Design History – 40s & 50s the age of the Graphic Designer

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40s and 50s Graphic Design
40s and 50s Graphic Design

Information Graphics

During WWII, graphic designers, illustrators, and artists used their talents to disseminate information and propaganda. Later, instead of promoting countries, the same strategies were used to promote products and enterprises.

Power of the Poster

During the war, posters encouraged people to enlist in the army or provided directions, such as wearing a gas mask. Others were propaganda aimed at instilling patriotic hate of the adversary in the public. Abram Games was the official poster artist in the United Kingdom (1914 – 1996). He was a big fan of catchy phrases and created the renowned ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’ posters.

Your Talk May Kill Your Comrades - Poster Art by Abram Games
Your Talk May Kill Your Comrades – Poster Art by Abram Games

Postwar Poster Influence

Designers continued to employ symbols to communicate concepts in an interesting way after the conflict. The Festival of Britain emblem (’51), for example, was meticulously crafted to instil pride in the United Kingdom by showcasing Britannia’s Union Jack colours and head.

Raymond Loewy – Father of Design

Working in the United States, French-born designer Raymond Loewy (1893 – 1986) pioneered the concept of ‘good design’. He recognised that consumers had grown more sophisticated. He advised manufacturers to woo their customers with elegant and streamlined designs.  
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Raymond Loewy featured image
Raymond Loewy featured image

Simple Text

‘Open Sans,’ a sans serif typeface designed by Steve Matteson, is what you’re reading right now. The clean lines of sans serif typefaces, such as Univers, were considered modern in the 1940s and 1950s.

Long-Term Logos

Companies commissioned expert designers to create logos that would last a lifetime as they grew more aware of the significance of branding. They sought to recruit devoted customers who would stick to a single, well-known brand. One of the most successful and long-lasting corporate identification emblems was Paul Rand’s logo for IBM (1956). Rand’s ability to break down the logo into simple, timeless shapes contributed to his design clarity.

Sources

Jones, H. (1999). 20th-Century Design: 40s And 50s: War and post-war years. Heinemann Library.

Important Graphic Designers

  • David Gentleman (b.1930) British graphic artist & designer

    David Gentleman - Postage Stamp

    His subjects are paintings of landscapes, environmental posters and sketches of street life, and protest signs. He has written and illustrated several books, most of them are about countries and cities. He also produced several commemorative postage stamps for the United Kingdom.Read More →

  • Milner Gray (1899 – 1997) British Industrial & Graphic Designer

    Milner Gray featured image

    Gray was a fellow student and friend of artist-designer Graham Sutherland at Goldsmiths College School of Art, London University, where he studied painting and design. He served in the Royal Engineers during WWI when he was involved in camouflage work like other famous artists and designers from both wars. Read More →

  • Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1895 – 1946) Hungarian Designer – Applied Arts

    Featured Image by László Moholy-Nagy (MoMA)

    In Budapest, he studied law, while elsewhere, he studied sketching and painting. During World War I, he began drawing and became interested in Kasimir Malevich and El Lissitzky. Read More →

  • Nikolai Mikhailovich Suetin Russian artist, ceramicist and designer

    Nikolai Mikhailovich Suetin (1897-1954) was a Russian artist, ceramicist, and designer. He was born in Metlevsk Station Kaluga. He was the husband of Anna Leporskaia. Between 1918-22, he studied Vitebsk Art School. He became a member of Kazimir Malevich’s Posnovis/Unovis group in 1919, and, with Il’ia Chashnik, was one of Malevich’s closest collaborators. Read More →

  • Hermann Bongard Norwegian graphic & glassware designer

    Vulcanus from A la Carte range for Figgjo designed by Hermann Bongard

    Hermann Bongard Norwegian graphic designer and glassware designer. He studied lithography and commercial design. Read MoreRead More →

  • Neville Brody (b.1957) British Art Director

    Screenshot project page Neville Brody

    Neville Brody rose to prominence during the early 1980s surge of “designerism”: a period when the British economy was considered to be expanding, marketing, promotion, and “cultural entrepreneurship” were in the air, and young culture was a money-spinner.Read More →

  • Otl Aicher (1922 – 1991) German industrial and graphic designer

    Otl Aicher 1972 Munich Olympics Archery poster. Featured image

    From 1946 to 1947, Otl Aicher (1922 – 1991) attended the Munich Academy of Fine Arts. He later became closely affiliated with Ulm’s highly influential and radical Hochschule Für Gestaltung after founding a studio there the following year.Read More →

  • Abram Games (1914 – 1996) British graphic and industrial designer

    Abram Games in the Studio

    In acknowledging his power as a propagandist, he claimed, “I wind the spring and the public, in looking at the poster, will have that spring released in its mind.” Read More →

  • Extra Bold: A Feminist, Inclusive, Anti-racist, Nonbinary Field Guide for Graphic Designers

    Extra Bold - Kindle edition

    Through essays, interviews, artwork, typeface and beyond, lesser heard voices at various stages of their careers are given a platform to share insights from the inside. Along with information on hiring processes, power structures, mentoring, workplace discrimination and more, Extra Bold aims to make the world of design a little more accessible.Read More →

  • Robert Bonfils (1886 – 1972) French Graphic Artist, Painter and Designer

    Robert Bonfils Chair

    Born in Paris, Robert Bonfils was a French graphic artist, painter, and designer. He studied at the École Germain-Pilon in 1903 and at the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1906. He worked for Henri Hamm, a furniture designer. His work included paintings, bookbindings, ceramics for Sèvres, Bianchini-Frerier silk, wallpaper and interior design layouts. He designed the tea room at the Au Printemps department store in Paris. With depictions of the seasons, he decorated the wall.Read More →

  • Hermann Zapf (1918 – 2015) German Typographer and Calligrapher

    Hermann Zapf featured image

    Hermann Zapf (1918 – 2015) was born and educated in Nuremberg. Gudrun Zapf-von Hesse, a calligrapher and typeface designer, was his wife. Palatino, Optima, and Zapfino are some of the typefaces he developed.Read More →

  • Alexey Brodovitch (1898 – 1971) graphic designer and magazine art director

    Alexey Brodovitch

    Alexey Brodovitch (1898 – 1971) was an American/Russian graphic designer and magazine art director. Alexey Brodovitch was born in Russia and worked in Paris in the 1920s, creating books, posters, furniture, and advertising. He moved to America in 1930 and worked as the art director of Harper’s Bazaar magazine in New York after a brief stint of teaching and advertising.Read More →

  • Saul Bass (1920 – 1996 ) opening and closing titles

    Saul Bass West Side Story featured image

    When the Frank Sinatra film on drug addiction “The Man With The Golden Arm” opened, a Saul Bass poster dominated the cinema billboards. No words, only artwork- a jagged arm.Read More →

  • Herbert Bayer (1900 – 1985) American painter, photographer, architect, designer and sculptor

    Electronics A New Science Herber Bayer

    Herbert Bayer was an American; painter, photographer, architect, designer, and sculptor. His unspecialised approach to art and design reflected his Bauhaus training emphasizing basic principles of visual communication. He emerged as a veritable one-person band of modernism, able to address problems of form in practically any medium. Read More →

  • Keith Haring (1958 – 1990) American artist and designer – art that danced

    Keith Haring Icons

    Keith Haring was best known for his graffiti-like painting, initially on the black paper used to cover discontinued billboard advertisements in the New York subway. After after a feverish 1980’s style career of surging popular success and grudging critical attention, Haring died of AIDS in 1991 at the age of 31.Read More →

  • William Morris – Beauty of Practicality

    Kelmscott Press

    Morris believed his responsibility was “to revive a sense of beauty in home life, to restore the dignity of art to household decoration.Read More →

  • Penguin Book Covers (1946 – 1949) Designer: Jan Tschichold

    Penguin Book Covers

    This sofa is designed in a so-called minimalist style that is basic and unadorned. Throughout the late 1980s, this emergent style had a significant impact on design in Europe. The sofa in question results from a significant collaboration between a talented young designer and a manufacturer committed to promoting new design.Read More →

  • Michael Peters (b. 1941) British Graphic Designer

    Michael Peters featured image

    The 1980s in Britain were marked by an apparent economic rebound and a newfound enthusiasm among Britons for business, risky capitalism, and design. Design was pushed as a fundamental ingredient to financial success by a new generation of design entrepreneurs, one of them being Michael Peters.Read More →

  • Alexander Girard (1907 – 1993) American architect, interior designer, industrial designer and textile designer

    Alexander Girard (1907 – 1993) was a man of many design talents. He trained asRead More →

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