Crowel ‘I’m a modernist you know’ Total Design in the 60’s made him famous. 70’s postmodernism took over and Crowel was out of fashion. reimmergence in the 1990’s via the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam. His work pragmatic,  Famous Stedelijk Museum POsters (perfectly modernist typography) –

Jan Van Toorn  -famous work posters for Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven. (messy) A dutch designer driven by social and political factors, he was a commited educator and cultural theorist.

Jan van Toorn (JVT), a designer who is not always clear about his intentions, who makes frequent use of inexplicable images and text, and whose work is often described with concepts such as ‘alienation’, ‘incomprehensibility’, ‘defamiliarisation’, ‘digressions’ and ‘intrusion’. From Jan van Toorn: Critical Practice By Rick Poynor, Eye Magazine 2008


My test pieces will be inspired by the work of Jan Van Toorn and Wim Crouwel. presentiong participants with posters with modernist and post modernist approaches. Participants will simply be asked which visually appeals to them more and why?

Poster by Jan Van Toorn for the Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, 1960’s

Posters by Wim Crouwel for Stedeljik Museum in Amsterdam, 1960’s

Calendar by JanVan Toorn with response from Wim Crouwel below










‘Graphic Purist’ or ‘Graphic Rebel’ ? Modernist v’s Post-modernist graphic design.

Essay structure:

1. Background:

2. communication theory – Baldwin and Rooberts quote on communication theory

3. Describe modernist v’s postmodernist argument briefly

4. origins of modernism

5. Wim Crouwe – total design – philosophy and influence

6. Erik Spiekermann – mass public communication – structure and function of great importance

7. Summarise Spiekerman and Crouwel

8. 70’s emmergence of post modernism

9. Crouwel v’s Van Toorn 1970’s

10. Poynor no more rules – arguments supporting post modernism

11.Cranbrook academy of arts- experimetation, cranbrook

12. Neville Brody

13. Concluding thoughts, influence on my work, end.

Modernist art and design movements during the 20th Century included for example constructivism and the Bauhaus. The modernist styles celebrated  function and rationale under the maxim that ‘form follows function’ . The focus of the design layout was  on white space and sans serif fonts. Designs were composed through complex rules including Ancient geometry such as the golden section using the fibbonaci number sequences to work out the proximity of items on a page to produce clear, visually pleasing compositional page layouts. This new approach to design saw the introduction of the grid, the grid offered a system where by the fundamentals of modernist design could be maintained.

Postmodernist art and design grew ultimately out of a rejection toward modernist design. The belief was that modernist were too rigid.

Modernism and postmodernist design seem to be a really relevant to my questions around design principals and approaches to design. Purists tend to sit within the modernist realm and the rebels within the post modernist realm. There are also two schools of design/ communication theory that these oppossing approaches sit comfortable within; the process school of thought often the purists and the semiotic school of thought (often the rebels) . This discovery has solidified the bulk of the essay in that these theories allow me to assess and classify designers, giving clear arguments dependant on which area of thought that the designer falls into.



I want to ask designers working in different sectors a series of questions that will demonstrate their approach to graphic design as modernist or postmodernist.

I will include feedback from designers in private industry, community sector and educational sector.

I want to firstly find out how these designers consider and apply the basic design principals to their own work. I also want to find out their thoughts around purist approaches compared to experimental (semiotic) approaches. I hope to be able to use the results within my essay and relate them to agruments for and against these approaches.

The questions are as follows:

1. Describe the industry/ sector/ environment that you work in ?

2. Why are you a graphic designer ?

3. How do the fundamental design principals of design (ie shape, form, concept development, use of fonts, colour etc) impact on your work ?

4. Some designers like Erik Spiekerman  believe that typography must be ‘process’ driven ie clearly delivered with the message absolutely understood on a universal level. If a font is difficult to read ‘process’ theorists believe the message can be mis-understood and that the overall design process is ultimately flawed. Please view and share your thought around this view.

5. Do you use grid systems within your work ? if so, why ?  if not, why ?

6. Neville Brody often referred to as a ‘graphic rebel’ developed Fuse Magazine, a platform for designers to experiment with typefaces. Do you think graphic experimentation is important ? why ?

7. What / who inspires your work ?

9. Living in a digital age we are surrounded by and almost suffocated by visual communication ? How do you think that this impacts on client expectations of graphic designers ?

Modernist and post-modernist thought is relevant to answering my research question about graphic design and purist or rebellious/ deconstructive approaches. Communication theory is also split into two main areas process theory and semiotic theory. process theory relating more to modernist thought in that form and functionality is absolute, universal and wide reaching. If a message is mis interpreted or mis understood  by the receiver then modernists and process theorists consider the overall communication process to be flawed.

Postmodernists on the other hand and semiotic communication theorists do not believe that a mis interpretation of the graphic message suggests a flawed system of communication. On the contrary, they see graphic communication as an agent in the actual construction and exchange of meaning. As oppossed to design being communicated on a universal level post modernists believe that design is very specific and ultimately determined by contemporary culture which is a product of economic, social and geographical factors.


ANTINOMIES OF SEMIOTICS IN GRAPHIC DESIGN, Peter Storkerson, Visible Language, 2010, pg 5-37