze his problems, but his fantasy is boundless.”

Further reading

Bradbury Thompson
(1911-1995) When it came to the blending of photography, typography and color, nobody did it better than Brad Thompson . In his own quiet way, he expanded the boundaries of the printed page and influenced the design of a generation of art directors. Thompson is one of the few art directors who have received all three major design awards: National Society of Art Directors Art Director of the Year in 1950; AIGA Gold Medal in 1975; and the Art Directors Hall of Fame award in 1977.

Bradbury Thompson, Westvaco books, 1940's and 1950's.

By simply looking at one year of his career, the scope of his involvement in the field of graphic design can be understood: In 1945, Thompson designed the final issues of three wartime magazines including Victory and USA. Back in New York, before the year was out, he had become art director of Mademoiselle, where he worked for nearly fifteen years. He also accepted the role of design director for Art News and Art News Annual, a position he held for 27 years. As if that were not enough, he designed a brochure for the Ford Motor Company and began his experiments in typographic reform by creating his “monoalphabet,” which broke with the tradition of separate letterforms for capital and lower-case letters. He first introduced this typographic innovation in an issue of Westvaco Inspirations for Printers, one of four issues that he produced that year. And 1945 was not unusual.

Any analysis of Thompson’s style and any attempt to assess the value and extent of his influence leads irrevocably to one word: form. Whether by examining his precise cropping and careful placing of images on the printed page or studying his attention to typographic detail, his sense of order and stucture cannot be missed. Recalling his early draftsman experience Thompson said, “It was a critical part of my training as a designer. It taught me discipline and, working with huge sheets of tracing cloth, I learned to cope with space in an orderly way.”

Further reading

Saul Bass
(1920 - 1996) was a graphic designer, but is best known for his design on motion picture title sequences, which is thought of as the best such work ever seen. During his 40-year career he worked for some of Hollywood's greatest filmmakers, including most notably Alfred Hitchcock, plus Otto Preminger, Stanley Kubrick and Martin Scorsese. His most famous title sequence is probably the animated paper cut-out of a heroin addict's arm for Preminger's The Man with the Golden Arm. Saul Bass designed the 6th AT&T Bell System logo, that at one point achieved a 93 percent recognition rate in the United States. He also designed the AT&T "globe" logo for AT&T after the break up of the Bell System.

Movie posters by Saul Bass, 1950's and 60's

Further reading

The 1960's and 1970's

Herb Lubalin
(1918 -1981) was a prominent American graphic designer who collaborated with Ralph Ginzburg on four of Ginzburg's magazines: Eros, Fact Magazine, Fact and Avant Garde and was responsible for the creative visual beauty of these publications. He designed a typeface, ITC Avant Garde, for the last of these; this distinctive font could be described as a post-modern interpretation of art deco, and its influence can be seen in logos created in the 1990s and 2000s. He also published and designed the famous typography periodical u&lc.

Herb Lubalin, "Avantgarde" and "Blackletter", 1970's

Herb Lubalin entered Cooper Union at the age of seventeen, and quickly became entranced by the possibilities presented by typography as a communicative implement. During this period Lubalin was particularly struck by the differences in interpretation one could impose by changing from one typeface to another, always “fascinated by the look and sound of words (as he) expanded their message with typographic impact. After graduating in 1939, Lubalin had a difficult time finding work; he was fired from his job at a display firm after requesting a two dollar raise on his weekly salary. Lubalin would eventually land at Reiss Advertising, and later worked for Sudler & Hennessey, where he served as art director for twenty years, eventually taking on the roles of vice president and creative director before leaving to start his own studio.

U&lc, typographic magazine, 1970's and 1980's

Lubalin spent the last ten years of his life working on a variety of projects, notably his typographic journal U&lc and the newly founded International Typographic Corporation. U&lc (shorthand for Upper and Lower Case) served as both an advertisement for Lubalin’s designs and a further plane of typographic experimentation; Steven Heller argues that U&lc was the first Emigre, or at least the template for its later successes, for this very combination of promotion and revolutionary change in type design. Heller further notes, “In U&lc, he tested just how far smashed and expressive lettering might be taken. Under Lubalin’s tutelage, eclectic typography was firmly entrenched.”[4] Lubalin enjoyed the freedom his magazine provided him; he was quoted as saying “Right now, I have what every designer wants and few have the good fortune to achieve. I’m my own client. Nobody tells me what to do.”

Milton Glaser
(1929 - ) is best known for his "Bob Dylan" poster, the I Love New York logo, and the "DC bullet" logo used by DC Comics from 1977 to 2005. Glaser was educated at New York City's High School of Music and Art , graduated from the Cooper Union in 1951 and later, via a Fulbright Scholarship, the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna under Giorgio Morandi. In 1954 Glaser was a founder, and president, of the Push Pin Studios formed with several of his Cooper Union classmates. Glaser's work is characterized by directness, simplicity and originality. He uses any medium or style suggested by the picture problem - from primitive to avant garde - in his design for book jackets, record album covers, advertisements and direct mail pieces, as well as for magazine illustrations.

Milton Glaser, 1960's to 1980's

He started his own studio, Milton Glaser, Inc., in 1974. This led to his involvement with an increasingly wide diversity of projects, ranging from the design of New York Magazine, of which he was a co-founder, to a 600 foot mural for the Federal Office Building in Indianapolis.

Throughout his career he has had a major impact on contemporary illustration and design. His work has won numerous awards from Art Directors Clubs, the American Institute of Graphic Arts, the Society of Illustrators and the Type Directors Club. In 1979 he was made Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and his work is included in the Museum of Modern Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Israel Museum and the Musee de l'affiche in Paris. Glaser has taught at both the School of Visual Arts and at Cooper Union in New York City.

Further reading and images

The Polish Poster
By the end of the 1950's Socialist realism had been dumped in Polish art. The Graphic Arts Department at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts divided its areas of instruction into fine arts, visual communications, applied arts, and poster art. It helped, thereby, to establish what is known as the Polish Poster School.For the Polish poster artists in the early 1960's the realism that had once seemed adequate and the symbolism that had arisen out of the war no longer satisfactory. These artists used metaphoric imagery which demanded active participation from the reader. One of the "fathers" of this new generation was Henryk Tomaszewski (1914- ). The work of many of the younger artists of the Polish School (born in the 1920's and 1930's) varied in style from expressionistic to subdued. Maciej Urbaniec (1925), who had done public service posters during the communist regime, achieved great notoriety in 1970 with Cyrk (Mona Lisa). Gone were the happy clown motifs of many lesser artists, Urbaniec decided to stimulate the viewer with a juxtaposition of history and the circus. The bete noire of Polish poster artists Franciszek Starowieyski promoted an elitist quality in his work and carefully maintained the facade of the idiosyncratic artist. That is, wrapped up in his own little world, he created posters that suited his tastes and attitudes. He didn't mean for everyone to be able to understand his work nor freely read the text. Jan Lenica (1928- ), who began as a painter, had a free style early in his career. One of the most stylistically diverse of the Polish poster artists Lenica then revived Art Nouveau expressionism in the early 1960's with his poster for Alban Berg's Wozzeck.

Roman Cieslewicz (1930 - 1996). Posters between 1955 -1993

Jan Lenica (1928 - 2001). Posters between 1955 and 1990.

Franciszek Starowieyski (1930 - ). Posters from 1965 to 1990.

The work of the "second generation" Polish poster artists who "built" the Polish Poster School all had one thing in common: a distinctly personal gesture in one form or another. This characteristic is unique to the posters of Poland. Today's Polish poster art still has this characteristic. Their posters are still predominately made with brushes, pastels, and paints. One sees very little photography in these posters. To them the only valid expression of one's ideas is by human hand to paper. In a way this is what makes Polish Poster Art unique even today.Each poster is a genuine expression of the artist's feeling toward the subject, not just a catchy slogan or image.

Further reading and images