Sense of Chaos:
The End of the 19th Century
Near the end of the nineteenth century, all design was in
a chaotic state. As constraints were eliminated by advancement
in machines and processes, few restraints were imposed. Victorian
values were a mix of eclectic sources. The nineteenth century
was a period of exploration, archaeology and colonization
by Europeans. Contact with foreign and ancient cultures resulted
in an exotic array of diverse imagery integrated into the
design repertory of the day. Traditional standards for value
such as hand-formed embellishment by artisans were still popular.
During the nineteenth century, the same decorative effects
could be done by machines. Intricate relief was stamped in
a second, and artificial gems substituted for real ones. John
Ruskin was to say of Victorian design that
was done without the labor that gave it honor.
Near the end of the nineteenth century, design chaos was finally
acknowledged as such, and reaction began to build. The counter
action was led by various individuals and groups loosely identified
as the Arts and Crafts Movement.
The revivalists, with William Morris as their principal exponent,
believed that printing should return to the age of decadence
for its means and values. The Kelmscott Press was established
within this context. Paper and ink were handmade, type and
decorative styles were based on those of the middle ages,
and printing was done on a hand-press.
group felt that values had declined because of urban decadence,
and that true values resided with peasants and were to be
found in simple country life. To regain morality, it was necessary
to return to basic life styles and values. Folk art, home
crafts and rustic architecture illustrated their philosophy.
Others believed that the source for all design was nature.
Design was an interpretation and extension of nature. It was
believed that the principles for design grew out of natural
laws and that imagery should mirror nature.
another group believed that design should incorporate and
reflect new technologies, materials and the industrial age.
Key elements of their philosophy were integrity of materials
and substituting function for embellishment in design. These
principles became central to the philosophy of the Bauhaus.
During the latter years of the nineteenth and early years
of the twentieth century, there was a growing understanding
for the need of restraints to establish order in design. A
number of books were published promoting different philosophies
of design. Most books offered visual principles best described
as recipes for design. In one form or another, facets from
several movements were incorporated into the Bauhaus which
emerged as the dominant voice for architecture and design
in the twentieth century. It was the Bauhaus that firmly established
restraint as essential to the quality of design by making
the distinction between function and embellishment.
around 1900 until the 1930s, there were various art movements
such as Dada, DeStijl, Futurism, Bauhaus and others experimenting
with type, letterform and design. Some individuals represented
more than one school at different times, or followed the philosophies
of more than one movement at the same time.
diverse group of painters, poets, printers and typographers
used type as visual texture, blocks of type as shape or lines
of type to show movement, letterform as shape, and combined
them with color. Type and letterform became design elements
serving both as image and communication. Traditional use of
type had always been supplemental in the sense of being separate
but added to image. Graphic artists from the design movements
of early twentieth century and their works are to graphic
designers what French painters of late nineteenth century
are to painters. Most of the precepts of modern graphic design
were established during these years by these individuals.
Throughout history, the introduction of significant new inventions
such as electricity, automobiles, airplanes and computers
went through several predictable stages. The first is as a
curiosity and its use is restricted to the small group of
people who have a technical understanding of its workings.
The second stage is as a toy or prestige symbol, and its use
is confined mainly to the wealthy who can afford it. The third
stage is general acceptance with widespread usage by the population