Sunday, November 8, 2009

International Modernism: The U.S. and Europe

International Modernism in the post World War II period was marked by a shift of material culture from production to consumerism. The consumption based culture made extensive use of graphic design and typography to create a strong corporate culture.

Throughout the late nineteenth and early-mid twentieth century, existing and emerging nations (like Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Scandinavian countries and U.S.) tried to create, express and promote their individual national identities through design (Sparke, 95). These identities were meant to demonstrate the status and power of a nation, to its citizens and to the world. Design was used as the “commercial face” of the identities, thus resulting in national style. While each one of these countries had their own unique national expressions, France and U.S. became the main proponents of consumerism.

France developed its national identity through the production and marketing of luxury items specifically targeted towards women. This created a strong consumer culture based on design. This was expressed in the Paris Exposition of 1925 where a retail culture, with shop fronts and department stores’ pavilions displaying fashionable and exotic merchandise, was evident (Sparke,106).

Around the turn of the century, the national identity of U.S. was that of a consumer society, defined by the wants and desires of the marketplace. Mass circulation of magazines, department store, shop windows and advertisements were seen as part of the ‘American way’- a consumer culture (Sparke, 104). In the New York World’s Fair of 1939, U.S. focused upon integrating design into its private corporate image, showcasing its large corporations- General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, AT&T etc. These formed the country’s identity based on industrial design, technology and consumption (Sparke, 108).

As other nations followed consumerism, Germany and Switzerland set up standards for graphic design and typography known as the International Typographic Style which was seen in books, posters, ads and trademarks. It was an exploration of visual components of graphic expression and their use in influencing large masses of people (Raizman, 277). There was a strong need for clarity in word and symbol to break barriers of language. Graphic design began to move away from illustration, photography and color. Ideas were communicated universally and effectively with simple reductive means. Swiss artist Armin Hoffman’s 1958 poster for performances at the State Theatre in Basle shows the use of different lines forming associations to stage, music and dance with a brief phrase “Are you a subscriber?” (Raizman, 279). This is a good example of communicating information through symbols and minimum words. Corporations needed international identification, and global events such as the Olympics called for universal solutions which the Typographic Style could provide.

During this period, many large multinational corporations adopted consistent policies towards design which translated into corporate culture that the employees of a company could identify with, and that provided performance guidelines to the company. The development of corporate culture led to the subordination of the individual to the company. Trademarks such as those for IBM, Knoll Corporation, ABC etc. became an important part of the corporate culture.

Is there an emerging predominant national design style/philosophy in U.S. at this time? What is it focused on? Is it being used to influence the corporate culture?
Weigh the positive and negative effects of having a corporate culture.

Does graphic design, specifically in signage, today have influences from the International Typographic Style? Do you notice any relationship between the two?


Betty said...

I think earlier in the semester someone referred to current pervasive style as somewhat ecclectic. I think that I agree with that. To specifically address corporate design, though, the trend seems to be towards an innovative, sleek modern style. I think of King & Spalding's headquarters in Atlanta. This is one of the most conservative and oldest law firms in Atlanta. Formerly their offices were an homage to wood panelling. Their new space is just the opposite: light, sleek, sophisticated and modern. What statement are they making by this change, perhaps that they are still at the forefront of their industry? The office design supports their brand.

IT does seem that corporate design today is all about the brand: The corporate image is a carefully crafted message. The upside: it is exciting, sexy, and it sells product. It helps employees know what is expected of them, and it helps consumers know what they are getting. The downside: how do you really know that you are buying into what they tell you the product is? Is it really form or substance? Is Heinz catsup really better than the store brand next to it, or is Brand X the same product with a different label. Are we paying for the product, or for it's brand. When Mirant Corporation, an independent power producer, spun off from the native utility in Georgia, their IPO branding strategy cost them $8 million. Was it worth it? Where are those costs recouped? How do you know for sure? I can tell you they were in bankruptcy 3 1/2 years later. (Not that this was driven by the branding strategy, but the branding was certainly not an accurate picture of the financial health of the company.)

I definitely see a correlation between the International Typographic style and signage today. The restroom signage, as well as the handicapped accessibility icon, immediately come to mind. The little man on the yellow slippery when wet cones in restaurants also have a similar feel. In airports the same general style is used in the iconography leading to Information, Baggage Claim, etc. The style depiction is widely used in places where instructions need to be universally understood.

kengelman said...

I believe that the style of the U.S. today is that of modern and sleek while being eco-friendly. Everything today is concerned with being eco-friendly design. Producers have found a way to incorporate sleek and modern with eco-friendly. Many products today are so classy and stylish that you would never know they were eco-friendly.

I think that this type of style is influencing the corporate culture. A large majority of the corporate buildings being built recently are using LEED certification as a basis for their design. The buildings that are being built are also very modern and sleek. There isn't a whole lot of ornamentation on the outside and on the inside everything is very minimalistic and sleek. They are also using new products that eco-friendly. There is a huge emphasis on Energy Star lighting. The buildings are becoming more modern while still being "green".

Like Betty said I can definitely see a correlation between the International Typographic style and today's graphic design. Like Betty said you immediately think of the bathroom signs or the wet floor signs. I think there is such a strong correlation because once you establish these signs and everyone understands them it is harder to change them. These signs help people and get them where they need to be and if completely changed them from what they know that might cause a problem.

caitlyn said...

I agree with Kaitlyn that America‘s new focus is “green” design. The ego-friendly lifestyle has greatly affected design. It is no longer appropriate to waste electricity or use incandescent bulbs. Laws are beginning to enforce these ideas such as the Title 24 of California's energy code. Other instructional guides are LEED and Re-green which give designers guidelines on how to make their projects energy efficient. Also products are being produced with Energy Star and T-24 ratings letting people know that they are buying energy efficient, green products. American design was in the past associated with industrial design styles, even our shopping centers reflect this warehouse-like theme but now we are seeing a shift. Even Walmart is changing their branding to a more ego-friendly and welcoming environment.

I also agree with Kaitlyn and Betty’s views on signage. Certain symbols are universally known, if you see a red octagon you know to stop, if you see a handicap icon you understand what it means. Even when it comes to logos such as Paramount Pictures.

Abby said...

I agree that America’s predominant design style appears to be concerned with “green” and eco friendly design, as well as what we are calling sleek and “modern”. This type of style entails the use of light, metals, high gloss finishes, smooth surfaces, clean lines, minimal ornamentation, glass (large windows), and mainly neutral colors (black, white, grey/silver, tan, wood, etc.). There are certainly variants from this description, but I think designers and architects try to create buildings with green designs, and often it results in this type of design style. The concern for new buildings to obtain LEED ratings often determines the structure of the building, the windows (location of the windows), lighting and materials used for the building overall. Also, I think architects in the US are trying to use computer programs and developments in materials to push new buildings to extremes. They want to turn the building into something quite far away from a cube or 3D rectangle, and they’re using software to model and execute their designs. However, this is probably a smaller percentage of buildings being constructed today because often they are less practical for human use, and more for making big strides on the forefront of design.
The influences of the International Typographic Style have made their way heavily into the graphic design world, and through graphic design into today’s signage. The International Typographic Style makes the most sense for signs that must be readable to every person in a public place. The symbols are universal and immediately easy to understand. I have also seen these kinds of symbols in very interesting artwork, as the genre of graphic design art seems to be growing as of late. The International Typographic Style can even be seen under the cap of some beverages as riddles for everyone to figure out, and there are symbols for just about every word and action in the dictionary.

Elizabeth Harr said...

There is definitely an emerging national design for this country. It is very easily seen in most new architecture today. We know this new design as it reflects to two words either modern or contemporary. Each of these words correlates with each other. Each of these has a very sleek and clean line finish to them. This is the typical design that we are seeing today. For example the University of Kentucky new pharmacy building is a great expression of this new national design. It has a minimalistic exterior mainly brick and large windows and then has a very sleek and controlled interior.

I definitely think that this new style is influencing the corporate culture. The corporate culture is very tender and tends to follow the national brand or image of the time. This is why it changes so frequently. By having a corporate culture it is good because many others follow it. If a design style or aspect is good and the corporate culture embraces it the rest of the country will also embrace it. LEED like others mentioned is a good example of good corporate culture. A negative impact in my opinion that corporate culture could bring is the single design part. Or almost a monopoly design style.

Like most everyone before has stated the signage or graphic design has major ties back to the International Typographic style. These images are so iconic and imprinted in our nature and core existence that if we try to change them there would be an uproar. These images have become apart of our daily lives and we see them everywhere.

Melissa Long said...

After Kaitlyn mentioned it green design does seem to be the leading philosophy in design today. While America may have been a little late on picking up on the trend, in the past couple years we have seen green design develop faster and more innovated than any other country. The great thing about green design is it isn’t limiting. Any building can be green and they can all look aesthetically different from each other. Consequently buildings can be adapted to their location and cultural values of different regions across the U.S. instead of having one common theme, such as all Victorian homes.

Because the American people have become more focused on green design and sustainability corporations have also due to wanting to appeal to their customer. Corporations such as Windex have created a line of cleaning products that are eco friendly and Wal-Mart carries clothing that is made out of recyclable products. Soon we will see a shift in the construction of new stores being concerned about their impact on the land they are developed on and how their products are transported.

I believe the impact of International Typographic Style is most clearly seen in branding. Because most corporations are international their logo has to be identifiable in multiple countries. Furthermore, developing companies want their brand to stand out and make an impression so the company can grow to be international. Universal signs are also influenced by the International Typographic Style. Road signs may have a slight variation between countries, but their overall appearance can be distinguished by any nationality. In all the cases mentioned we depend on the image to be comprehensible regardless of language barriers.

Casey_Ekers said...

You can see some influence from the International Typographic Style in todays lower budget event posters, and universally established symbols. But overall I feel like this style is very dated. Today most advertisements take on a more three diminutional approach. Museums advertise their exhibits with pictures of the Items on display, not abstract shapes. While I feel like this style was popular all the way up to the 70s and 80s I feel like today we have a much more natural approach to advertisements. Or culture as a whole is so ADD a plain poster with a few words on it doesn’t catch our eyes anymore. Our culture has been saturated with advertisement and the ITS style doesn’t cut it anymore. Advertising is very competitive nowadays, companies are always trying to outdo each other. Who wants to look a poster with abstract shapes and a few nondescript words when right next to it is a flashy, bright poster with holograms. The major market doesn’t use this style because it’s noncompetitive and doesn’t convey its message quickly with pictures, which is how our fast paced culture processes information now. On the other hand in the noncompetitive market I have seen this style used for informative posters very successfully. Several of the Beaux Arts Ball posters in the past while being a little flashier have used the basic principals of this style and were successful. It’s very dependent on what is being advertised. If it’s something well know by the public like the Beaux Arts Ball event you don’t need to draw them in, just tell them when it is. But if your trying to persuade someone to drink Coke over Pepsi words won’t cut it you have to show them what it will be like if they switch. Basically the style works in well established situations were only information is being conveyed. But in advertising were people are being persuaded it’s not very useful.

I do think Green design is being nationally adopted at this time, and it’s putting pressure on the corporate world because they are in a much more public eye and they have to set some kind of example. They know people are looking at them and they have to act or they will be left behind and seen as backwards and dangerous to the environment. Do most of them really care...probably not. It’s sad to realize most of the people in the corporate world seem to only care about money. Our culture has the “do what you have to do” attitude when it comes to work. If that means changing the way things are done and firing people so the company as a whole look better then so be it. Maybe the Green movement will bring some of the human aspect back to the work place.

jmboga2 said...

In my opinion, it is a definite style of "green" and economically sound while being stylish and up to date. This style is being used all across the board, from architecture and interior design to fashion, using recycled and eco friendly materials. It has been harped upon the positives of buying these products that are safe for the environment and now also sleek and trendy. When thought of before, being "green" meant unattractive colors of natural materials while today, eco friendly products are at times appearing the same as any other type. The positives are obviously stated: helping the ecosystem and the planet. The negatives arent as major to me, except looking towards the future..where will we go further from this idea and progress? Or is this the furthest we can while saving the planet?
the international typographic style is heavily used still today. It is the most effective way for universally sending the same message, such as the biohazard symbol for dirty needles at the doctor. Without any text, no matter what language you speak, you know to stay away from the hazardous box simply because of the symbol.

Jenna Martini said...

Is there an emerging predominant national design style/philosophy in U.S. at this time? I'd have to agree with everyone above that yes, design today is very modern and sleek, but also graphics especially do call upon past designs. Take Coca Cola for example, we spoke in class about how the graphics for the product is merely moderately altered for the benefits of the consumer. This entails all product today with advertising and graphics intertwined.

A strong graphic design firm I think of today is one in downtown Cincinnati known as FRCH, a company of all different forms of design intertwined through one roof (industrial, architectural, interior, graphics, etc.). They especially have enforced the idea of a corporate culture and the ideals of the International Typographic Style. For instance, if you think of a Starbuck's, Ofiice Max, or even the Kenwood Mall in Cincinnati - isn't hard to not picture the graphics? The company succeeded with graphics within all of the industries they have worked for. All companies do it, but hey - who would know starbucks without that weird lady? Or an office max without some red, yellow and white color and a graphic symbol pulling in business support?

I see positives at any angle - the success of many may be through branding, but as long as it's successful - I see branding as legitimate graphics. It's modern - It's exciting - It's sleek and it's clean. As long as the product is supported by the brand and the brand doesn't cause the viewer to believe a product above it's ability - I see no greater issue.

Mark Leavens said...

I concur, America today is all about the sleek modern look with the green ideals. The fact that LEED certification is becoming bigger and bigger is a testimony to how Americans do things. We may be behind on the world but when we get ahold of something we take it further than anybody else. This has very positive effects on the economy at the very least.

Betty was right on about the easily recognizable universal symbols. The bathroom sign especially is a universally known symbol and is helpful to break the language barrier.

Eunyoung An said...

I think graphic design especially, in typographic design is influenced from international Typographic Style. specifically, the big idea of this style that is communicating information through symbols and minimum words is same as typographic design for now. people start the design from this basic idea and now they develop typographic design in so many different ways. Designers could think about how to communicate with the masses by graphic designs. Now this idea developed commercials.

This blog is intended for the interior design students in the college of design at the University of Kentucky. It was created with the intent to present students with information, providing them with a channel for contemplation and discussion.