October 29th 2021

A brief history of graphic design

Throughout the years, graphic design has changed rapidly as designers try new innovative and experimental designs with technological enhancements. In this blog, we will go through the decades of poignant creations that built our rich history of graphic design.

In 1922 the term “graphic design” first appeared when Willian Dwigger described it as the word the art of designing with graphics. Trends in graphic design have continuously changed, to reflect the times, or develop with marketing and companies competing with other brands. We’ll pick the story up a little earlier at the turn of the century.

Graphic design over the decades

Art Nouveau

1890 -1920

This design movement was a style of decorative art. Recognised by natural shapes, curves, and a linear approach to its shapes and intricate details. Artists influenced by Art Nouveau can be seen in Gustav Klimt’s ‘The Kiss’ and Mucha’s ‘Princess Hyacinth’. Whilst this eloquent stylistic movement ended over 100 years ago, true Art Nouveau designs are still being completed today. Antonio Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia masterpiece began in 1882 and will not be completed until 2026.


1900 - 1930

Originated in Italy and later developed in Russia, Futurism focused on capturing the energy, dynamism, vitality, and changes in the modern world through art and design. Futurists were fascinated with aviation and cinematography. Renowned artists such as Giacomo Balla’s paintings depicted light, movement, and speed. Today one of his most famous paintings ‘Abstract Speed + Sound’, is exhibited at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.

Art Deco

1920 – 1940

Also known as Style Moderne, this shift in decorative arts and architecture was popular in Western Europe and the United States. Art Deco gave shape to buildings, furniture, everyday and jewellery. Within the graphic design world, the most influential designer of the Art Deco period was A.M Cassandre. His illustrations were all based on geometric shapes that helped define the Art Deco effect. He believed his combination of word and image, together with his process was imperative to graphic design.



The word means “bad taste” in German. The art critics described these designs as vulgar, poorly designed, and garish due to their clashing colours on the palette. Kitsch design was identified by its script fonts, simple shapes, and cartoon-like illustrations. Artist Vladamir Tretchikoff created the painting ‘Chinese Girl, well known as ‘The Green Lady’. Known today as one of the best-selling art prints of the twentieth century.

Psychedelic era


This hands-on movement began in the mid-1960s that gave form to music and many aspects of popular culture, influenced by the time of hippies in America. The word “psychedelic” means mind-manifesting or to waken the mind. Psychedelic drugs were popular with the younger generation and artists attempted to recreate the feeling of tripping from the drugs through their design and artwork.



This decade, designers gave us a colourful style of decorative arts and architecture that still features in some form today. Postmodern design is often characterised by saturated colours, bold patterns, and strong contrasts. Postmodern artists used a combination of style elements from the past. A handful of Postmodernism artworks are now famous and on display at the most prominent art galleries around the world. For example, Chris Ofili’s painting entitled ‘Virgin Mary’ and Cristo Jean-Claude’s photography called the ‘Running Fence’.

Nineties nostalgia


In the 1990s, graphic design was filled with fashion statements, bold colours, and many music genres. At the start of this decade, grunge emerged, a style influenced by graffiti and punk. The key aesthetics were vibrant colours, fun patterns, gradients, and font choices. When grunge began to prove to be a popular trend, fashion design Marc Jacobs introduced grunge to the catwalk.  In the graphic design world, the legend David Carson revolutionised the industry through his unique and unconventional ‘grunge typography'.

Flat design

2010 - present

This design focuses on cleanliness and order. Clearly seen by its minimalist styling, ample white space, and bright high-contrast colours. Flat design was created in direct response to skeuomorphism’s age of realism. The most renowned feature by applying flat 2-dimensional visuals, opposite to the realistic and detailed skeuomorphic images. The flat design approach is favoured for enhancing the usability and visual balance of user interfaces.

Graphic trends do not spring from anything. Every decade, design shift away from trends of the previous decade and build on nostalgia for earlier times. And besides, like the great Picasso said – “Good designers copy, great designers steal!”

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