Modernism and Postmodernism


Modernists opposed the tradition of the Victorian era and modernism was seen as a set of rules and grids, so a design could be seen as right or wrong. The Bauhaus movement (‘form follows function’) insisted that anything that is not functional is unnecessary, and therefore removed ornament features in designs. Consequently, designs became very simplistic and functional.

Jan Tschichold altered typography to follow these Modernistic rules. Other key designers such as Joseph Muller-Brockmann and Armin Hofman were also modernists designers, however they created designs that were seen to be ‘Swiss Style’, which developed in the late modernism era. This involved titled grids and further developments of modernist fonts. (Brownie, 2012)


According to Rick Poynor’s (2003) ‘No more rules. Graphic Design and Postmodernism’ book, postmodernism is a reaction to scientific or objective efforts to explain reality and emphasises constructivism, idealism, pluralism, relativism and scepticism.  However within design some people say that Postmodernism is more like a continuation or re-evaluation of Modernism and is also just a component of the design process.

What key practitioners think…

– Charles Jencks argues that postmodern could be a demise of modernism’s avent-garde extremism and a slight return to traditional ways.
– David Carson believes design is more interesting when no grids or formats are used.
– Tibor Kalman taught his colleagues that rules were good, but to break them. This emphasis’ John Lewis’ proposal that before breaking the rules you should know what they are.

Minimalism in these era’s…

Minimalism can be found throughout both era’s of Graphic design, however the end result differs immensely. Minimalism in modernism results to functional designs, because they lose all unnecessary features and only includes essential elements.  Whereas minimalism in postmodernism creates ambiguity because postmodernists reduce elements so the meaning became unclear.

Brownie, B. ‘Perspectives in Minimalism’, online lecture, 2012
Poynor, R. (2003) No More Rules. Graphic Design and Postmodernism. London: Laurence
King Publishers

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