Monday, 6 May 2013

Context and Chronologies Final Essay

Focusing on specific examples, describe the way that modernist Art and Design was a response to the forces of Modernity?

Around the start of the nineteenth centaury the world had begun to change rapidly. ‘ The advent of the steam engine at the beginning of the nineteenth centaury brought to power Industry, and products now had to be designed for the developing production processes. Mechanization took command, from railways to textiles to agriculture, and steel bridges spanned the new era.’ ( Vignelli, 2010, pp.22 )
People favored the city and began to move there for work, in factories and industry. An agrarian society transitioned into an industrial one. Urbanization of the cities meant there where more people available for work and many aspired to earn a fortune. Everyone now relied on shift patterns rather than the sun to tell what time of day it was, however this wasn’t reliable enough and so the world standardized its time globally, which meant everyone knew what time it was in their country and another. Industrialization and new inventions such as the railways meant that cities could be connected within hours, not days, mass production became a part of this new world, and the trade moved further into citied further and further away until it reached new countries, places that had never really been contacted before on such a scale. The invention of the telephone also aided trade between other cities and countries, people could speak to one another almost instantly. The world was shrinking in its distance and unfamiliarity. As well as the world expanding industrially, it also expanded socially and culturally, hard work in the factory, and city life made many feel the need to enjoy their time off. Leisure tome was a new concept in the new world. People began to enjoy activities such as the cinema, music and shopping in grand arcades, which also where an invention of a savvy business man who took advantage of the popular culture growing around him, aided by industrialization. The upper classes became wealthier and the need to show off visits and objects from far away countries grew, people aspired to travel, although many could not afford, it was a symbol of status. And so the world had become more connected and that meant people had a need to understand each other, there was a drive towards internationalism and standardization.

In 1925 Bayer, a member of the Bauhaus, a new progressive art and design institute formed out of modernity, designed the typeface ‘universal’. ‘With the defeat of the German empire in the first world war…’ (Mills. M, 1991) The chapter describes every influence of the turn of the centaury that lead Bayer to the creation of ‘Universal’ a typeface born out of modernity. The chapter also describes the need for a new way of designing and therefore a new way of writing, with a new font, one that did not reflect the past and its contexts and one that did not reflect any group of people, cultures or religion, and therefore a drive towards internationalism. ‘ Bayer hoped to transcend the transient whims of culture by basing his designs on timeless objective laws. Considerations of style and self-expression were subordinated to the “purity” of geometry and the demands of function. This method culminated in Bayer’s attempt to design a typeface with letterforms so essential they would be understood as universal.’ (Mills. M, 1991, pp38 ). Bayer felt the need to be functional and understood by many. He wanted to standardize type; he wanted to make it universal and to do this he made sure that the typeface wouldn’t contain any social or historical backgrounds, like typefaces such as Times New Roman, which hinted at the Roman Empire, it suggested power and nationality. As did Fraktur Font which was designed after Universal during the Nazi regime, it looked gothic and therefore Germanic, it was meant to represent again power and a strong historical background and nation. ‘ The successful promotion of these strains of Nazi Ideology required a scapegoat, which was found in the internationalist, anticipatory and socialist culture of Modernism.’ (Crowley, Jobling, 1996, pp151). This also shows that even the Nazi’s believed that the modern style was international and had aimed to appeal and communicate to a wider audience, beyond the restraints of their own country. They also seemed to believe that modern designers where trying to perceive a new future even though it had not actually happened yet, however there future was utopian. Bayer designed Universal with the complete opposite agenda to the Nazi’s ideals, he saw the need for a typeface that would be understood by all and wouldn’t be more meaningful to one country or another. He new this was needed as countries had begun to trade and communicate; he wanted everyone to understand even if they spoke another language. It is also argued that ‘ universal type was designed only in the lowercase alphabet. Bayer argued that since speech does not recognize capital letters, they are no longer needed in typography. A single case alphabet would be easier for children to learn, more efficient to write, the lack of uppercase letters would reduce the printer’s storage space, set-up time, and overall costs’. (Mills. M, 1991, pp 41). This argument describes the forces of modernity having a direct impact on Bayer’s Universal typeface. Lowercase means that all the letters where equal, and they would all have a certain height, which meant they would not change on a page. Speech doesn’t contain capitals and so a lowercase copy would read like speech and not like type. And so it would be easier for an individual from another country to read and learn, therefore people would be able to communicate internationally easily. Another key point that this argument points out is that people had begun to care about education and the need to read, if future generations could read and write and communicate with each other than trade and wealth would continue to grow globally. The typeface universal was also meant to embrace new technology and the machine age, a lowercase font that had no serifs would take up less space, would cost less to make, and without capitals it would be easier to set up, and therefore production would be faster and quicker and therefore more could be shipped out and sold within the country and outside of the country, and in turn the more produce going out to other countries means a greater sense of connection and the need to communicate and understand one another. As well as this the typeface was meant to represent the machines and technologies of the factory as they where like the font functional, geometric and uninfluenced.

‘The decade of the select 1960’s became the time… designers were concerned with ever-lasting values such as permanence, structure, timelessness and the quest for purest form possible’ (Remington, Bodenstedt, 2003, pp 162), describes the style adopted by Massimo Vignelli, you could argue that these designers wanted their work to be at its purest form, which was organized structured and legible, suggests that they wanted their work to be understood by wide audience and therefore they wanted to communicate to as many as they could, pushing towards a style everyone could understand and so this could of even been on an international basis. The argument also suggests that the use of a grid and structure was important to the understanding of a piece. ‘Semantics in design means to be understand the subject to the sender and the receiver in such a way that it makes sense to both.’ (Vignelli, 2010, pp9), alongside the next argument ‘ Syntactic consistency is paramount of importance in graphic design… Grids are one of the several tools helping designers to achieve syntactical consistency in graphic design.’ (Vignelli, 2010, pp10). Makes for a strong case that Massimo Vignelli’s Underground Map was designed with the purpose to be understood by a mass amount of people. In 1972 Massimo Vignelli’s new map for the first time showed the underground of New York. He showed the geographic location of the city above. Drawn as shapes. Massimo Vignelli used a grid in his piece and this was kept visible in the final piece, as the above quote says a grid is essential into keeping everything around it standardized and orderly, it can help to organize information in a way that is clear and concise, and therefore understandable. The grid on the map also helps to locate certain areas, without the need to be completely understandable in another language. ‘Out with the complicated tangle of geographically accurate train routes. No more messy angles. Instead, train lines would run at 45 and 90 angles only. Each line was represented by a color. Each stop represented by a dot.’ (Boyd. C, 2007)

And so the grid also helps to organize the coloured lines on the page that again are concise and structured. They are straight and only turn at 90 or 45-degree angles, which means the piece, is very geometrical, like Herbert Bayer’s universal typeface. Its geometry was meant to be easier to understand, it was uniform and utopian. The lines on the Underground map can be followed easily as they are so structured; the colours help to guide your eyes around the many different subways. The small black lines indicate the stops and the number of stops on a subway line, and so if you knew you had to get of at a certain stop number you would be able to count them, the fact that each of the coloured lines has these small black lines means it is clear that they are stops and you wouldn’t need to be able to read English to be able to understand this. This new map works on semiotics. The symbol is coloured line that goes around the page, on the line there are smaller black lines, they are a sign for the subway line, where it goes and where it stops. Before this map the underground map was confusing it wasn’t structured there wasn’t a colour guide and barely any one could understand it. Even the type on the map is understandable, its Helvetica a later development of Aksidenz Grotesk, designed around the same time as Universal. The font, Helvetica is geometric and sans-serif, it doesn’t indicate a social or historical background just as Universal doesn’t, it is also readable. The underground map also does this, because the illustrations are shapes and colours there is no suggestion of a social or historical influence, which suggests this map was meant to be understand, not just by the people who lived in New York, but commuters and people from other countries, as at the turn of the centaury industrialization had encouraged big business and trade and so by now countries all over the world where trading and communicating. People where travelling all over the world for business and so there was a need for design to be understood by a global audience, and so this is a drive towards internationalism.

‘Neue Grafik was a shiny, white-covered, near square- format quarterly… Text and captions, in monotype grotesque in German, English and French, are arranged in four columns’. (Hollis, 2006, pp 206). Neue Grafik in translation, New Graphic Design was published August 1958; the cover designer was Carlo Vivarelli. The cover displays three different languages, a clear indication of a push towards internationalism, and a need to communicate between at least three countries, but it could include any country that spoke any of the three languages, meaning Neue Grafik had a larger audience than just England, Germany, and France. As well as this these languages where probably the most popular and used at the time and they will have all been developing countries in the modern world. And so the publication really did have a widespread audience. However unlike the other two examples of internationalism, this piece has a more focused audience, graphic designers. Although, its aim is to educate designers into designing in an ‘international style’, a style that could be understood and recognized by all, and therefore you could say that Neue Grafik was aiming, and encouraging for internationalism. The layout of the cover has been formed using a grid much like Massimo Vignelli’s Underground map of New York. The grid as L.Müller stated is essential in syntactical consistency. The use of a grid on the cover has helped to organize the type into three key columns, which each host a different language, which had never really seen before, it was a new concept of connecting countries and communicating to a larger audience than ever before. Again a geometrical way of organizing data has made the piece international, as it is understandable, and the geometry means there are no real social or historical contexts behind it, as geometrics don’t lend themselves to a particular context or place. The grid has also provided a clear layout just as the map is clear and universal typeface is understandable and very legible. As well as this the typography on this piece is similar to the pieces already discussed, the font is a sans-serif geometric typeface, and it was a favorite of many, if not all designers in the modern era, ‘the Helvetica typeface gave young designers an important means to further emphasize the message and functional values … it became so popular that, to many it seemed the only type necessary.’ (Remington, Bodenstedt, 2003, pp162). Again this argument has brought to light the fact that modern designers aimed to be upmost understood by a wide audience, just like Massimo Vignelli strived for and had aimed to do in his Underground Map of New Yorks subway systems. Aksidenz Grotesk was used for the cover of Neue Grafik the predecessor of Helvetica, again very popular at its time. Helvetica was used in the underground Map and Universal was designed around the same period and holds some of the key values already mentioned, such as functionality and understandability. The type is ultimately meant to aid legibility and be easy for all to read. It is structured and geometric, which means it should have been easier to learn and read. The cover of Neue Grafik was black and white, colours which like the typography already discussed do not have social or historical backgrounds, they are the most neutral and they do not host importance to one country or another, this could be a purposeful aspect of the design as it needed to appeal to more than one country, again driving toward internationalism, and an ‘international style’. Unlike the Map of Massimo Vignelli but with the same neutral style, the colours on Vignelli’s map range and therefore as is a variety it could be said that this piece is also neutral as it does not specify a particular set of colours which would relate to one particular place or another. However unlike the other two pieces discussed, Neue Grafik according to Richard Hollis had not succeeded completely in its internationalist objective. ‘ The editors’ intention to make the magazine ‘an international forum’ was never achieved … all thirty-five illustrations are of Swiss work’ (Hollis, 2006, pp 206). However the intent had initially been there to be international but perhaps the editors where too bias of their own work, but it could be said they had done this to show the rest of the world their new concept that would work internationally.

In conclusion as M.Vignelli had described the initial forces and main drives of modernity, industrialization which triggered a culture of mass production, new inventions such as the railway and the telephone led to the urbanization and connection of people in other cities and countries, and the general popular culture that had formed through new concepts such as leisure time, all led to a drive towards internationalism. M. Mills stated that the purity of geometry would make a typeface recognizable and understandable to all, then to add to this R. Roger Remington and L. Bodenstedt, argued that modern designers had relied on structure to create pieces that where at their purest form, universal type is also supposed to be a pure geometrical typeface and so it could be said that to be understandable to a wide range of people pieces of design need to be stripped back and simplistic, also the use of geometry is highly emphasized. As again M. Vignelli had stated when describing the Underground Map, he had pointed out that the use of a grid had been very important in the organization and structure of a rather complex piece of information, a grid is also key to the front cover of Neue Grafik, and the use of columns where mentioned by D. Crowley and P.Jobling. However it could be said that one of the main changes in design and one that mostly pushed towards internationalism is typography. In all three pieces the typography is sans serif, simplistic and geometric. Even though each of the three works span across a period of 40 or so years, the typography had remained true to the ideals, and they where almost pure forms. The fonts all connect with each other in some way and this meant that they where all aiming for a similar ideal, which was to be understood and to be clear. R. Roger Remington and L. Bodenstedt, R. Hollis and M.Mills, all stated that the type was an important element of the piece they had analyzed, they had also said that the style of the typography had been important in aiding communication to a larger audience of people, by being simplistic and structured. The use of these typefaces had become so popular that most modern designers used them in their work and that only, especially Helvetica, as used in Massimo Vignelli’s work, this shows across the world people where agreeing on the typeface and believing it was the best, due to its pure, geometric and very legible/ understandable form. This is an international agreement and again a key factor in the drive towards internationalism.

Universal Typeface, 1925, Herbert Bayer

New York Subway Map, 1972, Massimo Vignelli

Neue Grafik, Issue No.1, August 1958, Carlo Vivarelli


(Boyd, 2007) New York Subway Map (1972) Available at: ( [Accessed on: 11 January 2013]

Crowley. D, Jobling. P, (1996) ‘Graphic Design: Reproduction and Representation since 1800’, Manchester, Manchester University Press.

Heller. S, Seymour, C. (1994) ‘Graphic Style: From Victorian to Post- Modern’ . New York, Harry N. Abrams Inc. Publishers

Hollis, R. (2006) ‘Swiss Graphic Design: the origins and growth of an international style 1920-1965. London, Laurence King

Mills, M. (1991) Herbet Bayer’s Universal Type in it’s Historical Contexts. In: Lupton E. Abbot-Miller J. (1991) ‘The ABC’s of Bauhaus and Design Theory’. London, Thames and Hudson.

(Magazine Archive, 2011) Neue Grafik Magazine Available at:
( [Accessed on: 7 January 2013] 

Mirko. I, Heller. S, (2007) ‘The anatomy of design: uncovering the influences and inspirations in modern graphic design’. Rockport, Massachusetts, Rockport Publishers

Remington, R. Roger Bodenstedt, L. (2003) ‘American Modernism, Graphic Design 1920 to 1960’, London, Laurence King.

(The New York Times, 2012) The Subway that Rattled New Yorkers, Available at: ( [Accessed on: 15 January 2013]

Vignelli, M. (2010) ‘The Vignelli Canon’. Mulgrave, Victoria, Images Publishing

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