The History of 1950s Graphic Design

Graphic design in the 1950s saw radical changes from the previous decade. Due to the ending of World War 2, designers focused more on commercial work and developing new modernist styles. This article will explore the key characteristics, trends, and influential designers that defined 1950s graphic design.

The History of 1950s Graphic Design

Emergence of Modernist Styles

The 1950s is often considered the peak period of modernist graphic design. Designers were rejecting overly embellished styles in favor of simplicity and functionality.

Many drew influence from the Bauhaus school and principles such as form following function.

Sans serif typefaces became dominant for their clarity over decorative serif styles. Designs emphasized grids, asymmetry, and the use of photography.

Color palettes were limited to primary colors. These modernist styles focused on communicating messages in straightforward, immediate ways that embraced new technology and consumerism.

Key Characteristics

Some defining characteristics of 1950s graphic design include minimalism, rationality, and standardization.

Decorative elements were stripped away in favor of streamlined, easy-to-reproduce designs. Photomontage became widely used to add visual interest to designs.

Designs also began incorporating curving, organic shapes inspired by modern architecture at the time.

Bolder use of graphic elements like rules and frames structured compositions in a very purposeful, intentional way. Imagery shifted from realistic to symbolic representations to convey ideas quickly.

Influential Designers

Paul Rand emerged as an extremely influential American designer. His development of the IBM Identity and clever use of type revolutionized corporate branding.

Swiss designers like Armin Hofmann and Josef Müller-Brockmann achieved worldwide acclaim with their grid-based designs that embraced photography and asymmetrical layouts. Italian designer Bruno Munari experimented with abstract shapes, photomontage, and playful pop artifacts.

Across the Atlantic, designers like Chermayeff & Geismar and Lou Dorfsman modernized magazines with their dynamic, avant-garde styles. Collectively, these pioneers established principles central to modern graphic design practice even today.

Commercial Applications

As post-war economies boomed, there was a huge surge in commercial graphic design. Packaging, advertising, corporate identities, and editorial designs all reflected modernist ideologies.

Designs emphasized clarity, simplicity, and functionality to appeal to growing mass markets. Iconic package designs emerged from this era including the Kodak Carousel slide projector and Hi-C fruit drinks boxes.

Annual reports adopted striking photographic covers and infographics to engage investors. Mies van der Rohe’s iconic Barcelona chair became a symbol of sleek modern European furniture design. These commercial applications demonstrated how modernist techniques could appeal to wide audiences.

Magazine Design Developments 

Graphic design served to modernize editorial publications in the 1950s as well. Photomontage and asymmetrical layouts livened magazine pages. Words and pictures were integrated in dynamic new ways. Designers developed unique stylistic voices for different magazines.

For example, Italian graphic designer and typographer Bruno Munari revolutionized designs for children’s magazines with his whimsical cut and torn paper constructions juxtaposed with bold type.

Art Directors like Cipe Pineles and Alexey Brodovitch led the charge in redesigning magazines to keep pace with modernist visual storytelling techniques.

Groundbreaking titles like Gebrauchsgraphik and U&lc conveyed a new sense of visual vibrancy and experimentation to audiences.

Corporate Identity Trends

The 1950s saw the rise of distinct, consistent branding through thoughtful logo and identity design.

Pioneers like Paul Rand developed iconic logos still in use today such as those for IBM, UPS and Westinghouse through minimalist shapes and type-focused marks.

As businesses expanded globally, standardization became important for name recognition.

Designers developed comprehensive identity systems with coordinated stationery, signage, and advertising upholding a cohesive visual language.

This established brand identities as a new graphic design discipline central to commerce. Colorful, illustrative annual reports from this era also helped strengthen corporate images.

Scandinavian Design Influence 

Scandinavian designers like Arne Jacobsen and Alvar Aalto made major contributions to mid-century modernism and graphics.

Characteristics of Scandinavian modernism included functional, unpretentious designs emphasizing natural materials. Aalto’s curving plywood chairs and bentwood furniture expressed organic forms.

Graphic artists in Scandinavia embraced elemental sans serif type and rationally organized grids. Their work conveyed clean lines, simplicity, and livability. This influenced a shift towards human-centered design across Europe.

Scandinavian graphics and products communicated high quality and democratic values, gaining worldwide acclaim. Their influence is still seen today in brands valuing sustainable, utilitarian yet uplifting designs.

Legacy of 1950s Design Principles

The radical transformations brought by modernist pioneers in the 1950s laid the framework for contemporary practice. Designs from this era established principles of simplicity, consistency and functional applications still valued today.

Grid systems, sans serif typography, asymmetrical layouts, vibrant use of photography, and focus on brand identity development remain standard practices. The innovative styles broke away from tradition to better suit the new realities of mass communication and technology.

1950s designers proved graphic design could effectively bridge art and industry to engage broad audiences. Their experimentation lives on as graphic designers continue reimagining the discipline for each new era.

Read More: 10 Best Printer for Graphic Design


In summary, the 1950s represented the rise of modernist graphic design principles that came to define commercial visual communications. Pioneering designers embraced new technologies, materials, and audiences, simplifying styles while enriching experiences.

Distinct characteristics emerged around functional minimalism, rational grids, photographic dynamism, and corporate standardization. Scandinavian and Swiss styles emphasized humanist, democratic qualities.

The legacy of this transformative decade continues shaping graphic design and visual culture even now through seminal works, timeless brands, and established best practices still relevant today. Overall, 1950s graphics established modern design practices attentive to both art and industry that now permeate global visual culture.

Spread the love

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *