How Culture Has Influenced Design

Design is a field that is ever changing. It both influences and is influenced by the culture it aims towards and the current norm. Today, design and all its subfields are seen as mostly a commercial art form. However, that isn’t always the case and for most of the past century, design was a hyper blend of fine art and capitalistic desires.

It all began during the turn of the 19th century. As industries were booming and flocks of workers were flooding into the cities, something came about: expendable income. No longer did every penny have to be put right back into the home. People began to desire excess and luxury. In Europe, art began to make deals with industry leaders into promoting their new products. Artists grabbed onto this opportunity because it gave them work and a steady income. Art Nouveau was its name, and its flat planes, intricate line work, and soft feminine touches defined it. This was the beginning of graphic art and advertising, two fields that to this day still go hand in hand.

Now let’s fast-forward to the 1940’s during the Second World War. This was a time of extreme tension all across the world. Women were beginning to enter the workforce, and government was in need of major aid and comradery. These two elements gave advertising and graphic design a fuel for innovation. Propaganda posters like the famous “I Want You” and clever idealistic portraits of women were being produced to both inspire Americans to give to a war-labeled cause and to keep their families happy and healthy. This quickly led into the 1950’s and 60’s in which advertising came into its “golden age”. As seen in television shows like MadMen, this was a time of major influence from design and ad agencies. Women wanted a perfect home and men wanted to provide.

As the decades continued, civil rights, women’s liberation, the fall of Communism, and the beginning of the digital age all influenced design to change and appeal to the demands of its followers and game-changers. Today, we now see something very odd. No longer is it about being directly aligned with what is happening in culture, but rather to grab the attention of a constantly moving global society. Many are leaning towards the notion that “originality is dead”, when in fact it is not. Modern day design is inspires itself from the play and twisting of what already exists and turning into something better, more meaningful and sustainable. Society now looks for honesty and eccentricity rather than the humdrum and cookie-cutter.

However, time never stops and nor will design. There are predictions that design will solely become freelance by the middle of this century, which would eliminate the classic “design studios”. Will this happen? No one will know because it’s simply just too far out of reach.

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