What is postmodern design: how the reigning style of the late 20th century works - 99designs (2022)

Simply put, postmodern design is what came after modernist design, the prevailing aesthetic style of the early to mid-20th century. But this definition is exactly what makes postmodernism so complex: it can describe everything that came after modernism.

What is postmodern design: how the reigning style of the late 20th century works - 99designs (1)

Postmodernism can be a frustrating, nebulous term, and even designers whose work it describes often find it ill-fitting. And yet, it is a word that continues to pop up in design theory and criticism. It also reaches across disciplines, affecting everything from literature to philosophy to architecture. In fact, the term can be so broad that many designers might have already found themselves working in a postmodern style without realizing it. All the more reason why it is important to understand what exactly postmodern design is and how to take advantage of its principles with intention.

What is postmodernism

Postmodern design is an international art movement that reigned in the late ‘70s through the ‘80s and is characterized by a rejection of the formal structures established by modernism. Modernism was an earlier 20th-century movement that created a number of artistic standards that postmodernists chafed against, to the point of rejecting structure entirely. Because postmodernism positions itself as opposed to this kind of formal structure, it may come as no surprise that it also rejects any attempt to define it in a succinct way.

What is postmodern design: how the reigning style of the late 20th century works - 99designs (2)

In essence, the term was more common amongst theorists than actual artists, primarily as a way to group a number of diverse, eclectic art movements under one big umbrella. But with that said, works labeled as postmodern do share some traits in common.

Characteristics of postmodernist design

The best way to think about postmodern design is in philosophical terms. In this way, these are some of its most common characteristics…

  • Pluralism: Postmodernism rejects one object truth or way of approaching reality
  • Anti-formalism: Postmodernism rejects formal art instruction and theory
  • Nontraditional and mixed media: Collage, video, commercial plastics and interpretative dance all have a place in postmodern art
  • Deconstruction: Postmodernism breaks down the traditional concepts for how art creates meaning
  • Self-reference: Postmodernist art often calls attention to its own artifice, usually as a way of questioning the nature of “art”
  • Irony: Postmodernism mocks artistic conventions by incorporating kitsch and “bad” taste for humor

A brief history of postmodern design

Postmodernism’s relationship to modernism

Any history of postmodernism has to begin with modernism. Modernism arrived in the late 19th century when modern machinery heralded a new understanding of how society should function. In brief, the movement aimed to impose a new sense of order on this technological world, particularly in wake of the First World War, where the destructive power of modern machines was laid bare.

What is postmodern design: how the reigning style of the late 20th century works - 99designs (3)

In the art world, painters and sculptors created order by reexamining subjects through nontraditional perspectives or breaking them down into subsequent parts, as in Surrealism and Cubism. In fact, like the movement that would succeed it, modernism came to describe a number of art movements occurring at once: Futurism, Dadaism, and Expressionism.

But as modernism expanded into the design and architectural world, it more often referred to formal precision and lack of ornament. This was encapsulated by a phrase popularized by modernist architect Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, “Less is more.” Later on, this would inspire architect Robert Venturi to give the postmodernists their own motto, when he quipped, “Less is a bore.”

What is postmodern design: how the reigning style of the late 20th century works - 99designs (4)

Note: Just to make matters more confusing, there is a distinction to be made between “modern art” and “modernism.” Many people use the phrase “modern art” in contrast to “classical art”—which is essentially most art before 1900. The term is also used interchangeably with “contemporary art.” Modernism, on the other hand, is a specific artistic movement, and this is largely what we’ll be referring to throughout this article.

(Video) A Style of One: Finding Your Individual Voice with Dan Stiles | Adobe Creative Cloud

The emergence of postmodern design

Although postmodernism is often framed in opposition to modernism, there were a number of precursors to the style lurking within the modernist movement. Conceptual art eschewed formal technique in favor of expressing ideas, as in Marcel Duchamp’s crude 1917 sculpture Fountain. The abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock emphasized the subjectivity of the artist. And by the 60s, Pop Art emphasized low-brow culture, collage and consumerist objects.

What is postmodern design: how the reigning style of the late 20th century works - 99designs (5)
What is postmodern design: how the reigning style of the late 20th century works - 99designs (6)

Because modernism was a well-known term throughout the 20th century, critics of the style had been trying to coin the term “postmodernism” for almost that same length of time in order to claim that modernism had ended. Postmodernism as we know it didn’t really catch on as a dominant design movement until the 1970s, beginning with architecture. Because buildings have such an obvious practical function, they tended to be more strictly held to the modernist mandates of form following function than other design disciplines. To challenge this, buildings like the Neue Staatsgalerie in Germany celebrated mixed materials and anachronistic design features. The Ni Ban Khan in Japan embraced a collage of patterns and loud colors.

What is postmodern design: how the reigning style of the late 20th century works - 99designs (7)
What is postmodern design: how the reigning style of the late 20th century works - 99designs (8)

Graphic designers soon incorporated the principles of postmodernism into their own work by embracing technology. Computers in those early years were largely regarded as large calculators for business, and digital tools were considered a threat to the Swiss Style of typography, championed in the modernist age. April Greiman was one of the first designers to champion computer-made art in the 70s and 80s, including the errors that technology brings. Her designs are technicolor collages of layered images and typography, double exposures and glitches. Like a true postmodernist, she rejected the term “graphic designer” as being too limiting, preferring instead to be called a “transmedia artist.”

What is postmodern design: how the reigning style of the late 20th century works - 99designs (9)
What is postmodern design: how the reigning style of the late 20th century works - 99designs (10)

Paula Scher likewise became a champion of ‘new typography,’ with explosive, energetic letter arrangements that defied traditional left-to-right order. Her typography also rejected its role as a background player, and became the main feature of many of her pieces. Additionally, her work also incorporates pop art collages and vibrant color filters.

What is postmodern design: how the reigning style of the late 20th century works - 99designs (11)

By the late 80s, Memphis Design emerged to join the postmodern family, creating impractical furniture out of cheap materials and jumbled patterns. In this case, impracticality was the point, even over comfort, and the premier furniture pieces made a mockery of snobbery by labeling themselves after luxury hotels.

The decline of postmodernism

For many, postmodern design, while jubilant and expressive, was also loud and unfeasible. Despite postmodernism’s noble intentions, its attitude of defiance is largely what made it difficult to sustain itself in the mainstream. Most historians identify the 90s as the decade when postmodernism went out of fashion. But postmodernism didn’t so much go away as become less dominant. True to its slippery nature, it has continued to appeal to architects and designers throughout the 21st century.

What is postmodern design: how the reigning style of the late 20th century works - 99designs (12)

Postmodernism in the “modern” age

One of the great things about postmodern design is its contempt for constraints, and that includes time and place. While some historians have attempted to wrangle start and end dates onto the movement, the effort always fails. Just as it is nearly impossible to say when postmodernism began, it definitely is not ending anytime soon.

Postmodern design is also a morphing style that changes with the context of the designer and the design project. Contemporary trends like Y2K, Street art, Anti-design and Brutalism are keeping the postmodern design spirit alive and well in the 21st century.

What is postmodern design: how the reigning style of the late 20th century works - 99designs (13)
What is postmodern design: how the reigning style of the late 20th century works - 99designs (14)
What is postmodern design: how the reigning style of the late 20th century works - 99designs (15)

Mixed media is a core feature of postmodern design, but these days graphic design is most often relegated to one medium: digital. That is, the industry relies on graphic design software to create shareable files, and it is impossible in most cases to reject that and create a product that still will be useful to clients. All the same, graphic designers get the idea of mixed media across by combining varied textures, exposures, illustration, and painting styles.

What is postmodern design: how the reigning style of the late 20th century works - 99designs (16)
What is postmodern design: how the reigning style of the late 20th century works - 99designs (17)
What is postmodern design: how the reigning style of the late 20th century works - 99designs (18)

Along these same lines, collage and the juxtaposition of various out-of-place elements is also common in postmodern design. Some collages take the seamless approach, where the photo manipulator attempts to hide any evidence of collaging and making all the elements fit naturally in the composition. Postmodernism tends to go for the opposite approach, using messy cutouts and collage elements that obviously don’t belong in the same space, calling attention to the artificiality of the composition. This has the effect of emphasizing the tension created by these disparate pieces.

What is postmodern design: how the reigning style of the late 20th century works - 99designs (19)
What is postmodern design: how the reigning style of the late 20th century works - 99designs (20)
What is postmodern design: how the reigning style of the late 20th century works - 99designs (21)

Typography is one design element that is full of rules about placement and sizing, with most typefaces set up using strict measurements such as the baseline and ascender height. All with good reason of course—the whole point is to create consistently legible phrases. Postmodern typography tends to trust the viewer to understand the meaning of a phrase through expressive arrangement and letterforms, even if legibility is made somewhat more difficult. Alternatively, designers can also mix anachronistic font styles for a postmodern effect.

What is postmodern design: how the reigning style of the late 20th century works - 99designs (22)
What is postmodern design: how the reigning style of the late 20th century works - 99designs (23)

In many ways, postmodernism is about attitude, and nowhere is that attitude more apparent nowadays than in the anti-design and brutalist movements of digital design. Like the rebel architects of the 70s, these designers disrupt the minimalist interfaces of “good” UX design with layouts that are complex, challenging, and discordant. The intention is to create memorability and novelty over conformity and ease.

What is postmodern design: how the reigning style of the late 20th century works - 99designs (24)
What is postmodern design: how the reigning style of the late 20th century works - 99designs (25)

Finally, one of postmodernism’s saving graces is its sense of humor. It mocks us for taking it (and art) too seriously, and it even pokes fun at its own eclectic extravagance. Humor is largely what allows postmodern design to be adventurous and daring without frustrating its audience with its bold challenges.

The postscript on postmodern design

Postmodern design is a varied and eclectic movement. It can be hard to get a grasp, both in terms of its exact goals and its exact manifestations. But, largely because of that, postmodernism is one of the more experimental styles around. It challenges viewers to reconsider the boundaries of form and function. It fits together the things we are taught to keep separate through daring collages, mixed materials, and anachronistic mashups. Sometimes, postmodernism can seem to describe almost anything. But, in the immortal words of Robert Venturi, there’s one thing postmodernist design definitely is not: boring.

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FAQs

What is postmodernism design style? ›

Postmodernism is an eclectic, colourful style of architecture and the decorative arts that appeared from the late 1970s and continues in some form today. It emerged as a reaction to Modernism and the Modern Movement and the dogmas associated with it.

Is the 20th century postmodernism? ›

Stretching from the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th century, Modernism reached its peak in the 1960s; Post-modernism describes the period that followed during the 1960s and 1970s.

Why was postmodernism design important? ›

Over two decades, from about 1970 to 1990, Postmodernism shattered established ideas about art and design, bringing a new self-awareness about style itself. An unstable mix of the theatrical and theoretical, Postmoderism ranges from the ludicrous to the luxurious – a visually thrilling, multifaceted style.

What is the main idea of post modernism? ›

Postmodernism rejects the possibility of unmediated reality or objectively-rational knowledge, asserting that all interpretations are contingent on the perspective from which they are made; claims to objective fact are dismissed as naive realism.

What are the main features of a postmodernist design? ›

Postmodern design is often characterised by saturated colours, loud patterns and strong contrasts. Designers never intended their objects to be part of an everlasting fashion; rather they were flashy, faddish and ephemeral. Like these stairs, postmodernism catches your attention rather than blends into the background.

What are examples of postmodernism? ›

The clearest example would be the death bunny scene where a rabbit slaughters men. Intentional or not, these works of art belong on the Postmodern film list because they subverted expectations and gave audiences something they couldn't have anticipated long before that was more en vogue.

What does postmodern mean? ›

Uses of the term

In philosophy and critical theory postmodernity refers to the state or condition of society which is said to exist after modernity, a historical condition that marks the reasons for the end of modernity. This usage is ascribed to the philosophers Jean-François Lyotard and Jean Baudrillard.

What defines postmodernism art? ›

What Is Postmodern Art? Postmodern art rejected the traditional values of modernism, and instead embraced experimentation with new media and art forms including intermedia, installation art, conceptual art, multimedia, performance art, and identity politics.

How does postmodernism affect society? ›

Postmodernism affects views and lifestyles, which in turn affects the young adult's performance of roles and his interactions within all his different social systems. A strong attachment to family and home, as well as the importance of roles as sons/daughters were found.

What is postmodernism graphic design? ›

Post Modernism is actually an umbrella term for many visual styles that came about after the 1980s. They are unified by their reaction to Modernism's guiding principles — particularly that of objectivity. A key feature of Post Modern design is the subjective bias and individual style of the designers that practise it.

Where did post modern design begin? ›

The movement was introduced by the architect and urban planner Denise Scott Brown and architectural theorist Robert Venturi in their book Learning from Las Vegas. The style flourished from the 1980s through the 1990s, particularly in the work of Scott Brown & Venturi, Philip Johnson, Charles Moore and Michael Graves.

What is postmodernism as it pertains to graphic design Why is a difficult style to define? ›

Why is it difficult to define? Postmodernism rejects the concept of "master theory" whereby a single concept like International Style should define a field. It is hard to define because individual artists explore pluralistic theories, i.e., Psychedelic, Push Pin, Tibor Kalman.

What is postmodernism essay? ›

Post-modernism is a school of thought or a tendency in contemporary culture which rejects modernism. It is characterized by the rejection of objective truth and global cultural narrative. It emphasizes the role of language, power relations, and motivations.

What are postmodern techniques? ›

TECHNIQUES IN POSTMODERN LITERATURE. Techniques in Postmodern Literature. Language creates meaning—language is seen as having power to create truth; somehow what is said matters more than how we might usually define "reality." A postmodern approach often emphasizes language over transcendent “truth.”

Who is the father of postmodernism? ›

French post-structuralist philosopher, best known for his highly influential formulation of postmodernism in The Postmodern Condition. Despite its popularity, however, this book is in fact one of his more minor works.

Why was postmodernism created? ›

Post-modernism and Modernism

Modernist artists experimented with form, technique and processes rather than focusing on subjects, believing they could find a way of purely reflecting the modern world. While modernism was based on idealism and reason, postmodernism was born of scepticism and a suspicion of reason.

Why is postmodernism hard to define? ›

The difficulty of defining postmodernism as a concept stems from its wide usage in a range of cultural and critical movements since the 1970s. Postmodernism describes not only a period but also a set of ideas, and can only be understood in relation to another equally complex term: modernism.

Who is known as the architect of postmodernism? ›

Robert Venturi, an iconoclastic architect often considered the father of postmodernism who rejected sterile, glass-cube structures in favor of an inclusive, eclectic style that embraced community values and a touch of vulgarity, died Sept. 18 at his home in Philadelphia. He was 93.

What is the importance of postmodernism in education? ›

Regarding postmodernist, the aims of education are teaching critical thinking, production of knowledge, development of individual and social identity, self creation. In postmodern education teachers just lead students to discover new things.

How does postmodernism affect culture? ›

In contrast to modern culture, with its emphasis on social progress, coherence, and universality, postmodern culture represents instances of dramatic historical and ideological change in which modernist narratives of progress and social holism are viewed as incomplete, elastic, and contradictory.

Which phrase best describes a quality of postmodernism? ›

Which phrase best describes a quality of Postmodernism? Blurring fact and fiction to find an underlying truth.

What's another word for postmodern? ›

In this page you can discover 16 synonyms, antonyms, idiomatic expressions, and related words for postmodern, like: post-modernism, postmodernist, post-modern, postmodernism, postmodernity, modernity, modernism, , modernist, post-structuralist and post-enlightenment.

What is postmodernism What are the characteristics of postmodern literature? ›

Postmodern literature is a form of literature that is characterized by the use of metafiction, unreliable narration, self-reflexivity, intertextuality, and which often thematizes both historical and political issues.

What are some examples of postmodernism art? ›

Postmodern Art
  • Marilyn Diptych (1962)
  • Shuttlecocks (1994)
  • Rhythm 0 / Seven Easy Pieces (1974)
  • Untitled Film Still #21 (1978)
  • The AT&T Building, New York (1984)
  • Untitled (I shop therefore I am) (1987)
  • Apples Trees (1987)
  • Michael Jackson and Bubbles (1988)
25 Jan 2015

When was the postmodern art movement? ›

Postmodern art emerged as a reaction to modernism, spanning 1950 to the late 20th century. We define postmodernism in 8 iconic artworks. Postmodern art replaced modernism and led the way to contemporary art. It emerged in the mid 20th century and lasted until the early aughts.

What are the main characteristics of postmodernism art quizlet? ›

Accordingly, postmodern thought is broadly characterized by tendencies to epistemological and moral relativism, pluralism, irreverence and self-referentiality.

What is the effect of postmodernism in literature? ›

Postmodernist literature took modernism's fragmentation and expanded on it, moving literary works more toward collage-style forms, temporal distortion, and significant jumps in character and place. 4. Metafiction. Postmodern literature emphasized meaninglessness and play.

Is postmodernism still relevant today? ›

Indeed in the previous decades before us, postmodernism was in vogue in the academic settings of our country and in the Western world. It's not necessarily that way today. You still find it in literary departments. You still find it, unfortunately, sometimes in theology departments.

Is the 21st century postmodern? ›

In contrast, the '21st century' is a postmodern period – the 'post', in this sense, means 'after' modernity.

What is style in graphic design? ›

The graphic design style is synonymous with informal shapes, rich and high contrasting colour use, hand drawn and coloured illustrations, space-age forms and dramatic curves.

What is modernism design movement? ›

Modernism in architecture

The style became characterised by an emphasis on volume, asymmetrical compositions, and minimal ornamentation. In Britain, the term Modern Movement has been used to describe the rigorous modernist designs of the 1930s to the early 1960s.

Which of the following is an example of postmodern architecture? ›

One of the first examples of postmodern architecture is the Vanna Venturi House, which was built between 1962 and 1964 and designed by Robert Venturi for his mother, Vanna Venturi.

What is the difference between modern and postmodern architecture? ›

Modern architecture focuses on creating a relationship between the material and structure by relating and adopting them to their present technological era, Whereas Post-modernist architecture emphasizes the vitality of historical elements in design.

What makes postmodern literature different to literature from earlier times? ›

The Key Elements of Postmodern Literature

The notable literary devices of postmodern literature are paradox, unreliable narrators, unrealistic narratives, parody and dark humor. Most postmodern literature also rejects the idea of a single theme or meaning, choosing instead to have many meanings or forgo theme entirely.

How does postmodern art differ from modern art? ›

Modernism held logic and reason as central values for seeking universal truth. In reaction to the idea that art should highlight an objective truth, postmodern art focuses on the artist's unique perspective and subjective reality.

What's the difference between modernism and postmodernism? ›

The main difference between modernism and postmodernism is that modernism is characterized by the radical break from the traditional forms of prose and verse whereas postmodernism is characterized by the self-conscious use of earlier styles and conventions.

What is postmodernism graphic design? ›

Post Modernism is actually an umbrella term for many visual styles that came about after the 1980s. They are unified by their reaction to Modernism's guiding principles — particularly that of objectivity. A key feature of Post Modern design is the subjective bias and individual style of the designers that practise it.

What does postmodern mean? ›

Uses of the term

In philosophy and critical theory postmodernity refers to the state or condition of society which is said to exist after modernity, a historical condition that marks the reasons for the end of modernity. This usage is ascribed to the philosophers Jean-François Lyotard and Jean Baudrillard.

What is the difference between modernism and postmodernism? ›

The main difference between modernism and postmodernism is that modernism is characterized by the radical break from the traditional forms of prose and verse whereas postmodernism is characterized by the self-conscious use of earlier styles and conventions.

What is a major difference between modernist and postmodernist architecture? ›

Modern architecture focuses on creating a relationship between the material and structure by relating and adopting them to their present technological era, Whereas Post-modernist architecture emphasizes the vitality of historical elements in design.

What is postmodernism as it pertains to graphic design Why is a difficult style to define? ›

Why is it difficult to define? Postmodernism rejects the concept of "master theory" whereby a single concept like International Style should define a field. It is hard to define because individual artists explore pluralistic theories, i.e., Psychedelic, Push Pin, Tibor Kalman.

Why is postmodernism hard to define? ›

The difficulty of defining postmodernism as a concept stems from its wide usage in a range of cultural and critical movements since the 1970s. Postmodernism describes not only a period but also a set of ideas, and can only be understood in relation to another equally complex term: modernism.

Is the 21st century postmodern? ›

In contrast, the '21st century' is a postmodern period – the 'post', in this sense, means 'after' modernity.

What does postmodern mean in art? ›

In art, postmodernism refers to a reaction against modernism. It is less a cohesive movement than an approach and attitude toward art, culture, and society.

What's another word for postmodern? ›

In this page you can discover 16 synonyms, antonyms, idiomatic expressions, and related words for postmodern, like: post-modernism, postmodernist, post-modern, postmodernism, postmodernity, modernity, modernism, , modernist, post-structuralist and post-enlightenment.

What is meant by postmodernism in literature? ›

What Is Postmodern Literature? Postmodern literature is a literary movement that eschews absolute meaning and instead emphasizes play, fragmentation, metafiction, and intertextuality.

What are characteristics of postmodern literature? ›

Postmodern literature is a form of literature that is characterized by the use of metafiction, unreliable narration, self-reflexivity, intertextuality, and which often thematizes both historical and political issues.

What influenced postmodernism? ›

Modernist artists experimented with form, technique and processes rather than focusing on subjects, believing they could find a way of purely reflecting the modern world. While modernism was based on idealism and reason, postmodernism was born of scepticism and a suspicion of reason.

When did postmodernism begin? ›

In 1984, literary theorist Fredric Jameson wrote his essay Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, arguing that art had been colonised by commerce.

What are the common characteristics between modernism and postmodernism? ›

Comparison of Modernism and Postmodernism
ModernismPostmodernism
Rejection of realismAmbivalence towards realism
Literature is self-containedLiterature is open and intertextual
High-brow genresMixing of high- and low-brow genres
Rejection of literary conventionsParody of literary conventions
7 more rows
5 Jul 2022

What makes postmodern literature different to literature from earlier times? ›

The Key Elements of Postmodern Literature

The notable literary devices of postmodern literature are paradox, unreliable narrators, unrealistic narratives, parody and dark humor. Most postmodern literature also rejects the idea of a single theme or meaning, choosing instead to have many meanings or forgo theme entirely.

What is the relationship between postmodernism and modernism? ›

Modernism is a school of thought that took place in late 1800s and early 1900s while postmodernism is a school of thought that took place after World War II. 2. Modernism advocated rational thinking and the use of science and reason for the advancement of man while postmodernism believed in the irrationality of things.

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