Week 2 - Factors Influencing Design Trends
Why do design styles change?
Without a consumerist culture that included changing design styles, it's unlikely you'd be a able to get a job as a Graphic Designer - so we can assume that consumerism is one fundamental influence on design trends. But what other specific factors have there been in the past two centuries that influenced design?
Around two centuries ago, there was an Industrial Revolution in the Western world, then Victorian England was able to spread it's Empire (and culture) far and wide. High Victorian design styles were very fussy and ornate, heavily decorated and often not very functional. It was a time of 'showing off' wealth and power - for those who had it! Behind the scenes, poverty for the have-nots was extreme. There was child labour, widespread disease and appalling living conditions for a large proportion of the population.
Even at this early stage though, there were people who believed that design could improve people's lives, such as ET Bellhouse, who designed prefabricated buildings to make life for those people moving to the edges of the Empire more comfortable. I doubt any of the locals in the newly colonised countries got one though :)
Victorian opulence and the Empire was showcased at the Great Exhibition of 1851. A giant greenhouse known as the Crystal Palace was built for the exhibition and it was the biggest event of it's type ever staged. Over six million people attended, which was largely possible because the new railway system was allowing people to travel long distances for the first time.
Thanks to industrialisation and commerce, there was a rising Middle Class - well educated, but often from humble beginnings. Within this group there were those who became activists for social reform. One of these people was William Morris, leader of the Arts & Crafts Movement.
The Arts & Craft Movement were very nostalgic for the past, for a time before the Industrial Revolution. They believed that fine craftsmanship could improve the lives of everyday people by giving back the jobs that machines had taken away. Ironically though, this made the goods that they produced very expensive, so their main buyers were the wealthy Upper Class, the very people they so despised. The look of the Arts & Craft Movement is very Medieval, as this is the period they most admired.
From the Arts & Craft Movement developed Art Nouveau. Art Nouveau was less interested in the social aspects of design, and more interested in the aesthetics and symbolism. One of the influences was the newly developing field of psychology. There were two main types of Art Nouveau - the rectilinear (straight lines) and the curvilinear (curved, organic 'whiplash' lines).
In France, and to a lesser extent in Great Britain, streams of Art Nouveau developed into a very lush type of Art Deco. This rich, opulent style was featured in the 1925 Paris Exposition, where France was trying to reassert her position as the cultural leader of the world (in contrast to the industrial power of Gret Britain and the USA).
In other countries at this time things were a little more serious. Politically, Europe was a mess, heading toward war.
Italian Futurism was a violent, anarchic movement based on the 1909 Futurist Manifesto of FT Marinetti. He advocated tearing down all of the institutions of the past, and claimed that war was 'cleansing'. Italy had been great in ancient times, but at this time was a poor collection of states rather than a cohesive nation. Futurism gave Italy a national identity, one whose dark legacy led into fasicm over the following decades. Ironically, most of the key Futurists were killed in the Great War, by the very machines they so admired.
The Great War (WWI) had had a devastating effect. Many people had seen the horrors of war firsthand and this was a powerful motivator for change. The German Bauhaus was one such example.
Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus in 1919. It was the first modern art & design school, and has had a huge effect on both education and design. Their Foundation Course introduced art and colour theory in a structured way for the first time. The Bauhaus's credo was that of functionalism and efficiency. They developed a prototype of a house that would be affordable to the average skilled worker - a far more practical application of the principles of social equity than the Arts & Crafts Movement had managed to achieve. Unfortunately, due to hyperinflation and then persecution by the Nazis, the school was closed in 1933.
Russian Constructivism was another regional response to the war, and of course the Russian Revolution of 1917. There was some division within this movement between those who were extremely nationalistic (the Soviet Constructivists) and those who saw it's application as more universal (the International Constructivists). Kasimir Malevich was the most significant icon of Russian Constructivism, although he tried to keep well apart from anything political. He believed that there was spiritual significance in shapes.
The International Style developed from the Bauhaus, French modernists and Scandinavian design pioneers, although it quickly spread to the US where it became the dominant style in architecture and design. The first use of the term was in the 1930's. In a time of poverty (the Great Depression that followed the Wall St Crash of 1929), International Style designers wanted to develop efficient, clean, shining buildings and objects that were universal.
Art Deco in the US in the 1930's had a similar intention, although in a more whimsical, fantastic way. It gave the impression of opulence without the expense. It also promised a gleaming, speeding vision of the future with Streamline Style.
The 1960's and 1970's in the US spawned a wide variety of design styles, for example the Pop and Op-art inspired Mod style; the Lounge styles that continued from the 1950's such as Tiki (primitivist), Atomic and Space themes (think "the Jetsons" and "Lost in Space"); the Psychedelia Movement (hippies, drug culture, paisley and wild colours); The funky Eames Era style named after Ray and Kaiser Eames.
In Australia, Federation style was the first that was identifiably our own, and not just borrowed from our European colonisers. Single-story houses were very unusual in European cities, for example.
And Australia today? Of course there's the unavoidable and all-pervasive American influence, but then there are also regional factors, such as the influence of asian styles and culture. European influence is still strong, but with Globalisation there is also the opportunity for us to influence world culture as well as for us to be influenced. Not that the projection of Australia overseas is necessarily accurate - we're marketed as "the Outback" when in fact we have the most urbanised population in the world. Think about why that's the case....
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