Modernism Vs Postmodernism


When I think of modernism, I think of cutting edge, new, fresh, and original…

When I think of post-modernism, I think of all these things, but with also an added element of irony and/or deeper meaning such as a radical political statement, deconstruction of historical benchmarks, or socio-economic commentary, not that modernism can’t contain these things, but I believe it’s more pronounced in post-modernism.

When it comes to Modernism, in a nutshell I can say it is a time in our history when traditional values began to change. Modernism attempted to rethink science, art, culture, ethics, philosophy and psychology. It attempted to the find new or hidden meaning in the human experience and had to deal with coming to terms with new ideas. (


Modernism is a term used in the aftermath of the 1st world war and the Russian revolution in a period where the artistic avant-grade dreamed of a new world free from conflict, greed and social inequality. The term modernism was used in graphic design itself since around the 1925-1930, as once economic conditions improved designers had to reassess their work, adapting it to a mass markets, and sometimes even to the demands of fascism. Initially before this time modernism was only largely experimental but then moved from the sketch board to the real world. Modernism has survived for all this time and still remains a powerful force of the design world of today. (Designing a new world V&A: 1)



I looked at what “Designing a new world had to say about Modernism more in depth. Whilst researching the subject I came across some interesting information, first of all it states that at the core of Modernism lay the idea that the world had to be fundamentally rethought. The carnage of the First World War led to widespread utopian fevour, a belief that the human condition could be healed by new approaches to art and design, more spiritual, more sensual, or more rational. Then it went on to say The Russian Revolution offered a model for an entirely new society. (Designing a new world V&A: 2)

Designing a new world V&A goes on to talk about how modernism was promoted back then. It states that as modernism was campaigned, it generated many exhibitions and countless books, journals, posters and advertisements. Then it goes on to say that in both design and content it would argue the case of ‘New’, often with a generational and political bias against the old. Lastly under “promoting modernism”, it states that Modernist graphic design and advertising came to be known as the New Typography and it favoured sans-serif lettering, sometimes without uppercase letters and Typo-Photo in which photographic images were montage alongside type. Also Colour and composition were influenced by abstract paints. In my opinion when it come to Modernism as a whole it can be a bit disturbing in regards to the political side of things and in regards to the way it was used, but when it come to design itself I prefer modernist design only because of the outcome of a particular design, I guess I am attracted to the way they are composition, together, and in order, I generally like that fact that I need to work toward some sort of order/grid/rule but only to a certain extent. (Designing a new world V&A: 12)

Paul Rand

Paul Rand is one of the world’s most famous graphic designers, he’s best known for his corporate logo designs, including the logos for IBM, UPS, etc.

Paul Rand is a very popular modernist designer. He’s core beliefs in Modernist Design is what drove his career, this is why his lasting influence, was the modernist philosophy he so revered. Paul Rand celebrated the works of artists from Paul Cezanne to Jan Tschichold, and constantly attempted to draw the connections between. (


Paul Rand (born Peretz Rosenbaum, August 15, 1914 – November 26, 1996) was a well-known American graphic designer, best known for his corporate logo designs. Rand was educated at the Pratt Institute (1929-1932), the Parsons School of Design (1932-1933), and the Art Students League (1933-1934). He was one of the originators of the Swiss Style of graphic design. From 1956 to 1969, and beginning again in 1974, Rand taught design at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. Rand was inducted into the New York Art Directors Club Hall of Fame in 1972. He designed many posters and corporate identities, including the logos for IBM, UPS and ABC. Rand died of cancer in 1996. (




Welcome to the world of Postmodernism A term, used within the graphics design world since around the 1980s. When it comes to postmodernism there are several opinions on what it actually means  as many people didn’t have a clue, even the most knowledgeable people with the graphic design world had doubts about it, i.e. Judith Williamson author of Decoding advertisements, interviewed in a design journal “the term is too vague to be useful in anything other than a stylistic sense”, Richard Kostelanetz author of a dictionary of the Avant-Grades, he is even blunter and says “My personal opinion holds that anything characterised as postmodern, weather by its author or it’s advocates, is beneath critical consideration, no matter how immediately popular or capable it might be”.  In my opinion I must say, although I do not entirely agree with they way the terms postmodernism and  modernism was used back in them days, I prefer Modernism when it come to my graphic design work. (Poynor 2003:8)

Jeffery Keedy Emigre Type Specimen Series

Booklet No4: Keedy Sans, typrographic

Illustration, Emagre, USA, 2002

Post modernism – Rick Paynor:

Rick Poynor founded Eye Magazine in 1990, and edited it for seven years. He also wrote the book  “NO MORE RULES” a book about graphic design and postmodernism. I took the opportunity to research Poynor’s views on the subject and came across some very remarkable information.

Poynor states that even twenty years of the term Postmodernism was used, that it still remains a difficulty topic, and he goes on to stat that there is already a vast amount of literature devoted to every aspect of postmodernism, as well as new books about arriving all the time about the subject and publications running whole series of articles attempting to explain what it meant. Poynor 2003:8)

What is Postmodernism?

Poynor starts off to say that in the last 15 years graphic designers have created some of the most challenging examples of postmodernism in the visual art. Poynor says that few graphic designers have been eager to define their work as postmodernism and those who have laid the most positive and even argumentative claim to the label have tended to be American. In the book NO MORE RULES both American and non-American designers have produced work which relate to postmodernism and its themes, would reject the term strongly. In Poynor’s opinion for some designers, postmodernism is too closely identified with a particular historicist style of architecture current in the 1980s and it is consequently rejected on the grounds of aesthetic taste as much as anything.

Poynor states that postmodernism is viewed as stylistic by some of the commentators throughout chapter 1 of the book, which has inhibited an understanding of the way in which postmodern tendencies continued to influence design throughout the 1990s.

Poynor also tell us that the purpose of the book is not to provide an overview of postmodernism and all attempts at summary inevitably run up against the multitude of sometimes conflicting interpretations that postmodernism as generated. (Poynor 2003:10)

Poynor writes that postmodernism can not be understood without reference to modernism, while the ‘post’ prefix might seem to suggest that postmodernism comes after modernism, or that it replaces or rejects it, many commentators point out that postmodernism is a kind of parasite, dependant on its modernist host and displaying many of the same features – except that the meaning has changed.(Poynor 2003:11)

As I looked further in to what poynor had to say about postmodernism, I came across a vary interesting paragraph, in which I totally agreed with. He wrote “The products of postmodern culture may sometimes bear similarities to modernist works, but their inspiration and purpose is fundamentally different. If modernism south to create a better would, postmodernism – to the horror of many observers – appears to accept the world as it is”. Then he went on to say “Where modernism frequently attacked commercial mass culture, claiming from its superior perspective to know what was best for people, postmodernism enters into a complicitous relationship with the dominant culture. In postmodernism, modernism’s hierarchical distinctions between worthwhile ‘high’ culture and trashy ‘low’ culture collapse and the two become equal possibilities on a level field. (Poynor 2003:11)

Poynor refers to a couple of designers and their opinions about postmodernism which I found to be very interesting first of all he states that T.S Elliot a modernist poet, towards the end of his life observed that it not wise to violate rules until you know how to observe them and the commonly held view that one should master one’s discipline before seeking to disrupt it  also held true for design.

And John Lewis, a British designer and graphic design teacher, In Typography: Basic Principles (1963) includes a chapter titled ‘Rules are Made to be Broken. Before you start braking rules, he writes, you should know what they are. Once one knows what are the correct procedures, one can look at them critically and see whether by deliberately flouting them anything can be added to methods of communication. Then Poynor goes on to say that Lewis believed that there was even a place for illegiberately for mixing up fonts mutilating letters, if it would serve the message by adding some excitement. (Poynor 2003:12)


I went on to research other points of view when it come to post modernism and came across  some very interesting explanations on what it all about.

Wickapedida states that postmodernism is a way of being free  to combine any elements or styles in a piece of work even if it is irrelevant to the subject and it stated that postmodernism rejects rigid genre boundaries and promotes parody, irony, and playfulness, commonly referred to as jouissance by postmodern theorists, in graphis design postmodernims has been a visual and decorative movment. Then It went on to say how some artistic movement saw postmodernism as pop art, which when I thought about it, I agreed with to a certain extent. Unlike modern art, postmodern art does not approach this fragmentation as somehow faulty or undesirable, but rather celebrates it.


This is the album cover for The Sex Pistol’s 1977 hit single “God Save the Queen”. Designed by British artist Jaime Reid, this cover comes to symbolize the punk movement of late 1970’s England. This cover would later come to influence a style that would come to categorize early postmodern design different typeface in one compositions with little to no visible organization and the use of appropriation. (…/Special_Collections_Sources)

I-D, the British youth culture magazine, quickly became an iconic representation of the new-wave and postmodern graphic design gaphic design aesthetics upon its publication in 1980. The magazine was designed by Terry Jones who utilized aggressive collages, heightened use of color, and experimental typography to achieve a striking, dramatic design aesthetic. As postmodernism favors expressive designs and a rebellion against for strict constraints, and many of the designers who pioneered this movement were young, the design aesthetics of a magazine centered around a postmodern youth culture proved to be a perfect catalyst for such experimentations in typography and image manipulation. An important facet of postmodern design theory is the idea of anti-humanism, which explains that a universal principle cannot possibly be shared by all human beings, and insists that any principles must be determined historically and culturally



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