Category Archives: 20th Century Design

The Arts & Crafts Movement (1850-1014) Bek Lin

The Arts & Crafts Movement (1850-1014)

The Arts and Crafts Movement occurred during the years 1850 – 1914 flourishing in England and the United States. It thrived during 1880-1910 and continued its influence up to 1930s.

 It was originated in England from the artist and writer William Morris and was inspired by the Art critic John Ruskin through his many writings.

The Movement also was a response from the Industrial Revolution (1760 to sometime between 1820 and 1840), the idea behind the Movement was believed to be that “the Industrial revolution had made man less creative as ‘his’ craft skills had been removed from the manufacturing process”.
Therefore resulting as one goal in which the Movement was created to return man back into the creative arts.

  • The Movement involved traditional artwork, such as textiles, typography and book printing (consisted of hand-crafted objects); it was also related with other design types such as architecture and interior design.
  • The use of different colours and detailed patterns was a very dominant element used during these times, especially towards decorative designs in which were inspired by medieval, romantic and folk style decorations.
  • It also enhanced craftsmanship among people and improved the standard of design especially after the Industrial Revolution and assisted in restructuring the economy.

During 1850-1914, there also were other historical design events such as Art Nouveau and the Vienna Secession.

The Arts and Crafts Movement also influenced movements that happened later on, such as the Bauhaus and Modernism: movements that related to the simplicity of design.

Characteristics for the different types of Arts and Crafts Movement include:

Product Design

Simple craft work

Affordable for the general public

Manufactured in small numbers





Hand Painted/Crafted


Art Nouveau – By Hadassah Wallis

Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau, or “new art” was a prominent design movement from 1880 to 1910. It directly followed the Arts and Crafts movement and subsequently was an outgrowth of both this and the Aesthetic movement.

Art Nouveau aimed to provide a style that was appropriate to evolving ways of life, yet was also able to embellish the everyday life.

A key characteristic of Art Nouveau is the use of abstract curves and shapes. The movement largely drew on nature for inspiration, and was quite decorative in style. It heavily drew upon fluid lines, asymmetrical composition and delicate shades of colour.  “Whiplash curves” featured heavily during this design period, which were inspired from botanical studies. The image of the female also began to appear and evolve during this movement. This imagery became a decorative and a commonly found theme in advertising, illustration, architecture and even fashion and jewellery. As well as drawing upon previously used concepts featured in the Arts and Crafts movement and the Aesthetic movement it also held similarities to Japanese art in its fluidity and the way it drew upon nature.

The Belgian journal L’Art Morderne was the first place to feature the newly termed movement in the 1880’s, describing the work of Les Vingt. Les Vingt was a group of artists consisting of 20 painters and sculptors that supported the unity of all the arts and sought to achieve this. Following this, in 1893, Victor Horta began to feature characteristics of this new movement in iron and casting in the homes of prominent people whom he worked for. Drawing upon this new style, Victor was able to create spaces in homes that would allow sufficient flow of both light and air. This use of abstract lines and curves by Victor Horta was seen as one of the major events in the development of Art Nouveau.

The designers responsible for the development of Art Nouveau as an emerging design style aimed to use their work as a metaphor, communicating the idea of freedom and release which they desired from artistic tradition and critical expectations. They also sought to bring unity in the art and design world, holding highly the idea of  Gesamtkunstwerk meaning “total work of art”. To achieve this total work of art they aimed to incorporate a variety of media in their works.

The Arts and Crafts movement, which was prominent in design prior to Art Nouvea was, only accessible to the wealthy due to its costly price, however in contrast to this Art Nouvea spread quickly throughout the whole of Europe. The great spread of the movement was assisted by the ability of this new style to work simultaneously with forms of design still present from the past. The movement was known by different names according to country being known as “Modernisme” in Catalonia, “Jugendstil” in Germany and “Liberty” in Italy.

It was not until 1906 that Art Nouveau began to decline in its appearances in design. By the time of the First World War, Art Nouveau was no longer present, yet its influence on the design world still lives on today. Art Nouvea continues to inspire many, ideas from Art Nouveau being drawn upon even for later movements such as Art Deco.

20th Century Design Movements

History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life and brings us tidings of antiquity.

(Cicero, Pro Publio Sestio)

20th Century Design

Just as artists through the ages have been influenced by earlier artists, past styles and the characteristics of past eras, designers and visual communicators can also look to design history for inspiration.We will look into significant eras in design history as well as particular design styles that can be used as inspiration for your own work.

Understanding aspects of the history of design also assists us when analysing the work of others both in a historical and contemporary context.

20th Century Design Movements | Timeline

1850-1914: Arts & Crafts Movement

1880-1910: Art Nouveau

1897-1905: Vienna Secession


1907-1935: Deutscher Werkbund

1909-1930: Futurism

1916-1923: Dada

1917-1935: Constructivism

1917-1931: De Stijl

1919-1933: Bauhaus

1920-1980: International Style

1920-1939: Art Deco

Post Modernism

1945-present: Contemporary

1958-1972: Pop

1965-present: Post Modern Design

1981-1988: Memphis

Social Contexts

In completing some of your Outcomes, you may be required to develop an understanding of the social context of the design era you are analysing or describing. Importantly, significant economic and political factors have had major influences on the designs produced.

Social Factors

Social changes can have a significant impact on all parts of the community. In many ways the messages and implications of social change can be seen in the visual communications produced in such times. One era that can easily demonstrate how social change can affect the designs of the time was the 1960s.

The 1960s were a decade of political and social upheaval in Australia. Young people challenged the traditional values of their parents’ generation and actively opposed the decisions of the government.

Women demanded equal rights and others called for racial equality and a new consideration for the environment. There were demonstrations against the Vietnam War, conscription and the atom bomb. Many of these protests were part of wider social movements taking place in other Western countries. Advances in communications technology meant that ideas from all over the world were now more accessible.

Towards the end of the decade, many adopted an alternative ‘hippie’ lifestyle. Among other elements, the hippie movement included a rebellious style of dress, a reverence for nature, Eastern spiritual philosophy and experimentation with drugs like marijuana and LSD.

Designers can also influence trends in society. Fashion trends, interior design and industrial design can influence and dictate what we might buy. If a style is successful the design style continues to evolve. In contemporary society, there appears to be an acceptance of imagery that promotes sustainability. The world has become far more environmentally aware and as a consequence this can affect the type of visual communication design produced.

Cultural Factors

Visual communicators must be aware of cultural sensitivities when designing their work. Many designs today, although transmitted worldwide through the internet, can be offensive or taboo in some countries, so a designer needs to carefully consider his/her audience. If a piece of visual communication is specifically designed for a cultural group in mind, then the designer will utilise images that will appeal to this group.

In developing an understanding of cultural influences it is useful to look at Australian society post war and how we have changed culturally and how this may have impacted on our visual communication designs.

One of the most significant changes to have taken place in Australian society at the end of

World War II was its drift towards American rather than British culture. As the American way of life was projected further into Australia via popular culture, it affected the way Australians spent their money, entertained, dressed and socialised. Eventually, British cultural legacies would give way to new American ideals. America emerged from World War II as the dominant global economic power and was well placed to export its cultural products to the world, including Australia.

At the same time, Australians in the 1960s were more affluent than ever before and communications and transport technology were advancing rapidly, enabling an easier transmission of American products and ideas into Australian society. American concepts like consumerism and material aspirations also fitted well with Australia’s suburban lifestyle. As migrants arrived in Australia over the decades, they introduced new stories, traditions and perspectives to Australian culture. Australia became far more multicultural. As Indigenous peoples were finally acknowledged as the original owners of the land, the role of Indigenous values in the construction of a true Australian identity had become apparent.

Economic and Political Influences

The beginning of the twentieth century was fraught with radical political, social, cultural and economic changes. It was a revolutionary time. It was a time of major scientific and technological advances. Life was being forever changed by the invention of the automobile, aeroplane, motion pictures, radio and weapons (tanks, machine guns, chemical and biological warfare). Art Deco was a reaction to the rigours of World War I and was an attempt to develop a more positive and contemporary society.

Indeed the subject matter of a lot of Art Deco posters were designed to celebrate society’s progress in technology. The world wars had a significant impact on graphic design. Poster design during

World War 1 was highly influenced by political views and national pride. Propaganda was used to spread a message to the audience, as the war was the main focus of society.

The poster design sample in Figure 3.29 demonstrates the designer’s attempt to influence the audience by draping a woman in a flag and using provocative language to send a message to the viewers. The period between the world wars saw a society in disarray and economies in ruin.


   Bauhaus design arose from these circumstances. Industrial design and the need for products meant advertising began to proliferate. During the world wars, however, the development of manufacturing was sometimes restricted so design changed to react to this. Note the inference in the example in Figure 3.30 where society was encouraged to save fuel, save manufacturing resources, and so on. After World War II, there was an economic boom and product development was prolific. Consequently, advertising of products was significant and gave rise to magazine advertising of all types of products.