A Brief History Of Graphic Design Part 3

The D5 Graphic Design Blog.

Welcome to the third weekly instalment of The D5 Graphic Design Blog.

This is part 3 of 3 in my ‘Brief History Of Graphic Design’ series. I’ve based these blog posts on a project I completed as part of my degree in graphic design. Last week I talked  about graphic design from Kandinsky to Post-Modernism, quite a vast expanse of time,  I may have gotten a little carried away, if you missed it, be sure to give it a quick read here.

Last week I finished upon Post-Modernism in the 1980’s. However this isn’t where Post-Modernism ended. 1990 brought the birth of Adobe Photoshop exclusively for macintosh computers, ever wondered why graphic designers always use macs? Well, that’s where it started at least. 1990 also brought grunge, another rebellious cultural movement for which Post-Modernism would give a big aesthetic hug. Not without a little change however. The best designer to use as an example of this aesthetic change would be David Carson.

David Carson
Carson is most certainly one of the most important, influential and well known post-modern graphic designers. He took the unconventional and theory challenging themes from Post-Modernism and applied it to the 90’s. Carson was producing work and gaining recognition before the decade began but the emergence of grunge and the growing popularisation of skateboarding & surfing clearly influenced Carson’s work, giving him the style he is famous for and still works with today. Carson’s work with the magazine Ray-Gun could be described as style defining for the 1990’s.
Elsewhere in the 90’s
I mentioned the birth of Photoshop, which needs no explaining regarding it’s importance to graphic design.  A few other things happened in the 90’s, many of them difficult to talk about especially when mentioning designers themselves, it’s difficult to say  how important someone is until some time has passed and we can look back in retrospect. Grunge had an influence across the board, it was now fashionable not to care, mess was in, organisation was out. This can be seen in things as un-grungey as the hit 90’s sitcom Friends. Look at that typography, wobbly, out of line, out of grid, it simply doesn’t care. The web also had a great influence on design. Though it’s hard to see that any graphic designers went anywhere near the web when we look back at those first world-wide-web-sites.
1998 apple imac and steve jobs

The early to mid 90’s saw a dip in Apple’s popularity and subsequently their profits. In 1997 Steve Jobs came back to apple as interim CEO and began re-shaping the product line. As the decade was burning out, in 1998, something big changed in the tech world. Apple successfully turned their product line around. They released the first iMac, bought Macromedia Final Cut which would become Final Cut Pro, the standard for video editing software which we use here at D5 on a daily basis. This purchase meant Apple could also release Final Cut Pro’s baby brother iMovie which started their popular iLife and iWork products. But what did this mean for design? Jobs’ logic was very reminiscent of Modernism, things would be created to work, not just to look good. This is reflected in their logo change in the same year, before 1998 Apple sported the rainbow coloured logo. To a non-designer this may not seem like such a profound change, though this change would bring the next era of design.

As I mentioned before, talking about recent history is always dangerous, especially in a subject such as design. Things are constantly changing, evolving and re-shaping, this not only has an effect on what we see now but how we interpret the recent past. A reflection of this would be the term ‘Neo-Modernism’, this is a debated topic but the theory I feel is strongest. After the 1980’s mayhem and early to mid 90’s carefree attitude we see a big change in design which is often called ‘Neo-Modernism’ or ‘New Modernism’. This change can be pinned to 1997 and 1998, Apple’s advancements had a huge impact on the design world in 1998 and 1997 saw the architectural evolution from Post-Modernism to Neo-Modernism.
Neo-Modernism is described as Modernism’s criticism of Post-Modernism. Reestablishing the logic, structure, design theory, colour theory of Modernism and taking it to new extremes. This aesthetic is the hyper-minimal style that is commonly regarded as ‘sleek’ and ‘stylish’ today. Logo’s, branding, type hierarchy and grid systems are back with a vengeance. It’s difficult to pin this style to particular designers with it being so recent. I will however try to explain the current situation using designers I feel are the most influential; having influenced me. Though who can tell until the next generation of designers emerge and we can analise their influences and come to some sort of conclusion on the whole ‘Neo-Modernism’ thing.


M/M (Paris)
A partnership established in paris, 1992 by Mathias Augustyniak and Michael Amzalag. M/M (Paris) are hugely successful graphic designers, art directors and advertising designers. Their style is clear, concise and beautiful (my opinion). It is a strong example of Neo-Modernism. M/M are key players in the creative world and have racked up clients including Les Inrockuptibles, Vogue Paris and Purple Fashion but are most famous for their work with musicians such as Björk, Madonna, Benjamin Biolay, Etienne Daho, Jean-Louis Murat, Mew and Kanye West. Their style encompasses and is inspired by graphic designers throughout the whole evolution of the field.


Neo-Modernism has been described as a criticism of Post-Modernism but I have to say, I would definitely call M/M (Paris) Neo-Modernists in the same breath as describing their Post-Modern influences. So not necessarily a harsh criticism but a re-application of Post-Modernism within Neo-Modernism. Their work has been celebrated in exhibitions in New York, London, Stockholm, Tokyo and of course Paris.


I could describe their work but it’d be better to simply look for yourselves, you’ll see influences from many of the other designers and design periods I have described previously in this series. Click!
Here’s an inspiring quote from M/M:
An image never interests us as such. Its relevance lies in the fact that it contains the sum of preceding dialogues, stories, experiences with various interlocutors, and the fact that it induces a questioning of these preexisting values. This it what makes for us a pertinent image. A good image should be in between two others, a previous one and another to come.


Stefan Sagmeister

Another hugely influential modern graphic designer is Stefan Sagmeister. Having started his career at the tender age of 15 working for the Austrian youth magazine Alphorn, Sagmeister has had a long and healthy career adding names including The Rolling Stones, The Guggenheim Museum, HBO, The Talking Heads, Lou Reed and Time Warner to his portfolio. Sagmeister lives and works in New York and has recently joined forces with Jessica Walsh, an award winning  multidisciplinary designer, together they are Sagmeister and Walsh, their work certainly encapsulates what I would call ‘Neo-Modernism’. Again, the best way to get a feel of their work is to simply look at it, having read and understood this brief history, it’s easy to see their influences and importance in the creative world. Click!

Here’s an inspiring quote from Sagmeister.

“It is very important to embrace failure and to do a lot of stuff — as much stuff as possible — with as little fear as possible. It’s much, much better to wind up with a lot of crap having tried it than to overthink in the beginning and not do it.”


Jonathan Puckey

To bring us right up to date I’d like to use Jonathan Puckey’s work as an example. Puckey is an innovator in the use and creation of design tools. Working from his studio in Amsterdam, Puckey’s works are striking, stylish and very in touch with modern trends. The notion of designs consisting of 50% artistic human input and 50% computer program such as Puckey’s tools could be compared to the grid systems of Joseph Muller Brockman and the ‘International Style’. Both techniques involve intelligent design but suggest a uniformed idealism. WGSN


It’s quite simple to describe what futurology is and what futurologists do. They predict the future. In terms of design trends that is. An organisation such as WGSN employ futurologists to analyse design trends, history and patterns in order to accurately predict how the future will look in terms of fashion, product and graphic design. Companies and designers pay large amounts of money to access this information. It is a common viewpoint that these organisations are so popular they have almost monopolised the future. Whether this is good or bad is entirely subjective. WGSN for example produce extensive style, trend and colour forecasts which are then followed by the leading designers, high street stores and product developers. Their predictions are often very vague, speculative and outlandish which could be seen as inspiration rather than futurology. Personally I believe the aesthetic of the future is still being shaped in the same way it always has, futurologists are simply another element in the vast world of creativity. They do however provide a useful tool and insight into what everyone will be doing in the coming 4 years which is almost guaranteed.

Metamodernism & N.D.A

Two of the terms that keep cropping up in futurologists spheres are ‘Metamodernism’ and ‘New Digital Aesthetic’. Metamodernism is described as;

“A new name for a new world – Metamodernism. The movement, which is still in its early days, has evolved from both modernism and post-modernism. Expect it to define the decade ahead. With a romantic enthusiasm for the future, it is characterised by the push and pull between opposites, between contradictions and the seemingly incompatible.”

And N.D.A is described as;

The way we look at the world is changing. As we spend more time viewing life through the prism of our iPhones, cameras, tablets and computers, the way these machines “see” and the way we see are becoming intertwined.  A machine does not differentiate between the animate and the inanimate, the beautiful and the ugly. This is influencing the aesthetic of design today. According to futurist Bruce Sterling this is the new avant-garde.

From this we can see how vague and unspecific these predictions are. Though we can still differentiate between the aesthetic of now and the one predicted by futurologists. This leaves it open for designers to interpret the information anyway they see fit.

That concludes my brief history of graphic design series. I hope some things were cleared up and I hope some questions were answered but most of all I hope new questions were asked.

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