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Chapter 1. Design History

1.7 Late Modern | New York Style

Alex Hass

Late Modernism encompasses the period from the end of World War II to the early 21st century. Late Modernism describes a movement that arose from and reacted to trends in ITS and Modernism. The Late Modern period was dominated by American innovations spurred on by America’s new-found wealth. The need for more advertising, marketing, and packaging was matched by a new mood in the culture — a mood that was exuberant and playful, not rigid and rule-oriented.

Late Modern was inspired by European avant-garde immigrants. These immigrants found work in design and quickly introduced Americans to early modern principles of an idealistic and theoretical nature. American design at this point had been pragmatic, intuitive, and organic in composition. The fusion of these two methodologies in a highly competitive and creative climate produced design work that was original in concept, witty, and provocative and, as personal expression was highly prized, full of a variety of visual styles. Paul Rand is one of the great innovators of this style. Rand was adept at using ITS when its rules and principles were called for, but he was also very influenced by European art movements of the times. In his work, he fused the two and made works that were accessible, simple, engaging, and witty. His work was inspirational, but his writing and teaching were as important, if not more, to redefining the practice of design. He restructured the design department at Yale and published books on design practice informed by ITS principles, softened by wit, and espoused the value of the organic look of handmade marks. As a result, artists and designers began to merge organic shapes with simple geometry.

The look of graphic design also changed through advancements in photography, typesetting, and printing techniques. Designers felt confident in exploring and experimenting with the new technologies as they were well supported by the expertise of the print industry. Designers began to cut up type and images and compose directly on mechanical boards, which were then photographed and manipulated on the press for colour experimentation. As well, illustration was once again prized. Conceptual typography also became a popular form of expression.

Push Pin Studios

An excellent example of this expansive style can be found in the design output of New York’s Push Pin Studios. Formed by Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast, Push Pin was a studio that created innovative typographic solutions — I♥NY— brand identities, political posters, books, and albums (such Bob Dylan’s album Dylan). It was adept at using and mixing illustration, photography, collage, and typography for unexpected and innovative visual results that were always fresh and interesting as well as for its excellent conceptual solutions. The influence of Push Pin and Late Modern is still alive and has recently experienced a resurgence. Many young designers have adopted this style because of its fresh colours, fine wit, and spontaneous compositions.

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1.7 Late Modern | New York Style by Alex Hass is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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