Originality Considerations For Postmodernist Design Cultural Studies Essay

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It was founded during the mid 1900's: some designers started to ask themselves questions upon modernism. Postmodernism was brought about with cultural change. This change was mostly influenced by the World War II, Russian constructivist and the great depression. Postmodernism was designed so as to offend viewers, in order to challenge modernism.

Naturally, postmodernism has rejected the modern idea of originality and the idea of new, and replaced it with a concept of references and links. The approach to finding something new and original was discarded and substituted with combinations of elements from past and existing cultures. Tearing down borders between styles and various cultural elements was its characteristic. (Perina 2006)

In his article, Perina talks about rejecting the original approach and focusing on past elements. Indeed we can agree that postmodernist design is a combination of past and present but to what extent have designers put aside the original approach. This is a bit contradictory as each designer has its own style and in a way or not, the final touch reveals the approach of the designer but is this final touch linked to originality?


For nearly a century, originality has been closely linked to creativity. It has also become the main criteria for the use of creativity in the development of products. The willingness of the modern movement to establish new standards and break with the past "at any cost", has not only generated new standards but also a new vocabulary in which "new", "original" and "innovative" have been redefined. (De Winter 2002) We can deduce from the above statement that creativity is a key word regarding originality. A new vocabulary has been generated thus showing that the interpretation has evolved during years and that originality has not a one-meaning definition.

"What moves those of genius, what inspires their work is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough." is a quote from Eugene Delacroix (26 April 1798 to 13 August 1863), a great French romantic painter. She believes that inspiration leading to new ideas was the fact that there were past designs that were incomplete thus putting forward the process of re-designing with past designs as guides or even challenges. We can thus outline the word "genius" in her quote i.e. a designer challenging past ideas and refining it in his own way with his own touch will be considered as a "genius" if the outcome is outstanding, I mean better than the past one. This quote outlines a belief about originality to an extent and this will further be discussed in our analysis.


It is the conscious borrowing of visual ideas from earlier sources, to recombine them in a harmonious whole. (n.a, n.d) This statement lays emphasis on an art style in which features are borrowed from other different styles. Indeed elements have been selected from these diverse styles and put together resulting in a pure design with multiple characteristics. This method of designing is a popular one in postmodernist design and can be thought as being plagiarism but depending on the mindset and issues behind the design, one can interpret eclecticism in different ways.


Research conducted us that historicism is the deliberate use or revival of historical styles in contemporary works. (Mifflin 2004) We can deduce that this theme has a close link on historical precedents in whatever field of design. As postmodernism is a mixture of old and new, we can apply this theme in the graphic field and examples will follow together with deep analysis to illustrate this.


Appropriation can be defined as using someone else's art as part of your own. Appropriation is another significant Postmodernist idea. Appropriation is an important historical practice design, in which the designer uses a previously existing artifact and produces it in his own way. This results to new designs which seem to be familiar or "du déjà-vu". The thought being that if nothing is original, then why this theme is so important in postmodernist design?

Figure 1 - New styles after the 70's Figure 2 - New styles after the 70's

This design is an uncontestable postmodern one. The typography is not clear; they are ambiguous. The colours are unusual and unfamiliar in design. We can see that it is against the modernist. The vivid colours show the protest relating to rational society.

In the early 1960's, designers were breaking down codes of behavior communicating their protest against the Vietnam War. We can also refer to the Hippies who had no respect thus breaking conventions and this became popular culture. People also took part in this protest adopting hippie fashion; it became like a kind of movement. As we observe the two designs, we can outline eclecticism and the appropriation of the hippie fashion. Designers used these kinds of designs as mentioned above to break down the codes i.e. this mindset was already settled before and this was their inspiration. They used that "shocking" style already perceived as a protest against the War and combined it to the hippie fashion to pass a message.

On doing so, people become more socially aware. They become concern about the war, human rights and environment. (n.a 2008) This statement reflects the change about society and people's belief due to some evolution in postmodernist design and this change of mindset has been influenced by the creativity of designers and their ability to mix up ideas to create a strong one thus reflecting originality.

Figure 3 - Neville's editorial pages for THE FACE, during March 1985

In the figure, there are different typo and design. They are mostly abstract forms of design. The typo itself is interesting and shows postmodernism's characteristics. Neville Brody has put emphasis on the graphic design and the fine art. The typo and picture is combined together. During the 80's, Brody created graphic designs for The Face, a magazine and Arena an album cover. Neville Brody has been influenced mostly by Russian constructivist artists such as Rodchenko and Dada.

Figure 4 - Alexander Rodchenko - Constructivist Poster

Alexander Rodchenko is a graphic designer who helped in the creation of constructivism and Russian design. He is a great constructivist and productivist artist. He is always innovating together with paint, design and photography. We can refer to eclecticism in the postmodernist designs of Neville Brody as he used nearly the same style as Rodchenko with his paint, design and photography. On looking at the two designs, we can find similar approaches: the use of uncommon typography and always a photo present in the illustration. This "whole" style influenced Brody and was adopted by the latter.

Dadaism is a cultural movement founded in Switzerland during World War I. This group includes various forms of art. They neglected war through their art. Historicism can be outlined as Dadaism was a contemporary movement and Brody used this belief in his designs e.g. various forms of art as shown in his editorial pages for THE FACE.

What can be deduced is that, Brody wanted a new approach, something that was intend to amaze the public. He wanted to go against tradition and he inspired himself from designs of Rodchenko and Dada as mentioned above to create a new and innovative perception. Indeed his creation was inevitably pure influence but in a way original.

Figure 5 - Wolfgang Weingart - Poster for an exhibition 1980

Weingart was a graphic designer teacher and taught his students a unique perspective on "Swiss Typography." Ultimately this spread Wolfgang's typographic approach, New-Wave Typography, among the new generation of designers.

New-Wave typography questioned the formal way text appeared on the page i.e. going against the usual format thus being a postmodernist design. He discarded the indent for a paragraph, wide letter spacing appeared more and the emphasis of one word in a headline. The New-Wave strongly rejected style and saw it more as an attempt to expand typographic communication. His work and influence go on to this day through his own efforts and the teachings of those he has once taught. (Kurtz 2009)

This style brought forward would inevitably reflect onto the new generation of designers e.g. his students. They will consciously or unconsciously use appropriation or even eclecticism in their future designs as Wolfgang Weingart shared his will to bring a new concept about typography and influenced his students in this process.

Figure 6 - Rudy Vanderland - Cover from Emigre Magazine 1989

Rudy Vanderland, publisher of Emigre magazine in San Francisco exploited the Macintosh to improve the visual. He inevitably produced postmodernist designs and wanted to give the best of his machine. Indeed, in his design, we can outline his use of typography. Despite the fact having computerized facilities, he adopted the New-Wave typography style as his cover has no indent and his titles have wide letter spacing. Vanderland use the New-Wave typography as an appropriation in his designs reflecting postmodern approaches. In addition, due to the fact that his designs derive from a "modern" medium, I mean the Macintosh; originality is being challenged here by this modern medium of designing.


Throughout the research conducted, originality in postmodernist design was analyzed and interpreted. Strong themes in postmodernism, I mean eclecticism, appropriation and historicism of the selected design field were reviewed in the analysis. From that we can say that originality is inevitably linked to taste. Despite the fact that postmodernism is the link between old and new, research and analysis revealed that what we create even it already exists is an innovative product, a new one which is original because even if similar approaches can be outline, we tend to consider the new as original. We can refer originality to an idea which is "out of the box" in spite of past influences or the use of existing techniques. This interpretation of originality can thus be considered in postmodernist design as designers tried in a way to break the trend of the past with new, innovative and original ideas. This re-introduction of past ideas and contemporary design ended in outstanding new concepts.

I think that this process of re-introduction is not only in postmodernism but in all field of design as in a way or not, we have been influenced, we are influenced and we will be influenced by past or existing designs. This on-going process is necessary for the evolution of mankind as refining the old or obsolete will always lead to the best original designs and artifacts.