Monday, December 6, 2010

Extra Credit - Book Arts Jam

For my extra credit project I attended the BOOK ARTS JAM at Foothill College on October 16th, 2010. Here I viewed the print shop and attended a lecture by Jody Alexander.

Print Shop:
At the print shop, I found students working on of T-Shirt silk screening and an instructor providing demonstrations of old printing machines. I learned from the instructor that it took a lot of technical skill to keep the machines running. I recall from my own experience as the daughter of a printer, that these machines were very manual in nature.

The print shop exhibit offered the opportunity to practice manual types setting.  The photos below are ones I took myself. The last photo shows the type casts used to manually set type.

Offset printing press - Foot Hill College studio
Instructor at Foothill College demonstrating printing practices at October Book Arts Fair 2010
Type setting materials at Foothill College Books Arts Fair 2010
Lecture by Jodi Alexander

Book artist, Jodie Alexander, gave a lecture entitled The Odd Volumes of Ruby B. This was a fascinating discovery of how the artist, Jodie, developed a persona called Ruby from whose eyes she created books by hand. Jodie not only created books but designed an entire room which she imagined belonged to Ruby. The room included intricate details such as pillows, wall hangings, even tea cups from which Jodie imagined that Ruby stained her books to give it an antique effect. The photos below are of the books themselves and of Ruby's imagined room.

The photos below are from

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Final Project


My journey into the study of the history of graphic design has lead me to further insight and questions regarding the influence that technology, culture, political events has on design expression. Through my quest to answer the questions about theses influences, I've examined graphic design in the following contexts:
  • Temple Design - 1100's
  • Greek and Roman Writing Styles - 500 AD 
  • Lithography - 1700's 
  • Information Graphics - 1800's 
  • Expressionism - Early 1900's 
  • Art Nouveau - 1920's 
  • Semiotics - 1940's and today 
  • Bauhouse Movement - 1960's 
  • Conceptual Illustration - 1970's 
  • Memphis Design - 1980's 
Along the way, in my study of the history of graphic design,  I've gathered field notes on each of these topics. They are listed below. I have added annotations in red text to summarize how,  through my field research, I attempt to address the question of how technology, culture, and politics have influenced design.

Temple Design - 12th Century
In my field notes for this topic I have endeavored to investigate the effect that technology (e.g. available tools and materials) had on 12th century temple design. I compared this with the effect that technology has internet graphic design. I concluded that, since tools and materials that early temple designers had were less forgiving,  a 12th century temple designer was likely to be more committed to a design direction. Today, due to digital mediums and tools, design directions can be changed quickly. This ability to change quickly, impacts the design. Further, today's technology has enabled digital designs to reach a wider audience and get instant feedback which also has an effect on design.

My experiences in the Internet industry and my recent travel to Angkor Wat, an early 12th century Cambodian temple, are among my points of reference in interpreting  Cambodian temple wall imprints.
Cambodian Temple Wall, Photo by Andrea Ramirez

Cambodian Temple Wall, Photo by Andrea Ramirez

Visual Design Approach Attributes:
  • Tools  
  • Medium 
  • Time Period
Me in Cambodia, June 2010
Pondering stark contrasts between ancient temple wall designs  and modern digital Internet designs provokes questions related to how design approach attributes affect the level of influence and aesthetic of a visual design.

 "How does access to digital tools impact the influence that a modern digital visual design has compared to an early 12th century stone design?" 

The notion that graphic design is another vehicle for communication resonates with me.  In my opinion, the number of persons viewing a visual design may be less important than the profile of the individuals who view the images, in terms of a visual designer's ability to influence through his  works. Digital media has enabled designers to vastly increase the size of their immediate audience. In digital media, audience size can be in the millions in any given month. Data collected by marketing research company, comScore,  reveals that the  top gaming sites reach over a million unique users per month.  Conversely, imprints of ancient 12th century temple, Angkor Wat, shown above, had a relatively small immediate audience. These imprints are an example of  how "Since prehistoric times, people have searched for ways to give visual form to ideas and concepts,  to store knowledge in graphic form, and to bring order and clarity to information." 2    The wall graphics at Angkor Wat were viewed by extremely influential leaders. As a result, the messages that these images portrayed my have had a larger impact on society than if the images had been viewed by the masses.

How does the medium impact the total aesthetic?

In digital media, we have the ability to work with a large number of  colors and hues and the medium is extremely forgiving.  We can even test to see the how engaging a display is though measuring click through rate and then quickly adjust the look to get the response we desire. However, one begins to wonder how invested an artist is in the design knowing that  that it could easily change.  The early designs at Angkor Wat were likely to be committed to a design direction before it was shown to a lot of folks.  It seems that this level of design commitment has a significant impact on the total aesthetic.

Greek and Roman Writing Styles
In my field notes for this module I looked at how current writing styles are influenced by the writing styles of the Greeks and Romans.  I point out how the fonts on the Mac were derived from the founders knowledge of serf and sanserif typography.

“..the Greeks vastly improved the alphabet’s beauty and utility”
- Source: Meggs’ History of Graphic Design, Philip Meggs and Alston Purvise, p. 22
An aspect of this week's reading which I found particularly intriguing was the influence that the Greeks had on writing styles.  They began utilizing the Phoenician alphabet around 1000 BC. The impetus for the modifications the Greeks made to writing falls into several categories:
  • Aesthetics
  • Efficiency
  • Tools
The Greeks improved the beauty of the alphabet by adding form and structure. They standardized the form and added symmetry. Efficiency was taken into account as they created a style named unicals. This style increased the speed at which they were able to write. The pens they used impacted the final result. Their pens were made from reeds and split at the end so that ink could be more easily dispersed when writing.
How do ancient Greek and Roman writing styles influence digital media?
In today's digital media world, we are able to select from a plethora of fonts to enhance the beauty and utility of our publications. The style evolutions put forth by the Greeks and  Romans have had a great influence on what we see in today's digital publications. In a commencement address given by Steve Jobs, founder and CEO of Apple computer, he describes how his dropping in on a calligraphy course at Reed College inspired the experience and functions available on the Apple computer. As such, we we see fonts such as "Times New Roman"  and "Century Gothic" incorporated in the personal computer.
"I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating. If I had never dropped in on that single [calligraphy] course in college, the "Mac" would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them."  -- Steve Jobs

The major point of my field notes on lithography was to illustrate how advancements in printing gave way to a new form of printing enabling wide distribution of prints.  Lithography permeated American printing styles and afforded printers the opportunity to print detailed picture like prints. This type of printing was an art form enabling faster production.

According to Meggs and Purvis, lithography was invented by Aloys Senefelder (1771-1834). The term lithography comes from the Greek words "stone printing". It is based on the principle that oil and water can't mix. The image below is an example of a stone used for lithography print. It depicts a scene at Princeton University.
Collection: Princeton University Library.
Princeton University; Princeton, NJ Source:
Lithography involves etching an image into a flat surface with an oil based crayon, pen, or pencil.  Then water is spread across the flat surface covering all areas except where the oil based etching appears.  Then an oil based ink is rolled on the surface.  The ink sticks to the etching but not to the other areas.  Paper is then placed on the surface to capture the etching.
What impact cultural affects did color printing have on America?
Sheumaker, in her book, Material Culture in America: Understanding Everyday Life , discusses the notion of Print culture. She states that this culture
"entails a web of dynamic relationships linking culture, communications, and technology formed by the production, distribution, and consumption of printed matter. ... Print culture draws attention to the profound impact that the development of printing has had on intellectual processes and social relations since the fifteenth century."
Sheumaker discusses the impact of lithography on American culture.  She says that lithography was imported from Germany and enabled a faster cheaper way of printing. Thus printers could cater to the middle class. Currier & Ives (1857–1907) was a New York firm that exemplified the use of lithography catering to the middle class. They printed scenes of daily American life and history.  These prints were massively popular and communicated American ideals.
Currier & Ives, American, active 1852 - 1907, Central Park in Winter,
Source: ARTstor, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Adele S. Colgate, 1962 (63.550.337) Currier & Ives, American, active 1852 - 1907

Information Graphics
These field notes explain that graphics has had a large impact on how we illustrated data. This form of graphics communication is mathematical in nature and has been used to influence kings and business leaders. this form of design has been greatly impacted by technology. Through the use of computers, we can now create information graphics at a grander scale through the ability to simply type in parameters and have a program generate graphics quickly.

  Meggs and Purvis included a section in Chapter 8 called The origins of information graphics. In this section, the authors point out that information graphics addresses the challenge of displaying data in a succinct and clear format through visual art. This art generally takes the form of bar charts, pie charts, line charts, or scatter plots.  
Through my research, I sought to  uncover what attributes distinguish information graphics from other graphic design disciplines. To enhance my understanding of the application of these attributes, I researched past and present applications of Information graphics.
What distinguishing characteristics does Information Graphics have compared to other forms of Graphic Design? 
  • Based on Cartesian coordinates (x,y)
  • Displays quantitative data analysis 
What are some early applications of Information Graphics and how have the applications evolved?
Howard Wainer, in his journal article published in 2004, notes that William Playfair (1759-1823) is known as the inventor of pie charts and bar charts. Wainer states that bar charts seem to be most widely used in popular media and that another type of chart, "scatter plots", seem to be the visual of choice among the scientific community.  He argues that Playfair could have succeeded in getting his points across by employing a scatter plot to convey his points about the relationship between wages and the cost of wheat as shown in the chart below. Source: Wainer, Howard (2004). Nobody's Perfect, Chance, Vol 17 No. 2. p53. From the Department of Rare books and Special Collections. Princeton University Library. 

In this chart below, Wainer reinterprets Playfair's chart into a scatter gram, contending that Playfair " was not fully acquainted with the benefits of combining variables into new variables to examine specific issues" .
Source: Wainer, Howard (2004). Nobody's Perfect, Chance, Vol 17 No. 2. p53.

This difference in opinion about what makes the best way to convey information seems to be prevalent in the science vs business world.  I have found that in my own experience, business oriented folks tend to experience and relate to visuals in a different way than engineering folks. So Playfair may have intentionally sought out using pie charts instead of a scatter plot to engage his audience, the Lords.
How should Information Graphics design be approached in today's world of advanced graphics technology and business needs?
According to Zelazny, creating charts are time consuming and require investment. So, I conclude that even with today's technology, there is still a lot of thought and planning that should go into delivering effective information graphics.
There  are only 5 charts to choose from for quantitative data analysis charts. (Zelazny 9)
Say It With Charts: p. 9
Source: Zelazny, Gene (2001).  Say It With Charts : The Executive's Guide to Visual Communication.   New York McGraw-Hill Professional. p 9.
Zelazny recommends following 3 basic steps when developing a chart from data:
  1. Determine Messaging
  2. Identify the comparison: component, item, time series, frequency distribution, or correlation
  3. Select Chart Form
  I've discovered that information graphics is critical to succeeding in business.  A slide presentation can make the difference between achieving buy in or an audience quickly losing interest. "When charts aren't well conceived or designed...they serve more to confuse than to clarify" (Zelazny 1).  Whether the audience be potential investors or prospective team members, it's often critical that the audience absorb a lot of data in a short time.  In my observation, information graphics determines the final outcome of the presentation and ultimately has an effect the presenter's level of influence.


In my field notes for this module I've explained that Impressionism sought to convey a meaning of experimentation.  The last example in these notes shows how digital technology enables artist to expand upon impressionistic influence in a way that early impressionist artist were not.

Expressionism developed in the early 20th century. It was an organized movement which began in Germany before World War I.  The artists of this movement portrayed a deep sense of empathy for the plight of the suffering. They rebelled against government authority and pushed an idealism in support of improving life for the disenfranchised and oppressed.

What are key characteristics of expressionism?
The image below by Käthe Kollwitz (1922) depicts a human condition. In this example we see attributes specific to the expressionism movement.
  • subjective rather than objective
  • exaggerated proportion
  • symbolic
  • intense contrast

Käthe Kollwitz, The Sacrifice, first folio in the series "The War", 1922, Kunsthalle, Bremen, Germany, ARTstor database

How do other Expressionism styles compare?

The work below by Kandinsky (1866-1944), is another example of expressionism.  It exemplifies the use of color and form to portray spiritual meaning. Like the Kollwitz example above, it contains contrast, symbolism, and exaggerated proportions. However, there is less emphasis on the empathetic plight of struggling humanity.  According to Meggs and Purvis, "[Kandisnky] was less inclined to express the agony of the human condition,..[he] sought a spiritual reality beyond the outward appearances of nature and explored problems of form and color".

Vasily Kandinsky, Picture with an Archer, 1909, The Museum of Modern Art
Gift and bequest of Louise Reinhardt Smith. ARTstor database.

How does expressionism compare to Cubism?
Gorman, explains that "A synthesis of cubism, Futurism, Orphism, and Rayonism, were based on the theory that all objects emit rays and that artist could manipulate the radiance of objects for their own aesthetic purposes." (p.1016)
Below is a work by Sonia Delauny-Terk. It appears expressionistic in the form of Kandinsky in that it exhibits deep color, contrast, and appears to have some sort of symbolic representation. However cubism attributes are prevalent in the depiction of clear geometric shapes. Delauny-Terk's art pushed forward the Orphism movement rooted in cubism.
Sonia Delauny-Terk, Electric Prisms, 1914, Musee national d'art modern. ARTstor database.
How has expressionism influenced today's graphic designs?
According to, "Expressionism is the tendency of an artist to distort reality for emotional effect."  In today's digital media, software is available to enable graphic designers to manually distort images for visual effect. A designer can change contrast, make images look like they might if they were reflected in a "House of  Mirrors" at a carnival. The software can provide hours of fun and yet another artistic tool related to distorting images.
Below is an example where the artist was creative and was able to capture a distorted effect via the glass objects themselves. According to the photographer, Atoma, "The background is a 22" LCD screen, with a tiled pattern I've made in Photoshop. The two glasses are standing on a black surface, the whole room was plunged in a dark atmosphere."
Atoma, 2007,

Art Nouveau 
In my field notes for this module I've explained that Art Nouveau is perceived as a design style with not as much focus on deep meaning or function as compared to other design styles. Art Nourveau was born in France of Asian cultures after Japan open its doors to communication and trade.

Art nouveau is a design style that emerged in France during the the late 1800's. It resulted through an influence derived from intercontinental exchange of culture and art form between Japan and Europe. The style was pervasive among prints, dishes, furniture and other design mediums.
The poster shown above is a great example of Dutch art nouveau. It was designed by Jan Toorop in 1894 for Dutch Salad Oil. Here we clearly see the decorative aspects of the art. As well, we see the incorporation of organic lines used to depict women. The hair of the women is a prominent feature of the photo.
What are some key elemnts of art nouveau?
  • Flowing lines influenced by nature
  • Depictions of women
  • Design style
 According to Meggs and Purvis, in Meggs' History of Graphic
Design (p.194),
"Art nouveau's identifying visual quality is an organic, plantlike line. Freed from roots and gravity, it can either undulate with whiplash energy or flow with elegant grace as it defines, modulates, and decorates a given space."
What are some nuances that distinguish art nouveau from other art?
According to Goldwater, in his book Symbolism (p.67)
"the tension between representation and idea that marks the usages of symbolism is lacking in art nouveau"  p. 67
The image below is entitled Jealousy and was created by Munch in 1896. In this work we see the depiction of hair. Hair is a commonly depicted in art nouveau. However, according to Goldwater, the use of hair in Munch's work "symbolizes" the power that a woman has over a man.  Goldwater draws the a connection between Munch's and Toorop's use of hair. He says that hair in the art nouveau salad oil poster is used for decorative effect and is devoid of any symbolism, unlike the hair displayed in Munch's work. So one key nuance of art nouveau is that it is decorative in nature.
Source: ARTStore, Jealousy, Munch, Edvard, 1896, University of California, San Diego
What are common elements between art nouveau and today's media designs?

In the same manner that new laws helped drive the development of art nouveau, we see that the digital age, in the context of the world wide web,  has impacted the development of today's media.  While new laws caused art to become prolific in posters in France, the web has caused design to become available on the internet.  Magazine sites such as are now in existence.
Jules Cheret ( 1836 - 1933) was a leader in the nouveau art form in France. Examining his art work shown below, we see similarities to current magazine covers. A comparison of his work to the Vogue magazine cover below reveals common design elements among both: the inclusion of hair, free lines, and modern women as prominent figures.
Source:  Pastilles, Jules Chéret, European; French, 1896,  The Cleveland Museum of Art

I address in these field notes how the impetus for the Bauhaus approach derived from the post WWII political and cultural climate promoting rebuilding. This meant a design that was focus on solutions for industry.

On April 12, 1919, a new design school opened in Germany. It was named Das Staatlich Bauhaus. The philosophy of the school was based on the belief that art and industry must go hand in hand. The school enforced, among its students, an understanding of design materials to achieve the best results and innovation pertaining to solving industrial design problems. The Bauhaus design approach was driven by the industrialization that occurred throughout Europe and the drive to rebuild after World War I.

Source:, Heinrich Siegfried Bormann, design for the Kandem tubular steel table lamp No. 934, 1932. Bauhaus Archive Berlin. Photo: Hartwig Klappert, Berlin

The image above, from,, is provided as an example in the description of Bauhaus.  From this image, we can see how beautiful design coincides with function.  For example, the base of the lamp functions as a critical section of the object required for stability. At the same time, the base is in and of itself a magnificently beautiful curve that has inherent stand-alone aesthetic beauty. This marriage of function and form is a key element in the Bauhaus design philosophy.
What are key characteristics of The Bauhaus design school?
  • Merging of Fine Art and Applied Art
  • Solutions for industrial problems
  • Orientation toward to the future
  • Evolution from handicraft to design for machines
How does Bauhaus compare to Victorian Design?

A view around San Francisco, offers an opportunity to compare Victorian and Eichler architectural design. The following photos show a Queen Anne victorian style home and and Eichler home.
The Victorian style exhibits "..sentimentality, nostalgia, and a canon of idealized beauty.." (Meggs and Purvis, p.153) Where as, the Eichler architecture appears to gather influence from from the Bauhaus tendency toward integrating the end product function and form.
Source: ARTstor: Schmidt, Peter (1833-1901), American, Haas-Lilienthal House
View Description: exterior, Photographer: Smith, G. E. Kidder (George Everard Kidder)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Source: ARTstor: TitleSan Francisco: Eichler Tower,San Francisco (Calif.)--Eichler Tower
Architecture:Site--United States: California--20th C. A.D
How has The Bauhaus influence extended beyond Europe and America?
Mexico was not closed to the influence of the Bauhaus design philosophy. Patrick Frank, in his book, Reading in Latin American Modern Art, presents an essay by C. Zambrano. This essay describes Mexican modernity as an effort to attain national identity in the Modern world.  Like post World War I Germany, post Revolution Mexico was striving for rebuilding.  However, according to Zambrano, Mexico's focus was on building national identity while European and American modernism was poised toward building international identity. Nonetheless Mexico, during its building of the Cuidad Univeristaria (CU) between 1950-1952 was influenced by the Bauhaus school of design
Zambrano states, "The integration of artists, artisans, and architects proclaimed by the Bauhaus was the logical way in Mexico of introducing the nation's spirit and cultural values..."
Frank makes not of the relationship between murals and buildings in Mexico. Artist were commissioned to design Murals.  This represents the merging of a building with art that is reminiscent of the Bauhaus philosophy.  Below is a photograph of a famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.
Source: ARTstor: Rivera, Diego, Mexican, 1886-1957,New Workers School Murals [Photo by Lucienne Bloch],Modern Latin American Art (Jacquelin Barnitz, Art and Art History Department, University of Texas, Austin)
How has The Bauhaus influenced today’s Western graphic designs?
The Cyan Group, located in London, is an exquisite example of a industrial design team whose artistic direction is an extension of the Bauhaus.  The group's website states, "Understanding that the final product should be a first thought and not an afterthought is what makes Cyan group stand out in the market place."
Below is an example of Cyan work:
Source: ARTstor, Cyan, (Artist), German, established 1992 Movimento, (Printer), Stiftung Bauhaus Dessau Mai 1996,Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y.)
In her article appearing in , A Journey to the new world of Cyan, Majid Abbas describes the Cyan design group: "Cyan means contemporary world design, Cyan means passage from East Berlin to the united Berlin. Cyan means discovery of astonishing solutions with limited budgets. Cyan means journey to a new and undiscovered visual world."

In my field notes I discuss the the study of semiotics in graphic design. This study takes into consideration how a user interacts with a design. I believe that cultural values can indeed have an impact on usability studies which determine the best designs to achieve maximum  user engagement.

In the 1950's, the Ulm Institute of Design in Germany had a mission to solve the design problems of the era. To that end, directors of the school developed a program called “Semiotics”. This program taught design principles which take into account meanings of symbols, overall design architecture, and user interaction.

Max Bill, European; Swiss, 1908, Variation 13,Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
San Francisco, California, USA,Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts purchase 1984.1.98.
What are the 3 branches of Semiotics?
  • semantics - meanings of signs and symbols
  • syntactics - architecture or signs and symbols into a whole
  • pragmatics - user interaction with signs and symbols

What was the relevance of semiotics for 1950's Ulm Institute Artists?
Max Bill(19-08-94) was instrumental in developing the curriculum for the Institute of Design in Ulm. According to Meggs and Purvis (p. 357), "Bill constructed layouts of geometric elements organized with absolute order. Mathematical proportion, geometric spatial division, and the use of Akzidenz Grotesk type (particularly the medium weight) are features of his work of [the 1930's]."

The image above is one of Bill's works. Here we see the geometric elements. One might say that the semiotic element with regard to the syntactics is manifested in the way the rainbow colored circles are arranged. The juxtaposition of the rings gives way to white space which draws the viewer to the center part of the image. The pragmatics, user interaction, is such that the view starts their visual journey at the center of the image and then works their way across the rings toward the outside.

What was are the implications of semiotics for in today's media?
In his book, Interactive Media: the Semiotics of Embodied Interaction, O'Neil offers explanations as to the importance of semiotics in today's media.  He states "Semiotics takes the view that signs can be organized within various media, to form texts that can convey some kind of meaning." He explains the ideas of two theorists, Saussure and Hjelmslev.

Saussure theorized that words had two major components when it comes to meaning:
  • Signifier - the physical representation
  • Signified - the meaning conveyed
I think of this this concept in therms of the words, Amplifier and Amplified.  The Amplifier is the physical object which emits sound. What is Amplified is the music which conveys meaning and affects the senses.

O'Neil says, Hjelmselv thought of the signifier as " the physical materials of the medium, e.g., sound, light, wood, or stone." Hjelmselv introduced the concepts of form and substance in the understanding of a sign.
  • Substance of Expression
  • Form of Expression
  • Form of Content
O'Neil says Hjelmsevs ideas can be thought of  in terms of a Greek statue where the substance of expression is the stone from which the statue is carved. The form of expression is the shape of the body. And in the case of a statue of Zeus, the form of content is the "concept of the divine or all knowing."

Zeus of Artemision, detail; head,c. 460-450 BCE,Image and original data provided by Erich Lessing Culture and Fine Arts Archives/ART RESOURCE, N.Y.

The figure below (p. 68) from O'Neils outlines a comparison between Saussure and Hjelmselv theories.

    According to a column, By Blake Ellis, , the change of the GAP logo "ignites [a] firestorm". This speaks to the relevance of semiotics in today's corporate design. Here we see the "signified" modified through restructuring the design. The signifier, the word GAP, did not change but the signified, the meaning, did change. Or, using Hjelmslev's train of thought, we see that the substance of expression, digital design medium, did not change. However the form of expression, (fonts, colors, and layout) and the form of content (meaning the logo evoked) did change.  In this case, the meaning and emotion evoked changed so much in the negative direction that the logo was reverted back to the original design.

    Conceptual Design
    Conceptual design has been about full use of space and delivering a message through the marriage of graphics and words. Political cartoons exemplify conceptual design works. The cultural climate promoting social activism drove the need for conceptual design.

    Atelier popilaire poster: a youth disturbed
    too often by the future, poster, 1968,
    University of California, San Diego

    Post World War II, during which electronic advancements were made, set the climate for the emergence of a graphic design form referred to as Conceptual Illustration. This poster art form was about merging words with illustration in the effort to make a succinct statement.

    In the poster on the left, we see the integration of word and image to convey the anguish that youth experience when pondering the future.   Along with the integration of word and image, we see the full utilization of space as a key attribute of conceptual illustration used by the artist.

    Vostell Wolf, de-coll/age Happenings
    Something Else,
    University of California, San Diego

    What are key attributes of and influences upon Conceptual Illustration?


    • analysis
    • full space utilization
    • word and image integration
    • concept conveyance
    Pettibon, Raymon, Pop, 1993
    University of California, San Diego


    • cubism
    • surrealism
    • expressionism
    • mass-media

          The poster above by Vostell, emits the style of cubism through its geometric proportions. We see the geometry of the books, matzo bread, and drawer combine to form consistent geometric shapes. The image and the word appear to converge to make a simple statement for the viewer.

          The poster, above, by Pettibon, simply and succinctly messages the view through color and the word "pop". In this work we see the "pure color loosened from natural reference by expressionism" (Meggs and Purvis p. 424) in the reds of the apple.

          Hershman, Lynn, Roberta Breitmore: And Alchemical Portrait, 1975

          The work above by Hershman displays the conceptual style by full space utilization,  integration of words and image.  We can see the influence of pop culture through the depiction of recognizable images such as the Golden Gate Bridge, car, on roller coaster.

          How does Conceptual Illustration compare with the Art Nouveau style?

          William Bradley, The Chap Book 1995

          As I discussed in a previous blog posting on Art Nouveau, some believe that the merging of idea and image to create symbolism is non existent in this art form.  It is thought that art nouveau is a design art form that does not take the view beyond the aesthetic.

          I can see elements of the conceptual illustration in art nouveau.  For example, in the work above, by Bradley, I see the following commonalities with the conceptual art examples discussed above: 1. Poster format 2. Integration of Words and Image 3. Full use of space.  The key difference between this work and conceptual art may be that this work was not intended to convey a deep meaning or symbol. But I suspect that there was some form of message that the Bradley was trying to get across to viewers. The message may have simply been the notation of beauty related to "Chap Book".

          How do we see influence of Conceptual Illustration in commercial advertising today? 

          Billboards, internet display advertising manifest elements of conceptual illustration.  This manifestations occurs primarily in the use of space and integration of image and words. The example below demonstrates the use of technology to enhance the look of the bill board in Times Square, New York. Like the psychedelic style, the billboards are placed near a high traffic area. Like the conceptual illustration style, there is a full use of space, integration of words and image, and pop art references.

, by Matt H. Wade

          In his book, Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This: A guide to Creating Great Ads, Sullivan explains that billboards force one to be simple in their ad design (pp. 73,74).  Sullivan uses the illustration below to explain, Neils French's, writer, idea of reductionism in advertising. He explains that the body portion of copy could be removed by making the headline "work a little harder". This achieves a leaner layout.  I think that this lean layout become important to capture the attention of audiences who are otherwise engaged, walking or driving.

          Memphis Design
          Memphis design was marriage of US technological implementation and European culture.  The technology took the form of plastic and veneers which the Italian Memphis Designer, Eric Stottsass, was enamored. He and his cohorts developed a design experience which resulted in functionality, bold colors, and sharp lines. This design movement was manifested in furniture, accessories, and graphics.

          The Memphis design movement hit the US in the 1980's. This design movement encompassed graphics, furniture, and accessories. Meikle, in his book, Design in the USA Oxford History of Art, Oxford, (p. 195) explains that Memphis was born out of America's propensity to accept Post-modern European ideas.

          A man responsible for exposing Post-modern European design ideals to the U.S. was Italian designer Eric Stottsass. His love of popular American cheap materials such as fake marble and wood-grained veneer, "gratuitous" use of chrome, and "gaudy" colors enabled his influence from Italy. Meikle goes on to state that the name "Memphis" brings to mind American cultural representations such as Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, blues, suburbia, and rock and roll.

          Ettore Sottsass Valentine Portable Typewriter,1969 Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.

          Ettore Sottsass, (Artist), Enorme Telephone, 1986, Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y.)
          In the images above, we see implements, designed by Stottsass, that could be found in an American suburban home at the time this design movement arose in the 1980's. The use of bright colors, red and yellow, typify the design movement.

          What were some key elements in the first Memphis design Show? 

          The first Memphis show was put on by Stottsass and his collaborators in Milan Italy was in 1981. In this show, furniture and accessories were exhibited with the following attributes: plastic laminates bright colors zig zag lines and squiggles abandonment of purity and promotion of excess According to Meikle, at the show, "Metal supports for tables, shelves, and lamps seemed to quiver or wiggle as if to suggest utter lack of support" The black and white image below is a great example of the Scotsass'use of zig zags even before the Memphis show in Milan. It displays his disposition toward geometry and movement.

          Ettore Sottsass, Study for Fruit Bowl (with Apple), 1973, Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y)

          What was the design motivation of the Memphis School? 

          Barbara Radice, the groups publicist succinctly stated that the design philosophy "abandoned the myths of progress and of a program of cultural regeneration capable of changing the world to a rational design. " Alternatively, the Memphis design focused on "breaking ground, extending the field of action, broadening awareness, shaking things up, discussing conditions, and setting up fresh opportunities. She further went on to state that the groups use of popular American materials set up a new way of communicating. (Meikeil p. 196) Meikle, p. 196

          The image above is piece displayed in the show. The hand work involved in producing this piece made it expensive to purchase. Here we see the bright colors, sharp edges, and bold statement typical of the Memphis school.

          How has the Memphis design influence today's Graphic design works? 

          Below is a poster created by William Longhauser, reflecting the design elements of post modern architect, Michael Graves. The elements of the poster design include Memphis-type sharp edges and color contrast. I discovered a poster displayed at the Herbst Theater on Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco this week which appeared to have post modern elements displayed in the design. When comparing the Longhause poster with the poster found at the Herbst theater I saw what appeared to be common post modern design elements: zig zags, relative boldness of statement, contrasting colors, and overlapping.

          William Longhauser, 1983
          Poster at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco, November 2010


          Through the study of the history of graphic design, one may see evidence of the effects that technology culture and political climates have had designs.  After all, graphic design is another form of communication. Since the prehistoric times, when man sought to communicate through cave drawings, we have seen the impact of man's environment on visual communications. The graphic designs of today reveal an evolution of communication since prehistoric times. This communication is a manifestation of technology, culture, and politics.

          Frank, Patrick. (2004). Readings in Latin American Modern Art. New Haven Yale University Press, 2004.

          Goldwater, Robert John. (1998). Symbolism.  Boulder, Colo Perseus Books Group.

          Gorman, Robert F. (2007). Great Events from History. The 20th Century, 1901-1940. Pasadena, Calif Salem Press, 2007

          Meggs, Philip B and Alston W. Purvis (2006). Meggs’ History of Graphic Design. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

          Meikle, Jeffrey L. (2005). Design in the USA Oxford History of Art, Oxford, New York Oxford University Press

          O'Neil, Shlaleph (2008). Interactive Media: the Semiotics of Embodied Interaction. London Springer Science & Business Media.

          Sheumaker, Helen. and  Wajda, Shirley Teresa. (2008). Material Culture in America:  Understanding Everyday Live.  Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO.