The 1970s was a pivotal decade for graphic design.
Led to great innovation and experimentation in visual communication.
Move Towards Minimalism
In the 1970s, designers increasingly adopted more minimalist styles.
Moving away from the psychedelic, expressive, maximalist tendencies of the previous decade.
There was a focus on simplicity, functionality, and clarity in design.
Typography became more stripped down and refined.
Sans serif fonts like Helvetica and Univers gained immense popularity due to their clean lines and legibility.
Designers utilized white space as an important design element, embracing empty space on the page to allow content to breathe.
This pared-down, Swiss-inspired aesthetic was a reaction against the cluttered “hippie aesthetic” of the late 1960s.
Notable minimalist designers included:
- Josef Müller-Brockmann
- Max Bill
- Wim Crouwel
Their designs for posters, books, exhibitions, and identities exemplified the International Typographic Style of minimal graphic design.
Influence of Postmodernism
In the 70s, postmodernist theory began to seep into graphic design.
Designers mixed various historical design styles and made references to past art and graphic design movements through visual pastiche and appropriation.
Collage techniques, first popularized by the avant-garde, were used in new experimental ways.
Designs contained visual puns, irony, and subversive humor, breaking from the seriousness of modernist design.
Wolfgang Weingart pioneered the “Swiss Punk” style, which fused Swiss principles with postmodern experimentation.
April Greiman mixed early computer-generated design with New Wave visual influences.
Postmodernism in graphic design led to more concept-based, stylistically eclectic work.
Punk Rock Aesthetic
The anti-establishment punk movement impacted graphic design in the 1970s.
Punk album covers and posters featured hand-drawn, ransom note typography, jagged letters, cut-and-paste collage, and purposefully distressed or defaced designs.
Blackletter fonts were used on punk flyers and zines to signify an underground, rebellious vibe.
Designers like Jamie Reid and Gee Vaucher captured the anarchic ethos of punk in their raw, DIY aesthetic.
This intentionally amateur, haphazard look was a rebuttal to the order and perfectionism of modernist design.
New Wave and Memphis Design
New Wave design used bright neon colors, geometric polygon shapes, kinetic asymmetry, and retro inspiration.
The 1988 New Order album Power, Corruption and Lies designed by Peter Saville exemplified this techno-infused graphic style.
In Italy, the Memphis Group created furniture and products with a lively postmodern aesthetic combining loud patterns, plastic laminates, and clashing colors.
Both New Wave and Memphis design brought an exciting, expressive visual language back into graphic design.
Rise of Corporate Identity
As businesses grew larger, corporate identity took on greater importance.
Design firms were hired to create comprehensive identity systems including logos, branding guidelines, packaging, and environmental graphics.
Notable corporate identities created included:
- United Parcel Service (1961)
- Microsoft (1975)
- MTV (1981)
- Apple (1977)
Strict branding rulebooks were developed to maintain consistency across diverse applications.
Critics argued this marginalized creativity.
But systematic identity design helped build some of the world's largest brands.
In the 1970s, photographic typesetting and an increase in commercial printing options gave designers greater flexibility and control over typography.
Headline fonts could now be custom-drawn to complement photographic images.
Phototypesetting allowed for experimentation with scale, rotation, and layout.
Printing quality jumped from letterpress and offset methods, resulting in precise image reproduction.
Designers used these new possibilities to develop an expressive, eclectic design approach unconstrained by past technical limitations.
The 1970s was a transformative decade that paved the way for postmodern graphic design.
The period achieved a synthesis between the order of modernism.
And the expressionism of postmodern eclecticism.
That profoundly influenced later generations of designers.
The 70s nurtured a spirit of innovation that continues to shape visual communication today.