Navigating the History of Graphic Design

So…I’ve been researching on some graphic design movements and am planning to write a bunch of articles on it.

My target audience:

  • Aspiring designers trying to break into the field (assuming these are mostly self-taught)
  • Design students
  • Intermediates who are already working as professionals in this field but want to further their knowledge by revisiting historical movements that shaped graphic design to what it is (or should be) today.

Why I’m writing this post? I needed some help in planning what movements to write about. Here’s what I’ve gotten so far:

Pre-historic Times:

  • Cave Paintings
  • Written language
  • Chinese printing and woodblocks
  • Calligraphy
  • Heraldry
  • Signage


  • Gutenberg press
  • History of printing
  • Printing techniques
  • Typography


  • Arts & Crafts Movement
  • The Private Press
  • Art Nouveau


  • Constructvism
  • Neoplasticism
  • Futurism
  • Dada
  • Cubism
  • Surrealism
  • Art Deco
  • Bauhaus
  • Isotype
  • Pop Art
  • Psychadelic movement
  • Swiss Graphic Design
  • Post-modernism


  • Y2K graphic design
  • Retro design

Many of the designers here are far more experienced in printing than I am, which is where I’m lacking. I think I have the 1900s covered well but I can’t help but think that there was a lot more movement during the Industrial Revolution from what I’ve mentioned.

Also, I couldn’t find much in the 2000s other than a few fads/trends like skeumorphism and flat design - which don’t exactly hold historic value I presume.

Also, these aren’t in a specifc order apart from the centuries they started in.

Please let me know what ya’ll think, your input is highly appreciated!

Couldn’t edit the post, but thought of adding this in case it helps…

Here’s how the content will be laid out:

There are 3 levels of the content (within the broader graphic design history theme) on the site:

Level 1 - a curation of graphic design movements with a brief overview and key Takeaways from each one

Level 2 (linked out to from L1 content). - a high level overview of the design movements belonging to a specific time period such as the 1900s

Level 3 (linked out to from L2 content) - this is going to be a detailed look at a specific design movement like Bauhuas. This article will discuss the history of its origin, what influenced it, the main people behind it, it’s principles, features, impact, influence etc.

Interesting … try make some wix encyclopedia alike site?

Surely there are many sources that can be linked easily eg. throw the main wiki page [1] in some wiki visualization mapping like and You’ll have easier navigation for stacking info, or combine different info from different sites [2][2]

This is also interesting commercial tool that needs some greater update AAAtlas – Graphic Design Worldwide

I’m having a pretty hard time trying to work around the resources you provided. The wiki page links to a bunch of other random things and the AAAtlas isn’t working for me :stuck_out_tongue:

Some of the items in your list might be described as movements. Still, others — especially those that predate the 20th Century — might be better described as seminal moments or occurrences that had consequences related to the eventual development of graphic design.

Many items you listed in the 1900s have more to do with Western art history than graphic design. I’m not sure Cubism or Surrealism have direct connections to graphic design. The rise of advertising as an industry or the development of offset lithography, digital printing, desktop publishing, or the internet would be considerably more important.

The term graphic design didn’t exist before the 1920s and wasn’t widely used until the mid-20th Century. From prehistoric times onward, people have attempted to make graphic objects more beautiful, decorative, and functional. However, anything resembling today’s graphic design didn’t exist as a discipline until the convergence of modern printing technologies and commerce created a business need for it.

I’m not sure there’s any cohesive continuity in the development of graphic design before the late 1800s or, at the earliest, the latter part of the industrial revolution. Before then, anything resembling graphic design might be better described as decoration or aesthetic enhancements that emerged from cultural influences or technological changes.

If it were me, I wouldn’t focus on graphic design movements. The essence of graphic design is employing different forms of visual communication to achieve predetermined goals. Movements conjure up late 19th and 20th Century Western fine arts instead of design.

Stylistic changes have certainly occurred in graphic design, but most were spawned by technological changes that made possible what was previously prohibitively difficult or not cost-effective.

Establishing a linear connection in graphic design from pre-history to today is far too broad of a task. There are too many disjointed pieces and interwoven connections to make it practical.

Instead, I would concentrate on some of those pieces. For example, Grunge might qualify as a graphic design movement from the late 1980s and early 1990s. However, Grunge was a broader movement than graphic design; it also involved music and fashion. Like many 20th Century art movements, its roots were in a counter-culture philosophy that can be traced back to Dada. In addition, Grunge was made possible in graphic design by the possibilities that came about using computers and desktop publishing.

Another example might be the Swiss style you listed, which had its roots in the Bauhaus and gradually became known as the International Style. This style has become so ubiquitous worldwide that it’s often not recognized as a style and simply regarded as the way things look — especially in graphic design, architecture, and industrial design.

Switching subjects just a little, have you encountered the following graphic from Edward Tuffe’s book, Visual Explanations? It’s a graphic that attempts to establish all the stylistic connections between well-known rock ‘n’ roll bands from 1954 to 1975.

Tracing the development of graphic design during this period might be similarly complex. Doing so from pre-history to the present would be far more difficult and complicated.

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I did notice that many of the “graphic design” movements were actually much broader. You mentioning that graphic design was formally introduced in 1920 did make my brain click: “if it wasn’t introduced then, then anything around the 19th century doesn’t really constitute graphic design”

Personally, I still think it’s worth learning about these other movements, ideas, or philosophies because they did somewhat morph graphic design into what it is. Like Cubism wasn’t formally a graphic design movement, and leaned more towards fine arts (painting and sculpting the most) and architecture

However, the ideas and principles, I believe can still be applied within the graphic design context for example, in this poster:


Of course that’s a bit of a vague example, but it could depend on what kind of image the brand is going for and I guess cubism could apply somewhere that makes sense.

Your reply does seem to make this clearer. I guess what I could do is have Level 2 and 3 style content for the specific movements that have more involvement with graphic design like Bauhaus and Grunge. As for the pre-history times, I guess I could just briefy mention them without going into too much detail and not really create a whole separate article on them.

Woah! That’s as impressive as it is complex. I guess that does put some things into perspective and I can see what you’re trying to tell me. These graphic design movements can overlap, evolve, and accumulate the same way so I guess I’ll prioritize some of the topics on my list, ditch some, and try to incorporate the similar ones under one theme (like the Bauhaus and Swiss Graphic design style)

Thanks for your response, appreciate it!

Hm too short editing time so x2

@Just-B hm medieval typography and/or posters in romanticism generally are considered Graphic Design or!?, in such manner cave paintings too :smiley: also think in every of those movements there were illustrators or at least their sketches can be considered as concept graphic design intended for particular audience [1]

@IbrahimAhmed it was suggestion to use some free database engines that can crawl wikipedia … if want more heavy tool there are some stalled public projects about semantic db engines [1][1][1] eg. among which is also the Topic Maps standard [2][2][2] still I am not sure where except at can be explored similar tools freely, or normally You can try visualized crawling through commercial engines - eg. [3][3][4][4] tho not sure whether these can be fed with web data or have web analytics tools …

  • … hm earlier there was one simple mindmap alike engine for wiki, but cant remember the name, it was like flat gui with wired topic nodes by similarity, tried to find it coz it will come handy for me too, but for now I’ll need to stick to the limited seealso alike freebies [5][5][5] IF SOMEONE HAS BETTER PROPOSAL BE FRIENDLY AND SHARE IT …

… anyway if You go so vast, think it would be useful to link AAAtlas alike data too as add agencies overlook, or You can include some public libraries info [6] finally and ideally this kind of project should be pushed by some Graphic Design Association or Museum coz it would be well funded by federal money in eU or usA, yet You can stir momentum for Open Source Project so would get help and fundraising coz it would be time consuming effort but also extra egotripping spin if push it alone, altho as idea sounds good, try maybe open dedicated eforum for the project, but do use some neo4j alike portal as main page and probably people will start contributing …

Illuminated manuscripts - starting in the 6th century there was formal typography on a page with custom illustrations, in a book. You have to cover that.

Anti-design - designs that intentionally try to confuse or misdirect the viewer through an apparent disregard or hostility for the traditional rules of design. Still a thing.

Punk/DIY - I’d say it was a precursor movement to the current trend of non-designers designing their own things with Canva. You don’t need professional training; anyone can do it. This is the most relevant one because it’s a movement that’s going to kill the graphic design industry.

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The underpinnings of Western fine arts movements from around 1860–70 onward have more to do with the artists’ philosophical and explorational approaches to art than they do with how the art looks.

I’ll try to explain with three oversimplified examples.

The abstract expressionists of the 1950s regarded their paintings as records of their art having taken place as they expressed themselves and their inner feelings on the canvas. As a result, the art of one abstract expressionist could look very different from the others because the movement wasn’t concerned with stylistic or visual consistency. Instead, their art explored an individual’s expression through the gestures involved in creating the work.

Cubism resulted from Western artists (primarily Picasso and Braque), in the early part of the 20th Century, being exposed to sub-Saharan tribal art where the assumptions inherent in Western art weren’t present. This insight triggered a new, non-realistic approach to art, breaking down the subject matter into representations of fragmented planes.

Dada reflected some (primarily) Swiss artists’ disillusion with Western values — due to the horrors of the First World War. They expressed themselves by rejecting Western art traditions and, in response, creating the opposite that also reflected the chaos they observed in the War.

I suppose I’m saying that Western fine art movements can’t be separated from their philosophical and situational contexts, then applied to graphic design. For example, the hamburger poster you showed us might have superficial stylistic similarities to Cubism but shares none of its underpinnings, so it shouldn’t be considered Cubist except in a derivative sense.

One exception to this difference between graphic design and fine art movements might be Social Realism — especially the Soviet version of Social Realism that incorporated graphic design elements as part of their approved social realist propaganda approach to art.

On another note, it’s easy to shortchange the rest of the world’s art and design contributions by looking at graphic design primarily from a broadly European cultural bias. Other areas of the world impart their own cultural spins on graphic design, which adds to the bigger picture.

Are you referring to my mention of the term graphic design being coined in the 1920s? If so, I didn’t mean to imply that the term couldn’t be retroactively applied to what came before then.

I wouldn’t consider cave paintings as graphic design, though. Medieval illuminated manuscripts might qualify, in a sense, but the art was primarily decorative — the Lindisfarne Gospels are the best examples I can think of.

Then again, I don’t think there’s a universally agreed-upon definition of graphic design. :smiley:



In simple terms, would you say that Art movements deal with inputs such as the approach to an art form wheras Graphic Design movements deals with the outputs such as the developed visual perception formed by the proposed design?

I also get the point that western fine art movements are difficult to separate from their philosophy but at the same time I can’t help but believe that they did play a vital role in the development of graphic design - even if it’s only in the aesthetic sense.

I don’t know. Maybe I think this because that’s how I precieve it? And I may not be focusing too much behind the situational context. But, then again, I think the principles of those specfic art movements can be applied to graphic design and could play a part in helping designers convey their message to the audience.

Even if we were to dismantle the art pieces of eariler centuries, understand the meaning behind them, and see how they may apply to a certain brand’s message I believe we could find a solution to a design problem - which is what graphic design is all about.

This is a good point. I’ll be sure to add this within the article and get some references from other cultures, I believe it could give viewers a birds eye on the cultural impact on some of these movements.

Ah yes, The ultimate excuse I need to cover my half-knowledge

Can’t believe I forgot about Anti-design smh :man_facepalming:

Huh. I remember seeing these be brought up once when I was researching “Islamic design” where parts of the Quran were beautified with ornamental borders and calligraphy - but I didn’t know there was a name for it. I searched it up and yup, it definitely has its roots in religion

I’ll be sure to include that!

I had a slight idea about Punk but I don’t think it’s synonymous with DIY design. Punk to me seems to have a bit of anti-design elements because there seems like a “rebellious” spin to the designs but not the design elements themselves, but as for DIY… isn’t that like using a drag-and-drop tool to create a design?

Canva’s definitely up there, but I don’t see how it could be a movement. To me it seems the same as AI art, it isn’t really a movement but more like a trend? I don’t know if that makes sense, I hope you could clarify a bit.

Think that most compelling graphic design from antiquity and medieval times is Vexillology as symbology used on flags and coats, also good representative could be lithographic prints, but non less ceramic decorations …

From modern perspective some artists from every movement used similar imprints here and there but that was far from trend that would earn the label graphic designers …

… hm embroidery and folklore motives or textile patterns should be added to the list too … and if we make such links then also ornamental pottery and cave painting could drop as ancient graphic design in broader terms if graphic means actually art [1]

I think that’s an apples-to-oranges comparison.

In much of fine art, the objective is the artist’s personal exploration and expression of the art. In graphic design, the aim is to help clients communicate messages that resonate with target audiences to accompllish specific objectives.

Let’s say you or I, as fine artists, decided to begin painting blue butterflies in a new, original way. Let’s also say that art critics, galleries, and the general public started noticing our blue butterflies. If hundreds of other artists took notice and began incorporating blue butterflies into their work, we would have a blue butterfly art movement.

That kind of flexibility to do whatever we want in graphic design doesn’t exist. As graphic designers, we’re constrained by the requirement of solving communication problems for clients in the most effective ways possible. We can’t suddenly begin incorporating blue butterflies into our work to satisfy our artistic preferences.

These constraints inhibit the formation of graphic design movements since most clients aren’t interested in being on the cutting edge of an art movement. They’re far more interested in selling their products and services in ways they know will show a return.

Styles and tastes gradually shift in graphic design, and new technologies open new doors to doing things that weren’t practical before.

For example, back in the paste-up era of graphic design, creating a simple gradient was a complicated task involving either purchased screen tint negatives or airbrushing. Consequently, gradients weren’t used often except in illustrations that needed to be scanned anyway.

With the advent of desktop publishing using computers and software, the gradient door was suddenly open, so everyone began using them. Clients thought they were pretty cool, so gradients were a big thing until people got used to them and decided they weren’t cool anymore.

Artificial intelligence is looming over graphic design today, and we’re wondering what new doors and ways of doing things will be opened or closed because of it.

The bottom line is that I think the driving forces behind graphic design and fine art are fundamentally different and can’t be easily compared. As I said, it’s like comparing apples to oranges.

Eh sometimes wonder in which century we live!, they can crawl all metadata of citizens but can give them at least history data visualization as more intuitive and compelling learning tool!, if just decimal of their billions poured in such tool think culture will lift us all, hm forgot that for “them” is heresy to empower “their” useless eaters!

Pity the WikiArtHistory project evaporated [1][1][2][1][3] as could be seen from the seealso link probably due to tap on

A post was merged into an existing topic: Futurism (1909-1914)