How the evolution of graphic design aligns with historical events

A visual history of graphic design by Jens Müller and Julius Wiedemann, published by Taschen (all author photos for Hyperallergic)

Graphic design has historically been linked to developments in technology, politics and the media in general. This is the basic premise of the new book A visual history of graphic design, which takes a broad view of culture through the prism of graphic design. Written and designed by Jens Müller and Julius Wiedemann, who both have backgrounds in graphic design, the book shows more than it says. Covering the period from 1890 to 1959, it includes maps of the decade that illustrate design progress as well as historical events. Some of them have clear visual implications, such as the founding of Pepsi-Cola in 1898, the formation of the Disney Company in 1923, and the opening of the Empire State Building in 1931. Other events have political significance , like the founding of Nazism. in 1920, the stock market crash of 1929 and the founding of NATO in 1949. We don’t often think about the repercussions of historical events like these on visual culture, but as the book shows, visual culture at the same time. both shapes and is shaped by culture as a whole, strongly impacted by world events.

A visual history of graphic design by Jens Müller and Julius Wiedemann

Consider the map of the decade of the 1940s when the United States entered and ended World War II. The war created a deep sense of patriotism in the West. War visuals infiltrated popular culture: in 1942 Casablanca created with a poster adopting the visual language of war propaganda posters, a red, yellow and blue color scheme with bold lettering. Muller points out that the success of the war left Americans feeling prosperous and caused a boom in industrial production. Advertising and magazine publishing have become the driving forces behind the new economic boom. It is therefore interesting to note the beginning of the French newspaper The world in 1944, an article devoted to world politics at the end of the war, and Ebony magazine in 1945, an American lifestyle magazine aimed at African Americans. The timeline doesn’t analyze every event it lists, but rather leaves them open to our connections. It’s hard not to overlook the economic success in the United States leading to the opportunity to start a magazine for the African American community. These decade-long timelines provide an opportunity to visually scan what has happened over the years, connecting history to visual culture before digging into graphic detail.

A visual history of graphic design by Jens Müller and Julius Wiedemann

During each decade, a spotlight is placed on the designers, companies or inventions that have impacted the period. The 1800s focused on lithography and the integration of multiple colors, images and texts. Alongside the commercial printers were artistic designers such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, whose works are now exhibited in museums, but whose theater posters were emblematic of the 19e– Parisian century. Alphonse Mucha, Art Nouveau artist, also designed theater posters. He became famous for his iconic “Mucha woman” an attractive creature from another world. In addition to recognizing fine artists, the timeline also includes important developments from the art world. It highlights particularly influential art movements, such as Futurism, De Stijl, Dada, and Bauhaus, which each challenged the established use of design elements such as type, empty space, and color.

A visual history of graphic design by Jens Müller and Julius Wiedemann

A visual story also emphasizes the link between politics and design. The two world wars led to propaganda posters and realized the power of political images to convey messages to the masses. The women’s suffrage movement made effective use of this graphic power. In the UK, HM Dallas produced posters incorporating the ‘Votes for Women’ slogan with simple illustrations of women in long dresses holding newspapers and placards. In the United States, newspapers featured allegorical visuals such as the one titled “The Awakening”, showing a woman dressed in flowing clothes like Lady Liberty, walking from the west coast to the women in the east, who cling to her. and vote. In Brazil, Malho (1902-1954), the country’s first color magazine, popularized images aimed specifically at the working class. The work favored the use of a few bright colors, as in a black and yellow cover showing a sign painter quickly scribbling the magazine’s title on a wall.

A visual history of graphic design by Jens Müller and Julius Wiedemann

In the 1950s, although the Cold War continued, a sense of optimism spread as humans rushed to reach space. The first rocket was launched in Florida in 1950 and nine years later NASA was founded. At the same time, television and broadcasting grew, bringing color information and entertainment to people’s homes, where they would end up eagerly watching developments in space travel. With this optimistic spirit and new advertising potential, new design languages ​​have appeared: in the United States, typefaces have become more and more stylized, in Switzerland they have been the pioneers of sleek minimalist modern design, and in Poland, they adopted expressionism in their posters. In the early 1950s, the New York Times started a new advertising campaign, led by George Krikorian and Louis Silverstein, which played on the minimum qualities of the text. By separating the Time New Roman logo from geometric shapes and basic colors, the designs were visually readable and easy to digest, effective for publication with a global audience.

A visual story is sprawling in size and extent. While not an in-depth study of graphic design, the book is like an enlarged map, pulling various threads over the years to reveal the constant ripple effect of world events on culture. visual.

A visual history of graphic design: Vol. 1, 1890-1959 by Jens Müller and Julius Wiedemann is now out of Taschen, 2018.

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