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The simple definition of Modernism is “A style or movement in the arts that aims to break with classical and traditional forms�. In layman’s terms the term refers to modern thoughts, character or practice. The modernist movement arises from the dramatic changes to society in the late 19th and early 20th century. In particular the movement came about after the dramatic industrialisation of modern cites followed by the traumatic World War 1. The Modernist really reflects the shun away from realism. The modernist would make use of works from the past through the application of reprise, incorporation, rewriting, recapitulation, revision and parody in new forms. The modernist wanted to get the traditional ideas of art, religion and politics and update them to a more plausible idea due to the constant modernisation of the industrial world and new theories being uncovered. Modernism is seen to have revolutionised the way that consumerism is percieved by the public and has transformed the graphic language of the world. By 1930, Modernism had entered popular culture. With the increasing urbanization of populations, it was beginning to be looked to as the source for ideas to deal with the challenges of the day. Popular culture, which was not derived from high culture but instead from its own realities (particularly mass production) fueled much modernist innovation. Modern ideas in art appeared in commercials and logos, the famous London Underground logo being an early example of the need for clear, easily recognizable and memorable visual symbols.


ROAD SIGNS A main way to see the effects of modernism in todays society is the common road sign. A thing that we see everyday and have became forever familier with is infact a very precise bit of graphic design which uses the swiss graphic style along with the grid system and a whole new type face; the common road sign/s paint the picture for modernism and modernism in design. The Transport and Motorway fonts were created by Margaret Calvert and Jock Kinneir in 1957. These are still the only two typefaces allowed on road signs in the UK. Transport has also been adopted by many other countries including Ireland, Iceland, Portugal and many Middle Eastern countries. It was the advent of the motorways, with vehicles travelling much faster, that the need for standardized typeface was recognized. In 1957, the Anderson Committee commissioned Jock Kinneir, a graphics lecturer at the Chelsea School of Art, to propose new designs that could be read easily in a split second and he enlisted the help of his star pupil, Margaret Calvert. She said that when she agreed to help his project, she did not know what the word ‘typography’ meant and had to look it up in a dictionary. This lead to many problems for the two. Having such an important task to do it was essential that they got the key elements of modernist design to display the information cleanly. The problems with the old signage had been well researched by the designer Herbert Spencer who began by taking photos of every road sign from Marble Arch to Heathrow in order to draw attention to the chaotic mixture of colours, lettering, symbols and shapes. Calvert commented: “It required completely radical thinking. The reason you design a new letter form for a specific purpose is because there isn’t one available. We analysed them and there wasn’t one easily understood at speed. They were all too fat, too condensed, too this, too that.” They quickly decided to abandon the tendency to use only upper case lettering in their signs. This proposal came up against a great deal of opposition as it was thought that upper case was more official looking, it did not require extra space for up-strokes and down-strokes and it was much easier to read and clearer. Calvert pointed out an important quality that upper case did not have: you could not read a word from a distance using the overall shape as the overall shape of words written in upper case is the same, apart from the length.

The clarity of typeface that emerged has a very modernist feel to it. Michael Czerwinski praises the signs that were created during this period as being one of the great ‘success stories of the modernist movement’. These fonts may not represent the modernist movement in the same way that certain buildings do but they are fully representative of the era in which they were created.

“The actual word shape was the most distinctive thing because if you had Birmingham in capitals, from a distance, it’s difficult to read but in caps and lower case you have word shape,” says Calvert. “That was fundamental.” This was such an important consideration that it was agreed that the signs should all be written in a mixture of upper and lower case.

According to Simon Garfield, author of ‘Just my Type’, a book which analyses fonts, “Transport may not be pretty but it is one of the most effective and useful typefaces in the UK”. Furthermore, it is fully functional – it does what it was commissioned to do. The beauty of Transport, according to many commentators, is that you do not notice it. “It tells you where you are and where to turn” and that is all it needs to do. “The key is not noticing it. When you are designing a typeface for signage, you know you have done well when no-one comments on it.”

The serif that was typical of such typefaces as Times was abandoned as it was thought that it added unnecessary and confusing embellishment. They tested out the readability of the new signs in Hyde Park and in an underground car park in London before piloting it on a stretch of motorway.

Traffic sign designer Bryn Buck comments that even if it is true that no one notices or comments on Calvert’s signs, the fact is that they are often the first words that visitors see when they drive out of Heathrow or Dover and they therefore promote a strong and memorable image of Britain.


Postmodernism is a term that describes a response towards a certain type of culture and thought. Post modernists reject the idea of objective truth. Unlike modernists, who think universal and social progress comes from science and knowledge, the postmodernist ‘reacts against earlier modernist principles, as by reintroducing traditional or classical elements of style or by carrying modernist styles or practices to extremes’. In terms of design this era defies definition, the mix of classic modern thoughts with outlandish wild ideas. Postmodernism shattered ideas about style by bringing freedom to art which had never been seen before. Postmodernism was a drastic move away from the simplicity and awareness of modernism. The postmodernist would completely oppose of the modernist view and try and use dreary items to represent the opposite future of what the modernists had in mind. Further on into the movement the post modernist really came to call. What at first had became a radical movement became the prominent look of the design decade(1980s). The typical postmodern designer then would exaggerate style statements using wild teqniques. Image was everything in this era, the post-punk culture reflects this new side to post modernism. After a boom in the design era, however, the popularity of the cult was indeed its downfall. The excitement and complexity where enormously influential in the 80’s and we still see glimmers of its style in this modern day. Post Modernism was a key defining point in the design era and has influenced many graphic designers to this day. The wild, ant-swiss regime has finished but the evidence will be part of us now forever.


FAMOUS POST MODERNIST QUOTES “There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.” ― Harold Pinter “The Postmodernists’ tyranny wears people down by boredom and semi-literate prose.” ― Christopher Hitchens “Women’s liberation is one thing, but the permeation of anti-male sentiment in post-modern popular culture - from our mocking sitcom plots to degrading commercial story lines - stands testament to the ignorance of society. Fair or not, as the lead gender that never requested such a role, the historical male reputation is quite balanced. -Unknown For all of their perceived wrongs, over centuries they’ve moved entire civilizations forward, nurtured the human quest for discovery and industry, and led humankind from inconvenient darkness to convenient modernity. Navigating the chessboard that is human existence is quite a feat, yet one rarely acknowledged in modern academia or media. And yet for those monumental achievements, I love and admire the balanced creation that is man for all his strengths and weaknesses, his gifts and his curses. I would venture to say that most wise women do.” ― Tiffany Madison “Hell hath no fury like a coolly received postmodernist.” ― David Foster Wallace, Girl With Curious Hair “We’re the most aggressively inarticulate generation to come along since, you know, a long time ago!” ― Taylor Mali “This is the postmodern desert inhabited by people who are, in effect, consuming themselves in the form of images and abstractions through which their desires, sense of identity, and memories are replicated and then sold back to them as products” ― Larry McCaffrey “What is that unforgettable line?” ― Samuel Beckett “In our postmodern culture which is TV dominated, image sensitive, and morally vacuous, personality is everything and character is increasingly irrelevant.” ― David F. Wells, No Place for Truth: Or, Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology “Isn’t post-modernism really one big cover-up for the failure of the French to write a truly interesting novel ever since a sports car ate Albert Camus?” ― John Leonard “what exactly is postmodernism, except modernism without the anxiety?” ― Jonathan Lethem “As an experienced editor, I disapprove of flashbacks, foreshadowings, and tricksy devices; they belong in the 1980s with M.A.s in postmodernism and chaos theory.” ― David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

“…is postmodernity the pastime of an old man who scrounges in the garbage-heap of finality looking for leftovers, who brandishes unconsciousnesses, lapses, limits, confines, goulags, parataxes, non-senses, or paradoxes, and who turns this into the glory of his novelty, into his promise of change?” ― Jean-François Lyotard “Amusing and perfectly self-conscious charlatans.” ― Noam Chomsky “Postmodernism has turned into this devil’s vortex where no matter what you do, your neck will be turned and your face shoved into a foreign example, and worse, no matter what you say, despite the context, it will be considered a postmodern device. That’s the danger of postmodernism: it poses itself as something that can’t be trumped, something you can’t escape. It continually mocks your efforts for the sake of its name. I know even this will be seen as another postmodern bullet, and no matter what I say, critics and readers will be locked into how to lock me in.” ― Brian Celio, Catapult Soul “Obi-Wan Kenobi once said ‘your eyes can deceive you, don’t trust them.’ It seems to be getting harder. Distinguishing reality from the illusions people make for us, or the ones we make for ourselves. I don’t know, maybe that’s part of the plan, to make me think I’m crazy…it’s working.” ― Huey Freeman

“TV is an eraser.” ― Kurt Vonnegut, Timequake


New Graphic Design- Form Follows Function  

An exploration of modernism and post modernism