This essay intends to explore the origins of Postmodernism and Modernism as well as the relations, meanings and differences of both the movements connected with Graphic Design. This essay will investigate whether Postmodernism still occurs now and whether it has had an effect on New Typography and, or, general Graphic Design.
It is said that Modernism began around 1890 through to 1970s as a reaction to realism. Aspects of Modernism carried across into the Post-modern era, as Robert Hughes stated in 1980, “Histories do not break off clean, like a glass rod; they fray, stretch, and come undone, like a rope… so it is with modernism, only more so, because we are closer to it. Its reflexes still jerk, the severed limbs twitch, the parts are still there; but they no longer connect or function like a whole.”
‘Modernism is not culture specific, it has been developing and spreading across countries and continents and it has many fathers. Some will say the Bauhaus, Some say the Russians, some will say De Stijl.’ (Blogspot, 2010) Modernism isn’t specifically just associated with art and design it’s also associated with study and performance in areas such as literature, visual art, philosophy/science, music, film and performance art. Postmodernism tends to go against whatever modernism is trying to achieve.
Postmodernism is a reaction to modernism. Postmodernism gained significant popularity in the 1950s and dominated literature and art by the 1960s (Wikipedia, 2012). The Postmodern movement developed after the Second World War. Some people see postmodernism as a rejection to modernism and rejection of the truth. Like modernism, postmodernism rejects all boundaries.
If people today all repelled against the Modern theory and didn’t go by any rules, everyone would learn to accept it. As Thackara stated in 1998; ‘Design today is in difficulties and is facing a crisis just because of this attachment to the modern movement.’ (Thackara, J 1998:145)
An early use of ‘Postmodernism’ specifically in reference to graphic design occurred in 1977, when the American designer Wilburn Bonnell curated an exhibition titled ‘Postmodern Typography: Recent American Development’s’ at the Ryder Gallery in Chicago. Bonnell’s decision to label the work ‘Postmodern’ was inspired by the term’s use in architectural writing. (Poyner, 2003:22) The exhibition featured works by himself, Friedman, Greiman, Steff Geissbuhler, Willi Kunz and others.
Modernists aimed to use type universality, objectivity, and functionality. As Ruder stated, “It is not the typographer’s business to interpret literature in his own way. Literature can speak for itself”. Postmodernist ideas are said to be seen in architecture, design, society, philosophy and literature. ‘Postmodernism is a flexible term that can cover a wide range of art forms.But, that is what Postmodernism is all about, embracing all opinions…’ (Wikipedia, 2012). With that said Post-Modernism is sometimes labelled as conceptual art, which is also all about “embracing all opinions” and “speaking for itself”.. Conceptual Art came around in the 1960s, Conceptual Art is more about meanings and ideas rather than materials or forms and is designed to offend.
This image is a Constructivist poster taken from the constructivism movement, which was a 20th-century artistic movement, which started in 1913. Constructivism influenced trends such as the Bauhaus.
By looking at Figure 1, you can instantly see parts of the design which were continued in the Bauhaus style such as the odd placement an overlapping of geometric shapes and type, this style appears in many Postmodern designs.
Wolfgang Weingat, a typesetter in Basle Switzerland, had been obliged to set out ‘correct’ answers. ‘The Postmodern worldview operates with a community-based understanding of truth. It affirms that whatever we accept as truth and even the way we envision truths are dependent on the community in which we participate.’ (Grenz, S 1996). But what is correct? There is no right or wrong in design, a mistake is only a mistake if you make it a mistake. Nobody else is going to know it’s a mistake or you’ve put something in a different position on the page than where you were supposed to put it. Postmodernists bared this is mind when making their designs, they experimented, tried new things. If every single piece of work in the world followed the same rules of Graphic Design we’d be seeing the same designs over and over and eventually “good design” wouldn’t be around anymore.
Everywhere you read, there will be a different interpretation of what Post-Modern actually is. The meaning always consists of overlapping definitions. There is never a clear understanding on what Postmodern actually is. “Late modern” as opposed to “Post-modern” is easier to understand than Postmodernism according to Aynsley, J (2004), “Late modern”, ‘refers to designers who were interested in extending or adapting principles of modernism in the changed situation in which they found themselves towards the end of the century […] the belief of that visual communication could enhance life through corporate identity schemes and well-planned signage systems’. He also states that, ‘Postmodernism represented the return of ornament, symbolism and wit, qualities already present in much Pop-oriented graphics. (Aynsley, J 2004).
Postmodernism includes a “trend” within a lot of design, which uses mixed media within the design, such as collage design. Figure 2 is taken from a magazine named the “British Youth Culture Magazine” published in 1980. The designer of the magazine, Terry Jones, uses experimental typography to achieve a somewhat dramatically striking output of design with a lot of attitude. The cover was initially made to reflect a young culture of teenagers, through the playful and experimental aesthetic of the design. This is a perfect example of design to show what postmodernism is really about.
Figure 2 is very similar to Pop Art. Both Pop Art and Postmodern design consider no strict distinction between high art and low art or design. Both movements have a somewhat “whatever goes” approach to design aesthetic.
Figure 3 was designed by Roy Lichtenstein, it is accordingly said to be his “most famous image”. Lichtenstein isn’t considered a postmodern pop artist but he uses the same form of style to communicate with viewers of his work by using expressive typography and overlapping of text and images making his work look chaotic. The type included within Lichtenstein’s designs aren’t on a set baseline, they aren’t in grid format nor are they directly side-by-side either as apposed text is made to be. Lichtenstein ignored rules of Graphic Design just like the Postmodernists did and crossing boundaries of taking work, manipulating it and making his own humorous version.
Postmodernist designers used typography to not only communicate, but to also allow good typographic design aesthetics. Instead of typography just being a way to communicate a message, in the simplest way possible, the Postmodernists saw typography to be included within the design, not to separate it, by doing this to have no worry about the typography being legible by going along with the “rules” of Graphic Design. Aynsley states ‘By contrast with what modernist graphic design had proposed, it was no longer the designer’s role to try to control meaning or to solve the problem of communication. Instead, typography could be a discursive practice, not concerned with the delivery of a certain message but inviting a multiplicity of readings’ (Aynsley, J 2004). Postmodernism seems as if it’s a lazy design follow on from Modernism, it’s as if Postmodernists just threw all the information they’re given off a client, and just threw it on a page just like a deliberate mistake and going against every rule the Modernists used to design their work. Instead of spending large amounts of time to get works perfect, Postmodernists would just leave the design and move on without looking for potential mistakes in the design.
‘The stylistic conventions of postmodern graphic design include mixing diverse type sizes and weights, overprinting, cluttered pages, deliberate “mistakes”, unpredictable historicist references, blurred photographs, and even in some cases an embrace of general messiness.’ (Eskilson, S 2007) Psychedelic posters, just like Eskilson states really do consist of cluttered pages. The lettering of psychedelic posters makes the type almost illegible by the way they are stretched out and linked together.
Psychedelic design was popular to use amongst magazines and album designs, especially of the rock genre, such as The Rolling Stones. The Rolling Stones ‘had a huge impact on creating the aura of glamour that still surrounds popular musicians, or rock stars, to this day.’ (Eskilson, S 2007). Psychedelia is not part of the Postmodern movement within Graphic Design, however it could possibly be the beginnings of “Postmodern music”, but could also be considered as “pre-Postmodernism” Graphic Design. Psychedelic design came about around the time of 1957, before the Postmodern movement.
David Carson is considered a Postmodern Graphic Designer. One of Carson’s most recognised pieces of work is shown in Figure 5.
“Don’t mistake legibility for communication” is a theory a Postmodernist would go by. Figure 5 uses many elements of the Postmodernist styles. Carson lacks order and control giving him no limitation to his design work, which produces chaotic outcomes in his images. Carson repels against grid system methods; instead he decides to work in a disorderly fashion. David Carson uses methods in his design work that brings out emotion and expression. The words speak for themselves in Carson’s work. It is said that David Carson“changed the public face of design”.
David Carson replaced a feature about a singer Bryan Ferry in a magazine named RayGun. The RayGun magazine was an American alternative rock and roll magazine. Carson designed experimental typographic design for the magazine. The spread , shown in figure 6, included two columns of type printed in the typeface Dingbats. Dingbats as a typeface isn’t legible, the typeface itself is made up of shapes and patterns. The reason behind this, as Carson states, “was a result of reading the article, listening to the music, and responding visually with the layout and design. People may or may not get that, or like the final results, but things ended up more interesting than if I had just applied formal design rules, used grids, dropped photos in existing boxes, made the first letter big, etc.” (Cameron, M 2012) Although the type was impossible to read, Carson did print the original text in full at the back of the magazine, for those who cared about the actual context.
In conclusion to my essay it is certain to say that Postmodernism most definitely appears in new typography today. The way designers make their work individual and unique definitely makes the typographic design more interesting. By not following rules of Graphic Design and breaking boundaries it allows the designer to be more personal with their work, making it more memorable, more expressive and definitely more emotional. The works of David Carson support my conclusion by how chaotically unordered his work is, it’s neither right nor wrong design, the design is whatever you want the design to be, you decide. To put David Carson’s work alongside a piece of work which stated the same thing, but clearly legible set in 12pt Arial tin the middle of a page, today Carson’s version would get more attention recognition and it would probably be appreciated more.
Postmodernism isn’t a style of work whatsoever; it is more of a new way of thinking about design steering away from the normal, traditional and ordinary design. Postmodernism design isn’t wrong, nor is Modernism, but just because some designs do not follow the “rules” of design doesn’t mean we can’t accept it. Instead of obeying the rules, Postmodernists work to their own preference. It’s their way of working, their own interpretation with nobody else involved unless they want them to. This gives Postmodernists freedom and control to their design with nothing holding them back to do whatever they want. Designers are going to want you to talk about their work, for it to be recognised. Why not do something completely different to everyone else and steer away from the usual ordinary? Accepting the new and the different is what makes us accept Postmodernism within typographic and general design today.
Aynsley, J (2001) Pioneers of Modern Graphic Design A Complete History, London: Oc5topus Publishings Ltd
Bell, D (1992) The Coming of the Post-Industrial Society, in The Post-Modern Reader, ed. Charles Jencks, New York: St. Martin’s Press
Grenz, S. (1996), A Primer On Postermodernism, Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Oatley, A, (2012) Postmodernism and Fashion, http://www.notjustalabel.com/editorial/postmodernism_and_fashion [16th November 2012]
O’Donnell, K (2003), Postmodernism, Oxford: Lion Publishing Plc.
Poynor, R. (2003), No More Rules: Graphic Design and Postmodernism, London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd
Ruder, E. (1967), Typographie, Zurich: Niggli
Unknown (2012) Postmodernism http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodernism [13th December 2012]
Swanson C (Unknown) Post-Modern Art http://www.lonelycolours.com/artists/postmodernism.html [10th November 2012]
S, Eskilson (2007) Graphic Design A New History, London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd
Thackara, J (1998) Design After Modernism, German Democratic Republic
Figure 1: Lissitzky Beat the whites with the red wedge (1919) http://www.designishistory.com/1920/el-lissitzky [13th December 2012]
Figure 2: Jones, i-D Let’s Dance! Baroque ‘n’ roll! (1980) http://shanny12.wordpress.com/modernism-vs-postmodernism/ [13th December 2012]
Figure 3: Lichtenstein, Whaam! (1963) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roy_Lichtenstein [13th December 2012]
Figure 4: Wilson, The Sound (1966) http://www.lysator.liu.se/~wizkid/art/psychposters/ [13th December 2012]
Figure 5: Carson, (Unknown) Don’t mistake legibility for communication http://amuellergds110.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/blog-10-dont-mistake-legibility-for.html [13th December 2012]
Figure 6: Carson, Brian Ferry spread (1994) http://www.angelfire.com/me/thestar/chaptthree.html [13th December 2012]