April brings with it World Graphic Design Day, which is an ideal time to think about what top designers around the world have done and are doing in the industry as well as how graphic design has an impact as a whole.
Design is one of those things that surrounds us, but we don’t always give a lot of thought to it unless you are a designer. Society is so engulfed in ads, websites, business cards and logos that it is easy for people to overlook the artists doing the work behind the scenes. There are approximately 570,000 graphic designers in the world, each playing a part in the $62 billion-a-year business. Some of us work freelance, run our own businesses or work as part of a larger corporation.
In honor of the more than four-decade tradition of celebrating the graphic arts, here are 25 of the best graphic designs through the decades.
1. Saul Bass Posters
Saul Bass was a movie poster designer from the 1950s. His work appeared on the posters for movies such as “Psycho” and “Vertigo.” He had a distinct style that was simple, yet complex at the same time. Bass’s work shows us that you can stick to the basics but still design something multifaceted.
2. Chevy Spread
Sometimes an aerial view of what a brand has to offer can say it all. Check out this center-of-the-magazine spread by Chevy, showing off an entire car lot full of vehicles. When working with a centerfold in a print publication, you have a lot more leeway to look at the big picture of a product.
3. Midcentury Modern
The 1950s and even into the ‘60s can be classified as midcentury modern art eras, and these looks show up in graphic design throughout that time period. Use World Graphic Design Day to pay tribute to this iconic look. The lines are simple and rounded, with a focus on one or two elements in the design. You can repeat this look yourself by using elements from the time period, such as a rounded piece of furniture or colors such as orange, brick red and yellow.
4. Andy Warhol
The Pop Art movement was started by artists such as Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg and was a twist on abstract expressionism. The art showed everyday life in a bright, fun way. For example, Andy Warhol designed a series of Campbell’s soup cans meant to work together on the shelf in the late 1960s. These types of design work particularly well for product packaging design work, where you need the image to pop and to work alongside other products.
5. Chambers Brothers
This poster was designed by Victor Moscoso in 1967 for the Chambers Brothers. Note the optical illusion and the typography hidden in the sunglasses. The idea is that the people who can’t read the typography aren’t really their target audience anyway. Optical illusions can add another layer to your design work.
6. Japanese Book Covers
In the 1960s, Japanese book covers took on a muted design, almost like watercolor. Check out the faded look in the background. Designers can utilize elements of this style to give their designs a softened appearance.
7. Wes Wilson
Wes Wilson is known as one of the artists of psychedelic designs. This design style spoke to the free movement of the ‘60s and tripping out. The designs used bright colors and unpredictable patterns. Copy this look by going for vivid neon colors and undulating patterns. This would work great for a logo, for example.
8. The Doors
Bubble letters were all the rage in the 1960s, especially when it came to album cover designs. The image above is from The Doors’ single titled “Love Me Two Times.” Note how the letters are set off as almost separate from the background of the album jacket. If you want lettering to pop, a bubble font can both bring a nostalgic ‘60s look to your design and set the text apart from the rest of the image.
9. Milton Glaser
Milton Glaser is a name you might recognize, especially if you’ve spent any time in New York City. He is the creator of the iconic “I Love NY” emblem. While a fairly simple design, Glaser proves to designers that sometimes it is more about what you say and how you say it than the elements of the design itself.
This ad for the Apple II computer puts the focus on photography in design, even as far back as the late 1970s. The type is kept to a minimum, and the ad lets the photo speak for itself. Designers today frequently utilize photos in their design work, understanding just how much you can say without any text at all.
11. Paul Rand
This poster, designed for the U.S. Department of the Interior, shows not only Paul Rand’s style of big, bold lettering, but also the trend in the ‘70s toward utilizing color in graphic designs. Although this has been toned down in modern times and refined into color palettes, you can still take some inspiration in what a splash of color does for the overall aesthetic of a piece.
12. Massimo Vignelli
Artist Massimo Vignelli is known for his architectural graphics, and in particular his 1972 drawing of the New York subway system as an abstract design. Even though the drawing is abstract, it shows the subway system very effectively. The key takeaway is that you can add abstraction to any design, but it still needs to have some sense of order.
13. Neville Brody
Neville Brody’s work spans several decades. He really strove to break out of the box in magazine design and create something fresh and new that hadn’t been done before. This included inspiration from the punk movement.
14. April Greiman
April Greiman is best known for implementing technology into her designs and starting a shift toward tech in design. Before the ‘80s, computers were mainly used to process information rather than in design work. What you can learn from Greiman’s designs is to not be afraid to try something new, especially when you know it’s working.
15. Chip Kidd
Chip Kidd is probably best known for his design of Jurassic Park’s book cover, an iconic red text and white background with the skeleton of a dinosaur in black. The lesson that can be learned from his simple design is that you need to get back to the basics and look at the “bones” of your project.
16. Jacqueline Casey
Jacqueline Casey worked for MIT in the ‘80s and ‘90s. She designed a number of concepts for them to depict complex processes through simple, straightforward designs. The use of negative space in her designs is something every graphic artist should study to learn how to point the viewer’s focus to what you want.
17. Singles Movie Poster
When you think of the 1990s, one thing that likely comes to mind is the grunge movement. This movement showed up in designs of this era as well, such as in the movie poster above, which is a bit dark and smoky in design. A good place to apply a grunge look in your own designs is where you need to create a deep, mysterious look.
18. The Matrix
Technology was advancing by leaps and bounds throughout the ‘90s. This movie poster from the last part of the decade gives a nod to technology with the scrolling numbers in the background and the typeface that appears almost in motion. Designers can add tech touches in the background and font of their designs for a strong impact that sticks with the viewer.
One thing about designs in the ‘90s were how loud some of them were. Big, bold fonts, bright colors and neons were in high demand. For your own designs, you can use bold splashes to draw the eye to a call to action or other feature on a website.
20. Space Jam
In the ‘90s, people started to use patterned backgrounds for their website designs. This is where the same pattern repeats over and over. While this type of background wouldn’t work well today, it is something to study as far as what not to do on your website background.
Apple’s advertising for iPod in the early 2000s used a simple silhouette of a girl listening to music. The vivid background and simple black and white silhouettes draw the attention to the product itself. Designers can use silhouettes to bring focus to a single element on the page and show that item in use.
22. Nate Williams
Unique designs, such as the hand-lettered poster above, became more commonplace as designers discovered you couldn’t do everything digitally. Designers today still use hand-lettering techniques to achieve a custom-made look.
Saul Bass, one of those iconic designers, created the globe in fast motion icon above. This became AT&T’s logo. What you can take away is that motion can easily be depicted in graphic form.
24. Loyal Coffee
Into the 2010s, designers began to turn more and more to beautiful imagery. Take a look at the image above for Loyal Coffee, which shows its to-go coffee cups in motion. Adding beautiful imagery to your designs is a must for today.
25. Geometric Designs
More recently, geometric designs have gained popularity. In the graphic above, geometric designs are added to highlight the shape of the buildings in the image. Designers can implement geometrics in designs to make them look fresh and modern.
Make the Most of World Graphic Design Day
World Graphic Design Day is promoted by the International Council of Design (ico-D) and has occurred every April since 1995. Taking the time to look back at the designs that shaped the industry, as well as looking at what is trending today, is an excellent way for people to see how far design has come, but also to gain some inspiration from the past and the present.
About The Author
Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her re-reading the Harry Potter series, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or hanging out with her dogs, Bear and Lucy.
Thank you for these great examples of graphic designs. Some of them are very original and interesting.
Thanks for reading, Dima!