Neo Modernism

is invading Graphic Design

Posted by ChristinatheDesigner on April 18, 2019

I was reading an Adobe Blog entry about the top five design trends of 2019. There were some interesting contrasting elements going on in almost all of the trends. After a couple of days it hit me! Is NeoModernism sneaking into Graphic Design?.

A few weeks ago I was sick and in bed. Which meant I was streaming Rick and Morty almost 24/7 and watching whatever I could on YouTube. (If you want to know some cool science facts and theories about the universe please ask me as I now consider myself an expert.) I was watching a video called How Rick and Morty Caught the Zeitgeist when I was introduced to the fundamentals of Neo Modernism.

Screenshot of YouTube History

I’ve always been into cartoons and video games. But I’ve noticed the theme of Neo Modernism being adapted into both. I can’t really go into more details now as far as cartoons and video games go, (maybe I will write an entry on Neo Modernism in Video games in my gaming blog.), but if you’ve ever seen BoJack Horseman, Rick and Morty, Big Mouth, F is for Family and/or played Witcher 3, Horizon Zero Dawn, and God of War congrats you’ve been exposed to Neo Modernism.

Before we dive into Neo Modernism in graphic design, here’s a quick crash course on it’s two earlier predecessors. Neo Modernism takes aspects from both Modernism and Postmodernism. This is my very loose understanding of these ideas and feel free to add to, correct, educate me on it. Modernism occurred in the late 19th century to the early 20th century in Western Culture. The culture was changing and becoming industrialized. And with this came a feeling of hope and discovery for the future. There was a pretty positive outlook on life as mass production made life easier and technological advances made life new and exciting. Postmodernism is flipping the idea of Modernism upside down. People started to react to industrialization negatively. By things being mass-produced and industrialized people started to retort by exaggerating individuality and seeing the world sarcastically. During this time we see people “Raging against the Machine”, “Grunging out”, taking “Campbell Soup Cans” out of context, and having a relatively apathetic disposition.

Enters Neo Modernism, the love child of Modernism and Postmodernism. Neo Modernism takes the sarcasm and apathy from Postmodernism and hope and optimism from Modernism. Upon just reading that sentence it seems like Neo Modernism shouldn't work or exist since its contrasting ideas conflict with each other. But it does. It does very well in the cartoons in the video games I mentioned and it does in Graphic Design.

Back to Neo Modernism invading Graphic Design. It’s not so much of the ideals that are invading Graphic Design but more of the theme of conflicting principles. Adobe lists the first trend of 2019 as 3D design. From the theme of conflicting principles can you guess where I’m going to go with this? If you keep up with technology or even download games on your phone you have most likely been subjected to Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. Graphic Designers are starting to design in the third dimension. We have gone from designing something in a 2D space to designing something in our space that is tangible and interactive. This trend’s conflict is the battle between 2 and 3 dimensional design by trying to address the desire to touch and interact with what we design.

The second trend mentioned is minimal design with bold color. This is indicative of Neo Modernism. Usually minimalistic design is no color, very simple, clean and crisp. By throwing in that bold color we add in that conflicting element.

Realism and flat design is the third trend listed. I think this speaks for itself and can be related to that first theme. You’re taking two conflicting elements, something flat from a 2D plane,, and making it interact with something 3D. These two conflicting elements create something new and interesting. There’s an example Adobe uses of a colorful fish that’s seemingly interacting with some plain and flat text. There’s something about existing where you seemingly shouldn’t be able to that’s captivating. That is such a Rick and Morty statement.

Next is the Eclectic Trend. Something serious and planned out is mixed with something raw and handmade. Kind of like a high resolution photo that has all the seriousness of a glossy high end magazine spread that has been bombarded with fun and sarcastic doodles. We get that contrast of elements again. Complex and refined elements are conflicting with the free flowing and free hand.

Last but not least is Open Composition. There are no more frames or borders in the composition. The rigidity that existed before is gone and design flows beyond the page or screen into imaginary but existential space. This was the trend I was struggling to place within the Neo modernist theme. But when I think about it Open Composition conflicts with the space it’s bound to. It wants to move beyond this space and does. Just like the 3D design and the Realism with flat color trends, It strives to interact with us.

Neo modernism is definitely here. In design, in entertainment, and in our society.