Cubism was an avant-garde art movement that originated in Europe in the early 20th century.
The movement had a major influence on graphic design and visual communication.
Cubism introduced revolutionary new approaches to depicting form, space, and perspective in art that graphic designers later applied to their work.
Here is an in-depth look at the key ways cubism shaped modern graphic design.
Characteristics of Cubism
Cubism was pioneered by artists like Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Juan Gris.
Their paintings utilized fragmented and abstracted forms, multiple perspectives, geometric shapes and planes, and elements of collage.
Some key characteristics of cubist art include:
- Fragmented forms - Objects are deconstructed and rendered in an abstract, non-realistic way, often depicted from multiple angles simultaneously.
- Multiple perspectives - Different viewpoints of the subject are integrated into one work, breaking from traditional single-perspective illusionism.
- Flat, two-dimensional surfaces - Depth and perspective are eliminated, bringing all elements forward onto the flat canvas.
- Geometric shapes and planes - Objects are reduced to geometric forms and wedge-like planes to convey a fragmented sensation.
- Elements of collage - Bits of paper, fabric, newspaper, and other materials are incorporated into works, playing with texture and notions of reality/representation.
- Strong use of graphic elements - Letters, words, lines, and graphic symbols take on visual significance, rather than just illustrative meaning.
This new visual language and focus on abstraction, geometry, perspective, and graphic forms became highly influential for graphic designers exploring new modes of visual communication.
Influence on Graphic Design
The ideas and aesthetics of cubism directly fed into the development of modern graphic design in the early 20th century.
Cubist artworks provided inspiration for how text, images, and abstract graphic elements could be combined in new ways to create striking designs.
Here are some of the key impacts cubism had on graphic design:
- Typography as a visual form - Cubist painters like Picasso and Braque introduced words, letters, and fragments of text into their works, treating them as graphic elements that could be broken apart and rearranged into dynamic compositions. This liberated typography from straightforward representation and opened up new possibilities for graphic communication.
- Collage techniques - The cubist practice of collage, where bits of paper, newsprint, packaging, and other materials are incorporated into a work, inspired new approaches to graphic design. Designers blended photographic imagery, typography, cut paper, and abstract graphic forms in fresh layouts and advertising designs.
- Multiple perspectives - Cubism's technique of depicting multiple views of a subject at once influenced new ways to present information across posters, magazines, book covers, exhibitions, and other designs. Graphic elements could be layered, overlapped, and viewed from different visual angles all in one layout.
- Abstract and geometric graphics - The cubist aesthetic of fragmented, flattened abstracted forms, simple geometric shapes, clean lines, planes, and bold colors became widely adopted in modern graphic design. This abstracted visual language communicated ideas in a clear, graphic manner.
Important Cubist Designers
Many pioneering 20th century graphic designers embraced the ideas of cubism in their influential works.
The style inspired them to think in more abstract, conceptual ways about graphic communication.
Here are a few key figures who incorporated cubist styles and principles in their designs:
- Aleksandr Rodchenko - This Russian graphic designer, photographer, and artist utilized cubist ideas in his stark, geometric designs. In his posters, books, exhibition graphics, and works for USSR magazines, Rodchenko used bold shapes, expressive typography, photomontage, and abstract compositions aligned with constructivist and cubist aesthetics.
- Cassandre - The French designer Cassandre adopted cubist visual elements like fragmented letterforms, stylized perspective, and geometric shapes for his influential poster designs. Works like his ads for Dubonnet wine and the northern railway line featured bold typography, abstracted imagery, and graphic visual impact.
- Paul Rand - One of America's pioneering graphic designers, Rand integrated cubism's visual energy and abstraction into many iconic corporate logo designs. For clients like ABC, IBM, and Westinghouse, Rand crafted clever logos using fragmented letters, lines, and geometric forms to project a cubist aesthetic.
Cubism had a major impact on graphic design that is still felt today.
Its revolutionary approaches to form, space, and composition inspired new ways of thinking about visual communication and design.
- Liberated typography
- Allowed more conceptual approaches to graphic design
- Moved the field forward artistically
While cubism originated in fine art painting, its visual innovations gave graphic artists and designers new ways to explore abstraction, perspective, and the interplay of text and image.
It fundamentally shaped the evolution of modernist graphic design in the 20th century and beyond.
The conceptual, avant-garde aesthetic of cubism continues to inspire graphic designers today.