Design Through the Decades: The Evolution of Graphic Design over the Last 50 Years… and Beyond

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Throughout human history, art has constantly changed in style, evolved in capability, and adapted based on what is going on in the world. From Picasso’s art influenced by World Wars and revolutions to new design styles that emerged with advanced technology, visual art has always been changing. And those changes can occur rapidly, even within a decade.

Inspired by this concept of constant change in graphic design (and our own recent redesign), 3Points design lead Jeffrey Rabin came up with a thought experiment: what would the 3Points logo look like in other recent decades? In this post, you can see Jeffrey’s interpretation of our 3Points logo through each of these decades, as well as the reasoning behind why certain elements and styles are associated with specific decades. So sit back and prepare for a nostalgic and visual joyride through the last five decades of graphic design… and beyond!

1970s

In the 1970s, a lot of design featured repetition, free-form fonts, and simple shapes. The use of overlapping/interconnecting shapes was a rising style in print design, and lava lamps (although invented in the ’60s) were just one of the many psychedelic trends to grow in popularity throughout the decade ( both in visual art and decor). Print design was becoming more and more popular, yet the technology to take complex designs and print them on various media was not there yet. This was in part the reason for the simplicity seen in a lot of the decade’s most famous work.

By embracing these characteristics, our ’70s rendition of the 3Points logo features a “lava lamp-like” font repeatedly placed over itself to form a 3D effect. On top of this, the design incorporates our three orbs, only now they are overlaid on one another to capture that retro ’70s vibe. The design also incorporates a Pantone green color scheme, reflecting the print capabilities from that era.

1980s

Whether you are talking about design, pop culture, or just about anything, the 1980s is often the decade that stands out the most from the rest, from an artistic perspective. Heavily influenced by futuristic and sci-fi pop culture, design in the ’80s displayed modern techniques (for the time), neon colors, and a lot of shiny chrome. There is even a whole sub-category of music and design inspired by the ’80s known as “synthwave” (which we took as inspiration for our 1980s logo).

Fully embracing the neon/synthwave style of the 1980s, this version of the 3Points logo shows the drastic change in design capabilities and style between the ’70s and ’80s. (And really, the ’80s logo is by far the most unique compared to even modern decades.) On top of a broader color scheme, the use of three-dimensional shapes and gradients shows just how much more a design could be in this futuristic style of graphic design. Furthermore, much like a lot of the “modern” design work of the ’80s, we were able to incorporate a fading grid along with one large, looming shape in the background.

1990s

Although technology was still rapidly evolving in the ’90s, graphic design itself saw a simplification in style and feel. There was a prominent rise in Memphis style, which practically fills everyone’s memories of the decade. Color combinations of fuschia, teal, and any warm color (yellow and orange mostly) became very trendy, dominating a lot of print design across the United States. While the ’80s featured a lot of sleek and shiny fonts, the ’90s saw a rise in blocky fonts with strokes and shadows. Because technology allowed for these kinds of designs to become high-quality prints, everyone took advantage of the new possibilities. Most importantly, although Adobe Photoshop was first developed in 1988, it was first released in 1990; the ability to digitally blend and illustrate elements, along with the ability to manipulate photos, not only created a whole new sector of graphic design, but also brought about the dawn of a new age of digital art and design.

Having been born in 1996, I still have vivid flashbacks to the color-filled brand imagery that used to surround me. While modeling this design upon pre-existing work, I strived to create something that I could imagine seeing over 20 years ago. Although it is an exaggerated take on common ’90s design practices, this rendition truly embodies the evolutionary and pattern-based style of design that ruled the decade. While this version sees the loss of our traditional green color palette in an effort to use popular colors of the decade, we brought back the three circles, which each embody different elements of the ’90s style in this design.

2000s

Although there were leaps and bounds of progress in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, those improvements do not compare to the expansion and revolution of graphic design in the 2000s. Print methods were relatively similar, and the technology, although improving, was never truly breaking the barrier of what was possible. That progression became exponential very, very quickly in the 2000s with the rapid improvement of technology. All of a sudden, people weren’t designing simply for print or digital media. Designers had to make sure their work looked good on something as large as a billboard and as small as a screen that fits in a pocket. New software allowed designers to easily create three-dimensional objects and manipulate typography like never before. On top of all this development, some of the most iconic designs in human history were created during this decade, including Shepard Fairey’s Obama Hope poster (which opened a whole other door into the legality of certain design practices, a rabbit hole that we won’t go down today) and Apple’s single-colored iPod ads. Whether it was the artists who were learning to use new tools or the new tools themselves that allowed the creation of new and exciting artwork, the possibilities of graphic design were expanding more and more by the day.

Here you can see the original 3Points Communications logo — 3Points was founded in early 2010, so this logo is more a reflection of the 2000s than the 2010s. [Also worth noting: unlike the preceding designs, which were created for this exercise, this was our actual logo, which means it is less exaggerated to reflect its decade.] Much like some of the most popular new logos of the 2000s (AT&T, Wikipedia, and Microsoft, to name a few), it features three-dimensional shapes, which were then a must-have for a brand hoping to keep up with the times. Although most brands chose to use either the effect of a gradient or a drop shadow to achieve a 3D feel, both are used here. On top of this, we can now see 3Points sporting a sleek and thin font. Thick fonts were very popular in the ’90s; however, the look considered modern in the 2000s was sleek and minimalistic.

2010s

After an explosion, there is always a shockwave that comes after. The 2010s can be described as the shockwave of the explosion in technology. With capabilities that vastly outdo anything previously seen, modern graphic design practices involve a lot of creative photo manipulation and three-dimensional effects. A vast majority of design work now caters to digital media instead of print, as the use of animation in design work has emerged as a trend (the two practices are becoming more and more associated with one another). This is interesting because the “art” world of graphic design is becoming increasingly complex, while the business side of design is becoming more simplified. Some major brands such as Uber, Dunkin’, and American Express have seen their logos simplified in both color scheme and visual appearance. There is now a large contrast between “graphic art” and “graphic design”; the most popular artists, such as Bosslogic, Cole, and Photified, are putting out visually captivating work, while brands are simplifying their look and communications agencies are sticking with the minimalist yet modern feel.

Our current logo (especially looking at its jump from the 2000s predecessor) is exemplary of the clean look that is featured in graphic design today. The 3D effect of the orbs looks much more modern, deviating from a drop shadow and white/color gradient, and instead using various shades of green to give it a three-dimensional feel (almost as if remastering the previous look). The typography has a much more rounded and modern look, unlike the prior elongated and compact font. Although this logo was created near the end of this decade, it clearly shows the jump in simplicity and quality from the decade prior. On top of that, losing the drop shadow allows for much easier use and application, as there is no longer a worry about how the logo will show up on print or digital media.

2020s (the future)

As design has continually evolved over the decades, it would be foolish to say it will be the same over the next ten years. While it is impossible to say with any certainty where design will go in the 2020s, here are a few aspects that I predict will be important:

  • Mobile Workability: Although Adobe Creative Cloud can be used on mobile devices currently, I believe we will see massive improvements in the program’s usability on mobile devices, to the point where it is just as easy to work on an iPad as it is on an iMac.
  • Merging with Animation: A lot of people who have design degrees may know basic animation, but it is usually not their forte. With the two arts becoming slowly blended together (on almost EVERY design job application, there is a line that says “experience with After Effects is a plus”) it is safe to say that companies will be looking for “all-in-one” designers in the near future.
  • More Expensive Software: It pains me to say this, but Adobe’s cloud-based subscription service has only gone up in price since its introduction, and I don’t see that trend going away (much like the price of other high-demand tech commodities, such as phones and streaming services). While Adobe offers very good discounts to students and teachers, the freelance designer will see more and more of their earnings going back toward paying for the very tools that they use to make money.
  • More Freelance, Less Full-Time: While almost every industry has demand for a designer, the longevity of that demand varies. A company may need a logo, a dog-walker may need a website, or a gym may need new business cards, but what comes after that? Outside the communication industry (which has a daily demand for all sorts of materials, whether internal or client-based), I see design evolving into more of a project-by-project profession for a lot of professionals.

In terms of this logo, there is not much I can elaborate on, as there is no work to compare it to! However, I do feel that the “art of the logo” may change. Most business logos are created in Adobe Illustrator as “vector files” or 2D shapes, so they can easily be redistributed and used on various sorts of media. I think more emerging businesses will experiment with flashier, art-based logos that will stray from this path, opting for as much flair and uniqueness as possible, while sacrificing ease of reproduction and simplicity. Some possibilities could include animated logos (only displayed digitally) or logos that emphasize three-dimensional elements.

By now, it is probably obvious that the only thing that is constant in graphic design is change itself. With improving technology, new demands, and emerging styles, the art of graphic design is always evolving. While the demand for graphic designers has increased over time, these changes mean that they must stay on their toes and become as versatile as possible. Although this can be quite challenging, it is pretty amazing to see how far graphic design has come over the last 50 years. I hope you enjoyed this look back through recent design history and our hypothetical logos. If you have any questions regarding graphic design or its history, please let us know!

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PR & Communications for Fintech & Chicago Tech. www.3ptscomm.com

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