What are we calling this trend in layout design?

doubledaggers's picture

Been seeing this around a lot for the last little bit, and while everyone I talk to recognizes the trend, no one I've spoken to has any idea what to call it, and therefore searching for examples has been difficult. I'm hoping to get some guidance if there is actually a name for it — I'm not looking for snarky barbs in terms of appraisal of this trend.

I've attached some images, but overall I'd describe it as being a design approach with priority on type, characterized by unconventional grids, typically monochromatic or duotoned color selection, minimal use of photos/illustrations, frequent use of minimal geometric graphics, and frequently executed with fonts by The Entente, but also with Futura, Times. Ideologically it seems to be taking a naïve posture — and while there is a superficial lo-fi-ness to it, it's still pretty systematized/polished.

Thanks!

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Frode Bo Helland's picture

Some call it anti-design. Trendlist.org had a nice overview, but it appears they forgot to pay their bills.

doubledaggers's picture

Thanks Frode — digging a little deeper it looks like they've assigned the term "Exposed Content" to this trend, which is definitely yielding some helpful returns on a search. Anybody else know of alternate names?

5star's picture

LOL ...I was just going to refer that site, and they created a layout generator too.

A lot of the trendier layouts come from text-on-a-path and then instead of column grid layouts as in your 2nd example, these paths are then overlayed or isolated as typographic shapes themselves.

n.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

The style itself is not called “exposed content” — that is just one of the signatures of the style. Too bad trendlist is down. It named all the various methods/effects: exposed content, gradients, IK blue, left right up down, slash, diamond, scanned etc, but not the type.

Trends are nothing new. This is just the design equivalent of wearing glasses with a 20/20 vision.

PublishingMojo's picture

This is my first exposure to this style per se. My first reaction is that it embodies many of the principles of Bauhaus/Swiss/modernist design:

* Typography as the principal visual element
* Preference for simple sans-serif types, minimal use of large type sizes, and use of a single font throughout.
* Grid as the definer of the space.
* White (or flat color) space as an important compositional element.
* Avoidance of decorative elements other than simple geometric shapes.
* Emphasizing the two-dimensionality of the page space.

I see some influence of the backlash against modernism that cropped up in the 1980s (a style I used to call sub-modernism):

* Offbeat use of color.
* Non-traditional use of letterspacing.
* Intentional violations of the grid.

Your examples are different from mid-20th-Century modernism in that they have more sense of style, and even a hint of playfulness.

The modernist aesthetic was partly a matter of acknowledging, and even celebrating, the industrial processes that produced office buildings and books. Type on a grid with little color or decoration was optimal for letterpress printing. The examples here are riffing on that look, but they also have some fun with the freedom that digital production gives them to superimpose type on photos, etc.

If I had to name it, I'd pick something like Digital Modernism. Or maybe I'd refer to the Bauhaus influence, and call it Adobe-haus.

5star's picture

I think the stuff on trend list is just the thin edge of the knife. There's new era coming to typography. And it roots can traced back to early 20th century.

The rigid grid will always be the other option.

But a hybrid of the two will be common place in less then 5 years.

n.

5star's picture

And too see how rapidly things are changing as far as Digital Modernism is concerned check out this tumblr...

http://victoriawarnken.tumblr.com/

...and here's another,

http://imparcollective.tumblr.com/

etc..

n.

hrant's picture

What's worse: being dumb, or acting dumb?

hhp

5star's picture

Awesome ... a rhetorical question.

...sigh.

n.

hrant's picture

I wasn't referring to you.

And actually I think it's OK if people have different answers. It's just that the way they answer it reveals something about their nature (which is what makes for a good question).

hhp

5star's picture

Coolio, I'll drink to that.

Fact remains it's still a rhetorical question.

n.

hrant's picture

To me a rhetorical question is not a question, it's a rhetorical device intended to make a statement. I was not making a statement.

hhp

JamesM's picture

Several of those examples remind me of things design students do when they're deliberately being unconventional and pushing the boundaries. The result isn't always "good design" in the conventional sense (for example the one with text overlaying a rather busy photo background), but it would be a boring world if everyone followed the same design rules.

> the freedom that digital production gives
> them to superimpose type on photos, etc.

Yep. Years ago I was in a large print shop when a job came in with type overlaying photos and color blocks in complex ways, and I overheard an employee say "this job is a stripper's nightmare!" ("Stripper" being the guy who prepared the printing films.) And maybe it was with the technology back then. But these days with digital production, those things are much easier.

doubledaggers's picture

@Victor To your point about the sense of playfulness, I've been referring to it in my head as "deadpan design" as it seems to have similar DNA to what Wes Anderson has done in his films' type treatments: there's a straight-faced reference to this sort of vintage avant garde/high brow treatment, but it's done with a wink.

@Neil That's partly why I finally wanted to get this sorted out — this trend (or trends with similar hallmarks) keep cropping up, and I think it's becoming more of a movement than just a treatment. I feel like it's wrapped up in this zeitgeist of transparency and sincerity: they're "designing down" or at least using a short-hand for a naïve design approach to communicate honesty/earnestness/every-man-ness. It seems like there's the business as usual reaction against polished establishment & corporate design, but I think what's interesting to me is that there's almost an element of a reaction against irony, as well.

@hrant I suppose the answer to that largely depends on what your goals are ;)

hrant's picture

When something is boring, maybe the person making it is boring. Most people are boring, and often they get piercings and stuff to cover up that reality. Following rules doesn't have to be boring; the rules can be interestingly complex. It's just that most people don't like thinking too hard.

hhp

Frode Bo Helland's picture

It would be a boring world if everyone followed the same design rules.

True, as the anti-design style testifies.

5star's picture

I think it's becoming more of a movement than just a treatment.

I do too. And what is even better is that it has gained traction on all levels of society including gallery pieces.

I feel like it's wrapped up in this zeitgeist of transparency and sincerity: they're "designing down" or at least using a short-hand for a naïve design approach to communicate honesty/earnestness/every-man-ness.

I don't know about that, but it's in interesting take on it. For me it just comes with the proliferation of design software.

It seems like there's the business as usual reaction against polished establishment & corporate design, but I think what's interesting to me is that there's almost an element of a reaction against irony, as well.

I remember this graphic style gaining attention during the first Cut & Paste comp. Competitions like that were a breading ground for graphic layout of quick fun in quick time. And as things evolved a fresh design software graphic signature/style began to emerge ...seen in band fliers and on underground zines etc..

What I find refreshing is a Mix Don't Match approach to communicating a visual message, that and the fresh approach dealing with the surface of the page itself. The good stuff has completely shrugged off the shackles of page boarder slavery ... and instead has layouts which deal in visual depth (ranging richness to thinness) without the use of traditional point perspective(s). But unfortunately the bad stuff is seen around more often partly because it is readily understood/copied I guess.

But the overall rule is the same for all eras of graphic design ... that being one of a hierarchy of visual communication. So in that regard, the song remains the same.

n.

hrant's picture

And what is even better is that it has gained traction on all levels of society including gallery pieces.

Yeah, like Ebola.

Check out this "masterpiece":
http://www.flickr.com/photos/albert-jan_pool/8038443339/

Being intelligent is becoming less and less cool.

hhp

5star's picture

I seen that before ...and I like it because it's nasty.

Being intelligent is becoming less and less cool.

Care to elaborate on that one?

n.

hrant's picture

So the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam is supposed to project an image of nasty?

These days being dumb and/or acting dumb makes people like you; because we tell people they're god's gift to society, so it doesn't make sense for them to feel inferior to others.

hhp

5star's picture

Nasty...

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=nasty

2nd and 3rd definition ... you know something like gnarly. To put it in Cali speak :)

I disagree tho about this Digital Moderism style of graphic communication as being one of god's gift to society. It is just as effective as your dusty graphic traditions.

In fact, more so because it has captured the attention of a whole new generation! It is completely in sync with youthful modern society ...cool and uncool alike!

n.

aluminum's picture

I'm not sure I see a consistent style in all of those examples. Some of the more awkward examples remind me of David Carson era work. Basically eschewing the grid completely and working more organically with placing elements on the page. Ignoring the rules.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

I happen to think the Stedelijk identity is great, but that’s just me. As with any effect, it works well when used apropriately, but looses its power when overused.

I don’t think “digital modernism” (or whatever) is a movement. The cool kids have already moved on.

Karl Stange's picture

The term digital modernism makes me think of the digital hardcore music scene. As a movement it had its place in the 90s and while it is something I am personally a fan of it does not really define everything the movement was about, that has stemmed from it and it is (arguably) not really a thing in its own right today. Whatever this is, it has its roots in a variety of movements from the last 100 years and seems more like a minor trend, revival or neo-movement within a variety of analogous areas of graphic design, music, fashion and art.

oldnick's picture

I have to agree with Darrell: I do not see a trend, but rather a pastiche of pastiches. In several of the examples, you have pure Dadaism in design, without the intellectual content…which means I also have to agree with Hrant’s observation that being intelligent is becoming less and less cool.

John Hudson's picture

Can I call it boring? Mind you, I call most design trends boring; indeed, design is a pretty boring subject. Sure, this is a subjective response, but I'm regularly amazed by people who find graphic design an interesting subject, especially when it has devolved to the level of fashion.

oldnick's picture

John,
Trends in general—and following trends in particular—are basically simply an abdication of individual responsibility. I have grown beyond weary with the many “Trending Now” sidebars which are showing up on more and more websites. It appears that, besides being intelligent, thinking for one’s self is also becoming less and less cool…

Karl Stange's picture

Can I call it boring?

You can call it whatever you want, just don't complain if someone takes that as the basis for a new movement : )

doubledaggers's picture

Gosh, I thought used pretty plain language when I wrote: "I'm hoping to get some guidance if there is actually a name for it — I'm not looking for snarky barbs in terms of appraisal of this trend." But thanks anyway for the kids these days handwringing and the snobbery.

As far as not "seeing the trend" — If you mean that from the examples given here, in this post, you don't see a consistent application of the exact same principles from piece to piece, fine, that's valid. But as I mentioned, not knowing what to call something makes it difficult to search for, and also to aggregate examples — so I'm left with what I've happened to bookmark that I recognize as being part of a larger trend.

If on the other hand, you mean that you are not seeing this trend in the wild, or more broadly, that you are simply not familiar with it, that is less a dismissal of the trend and more a dismissal from a meaningful place in this conversation, where I am explicitly looking for input from people who are familiar with it.

-----------------------------------

Back to the conversation at hand — and I'm definitely getting to a "why bother" place here, but just in case anyone was actually interested — I finally got my hands on Computer Arts' Typography Collection last night, and they've got some interesting notes on these microtrends in their trend report from FranklinTill. I thought I'd share some excerpts here from their appraisals, here:

Microtrend: House of Fun
"Bold statements have been given a witty, light-hearted twist... bad taste is being celebrated by designers who utilise free fonts, clip art and Letraset transfers."

"Design collective Zweizehn's... tongue in cheek approach gently mocks the showy celebrity world, whilst still trying to be a part of it. 'Trashy' renderings and comic typography push the posters in a fun direction so they stand out from more obvious party flyers."

Microtrend: Soft Modernity
"[Last year] We tracked a theme through many of the design sectors the explored notions of simplicity and clarity. In a bid to stand out amidst the visual noise that surrounds us on a daily basis, an increasingly sober approach is being applied.... We have seen a return to minimalism... utilising unfettered sans-serif fonts and limited colour palettes. Over the last year, this minimalist and monochrome direction has softened to become slightly less sober and more feminine, whilst still retaining a bold and clean aesthetic. Fonts such as Aperçu... have gained much pupularity... Klim Type Foundry's Calibre has also been widely adopted."

"Using sans-serif typefaces in modular graphic grids, together with solid pastel tones create a new form of modernity"

Microtrend: Gothic Revival
"Elsewhere, designers continue to update historical forms to make them feel newer and fresher. Lydian MT, the traditional gothic font designed by Warren Chappell in 1938, is a source of inspriation for many designers." Erik Johsson's font based t-shirt for the Violent Elegance series uses lydian bold, framed within a geometric grid.

Macrotrend: The Real Thing
After these reports on these microtrends, they segue into a macrotrend they're calling The Real Thing, which they characterize as being defined by: Tradition Revived, The Magic of Making, Linking Past to Present, and Traditions Reborn. Here are some salient points,

"We have seen not only a return to traditional visual design references, but also the celebration of the craftspeople and producers themselves."

"...We explored how transparency in the production process was being used to communicate to consumers how products are made. The consumer's desire to learn how things are made shows no sign of waning, whilst also being a tool for brands to communicate the rich stories behind their products."

"Preservation of our cultural typographic surroundings is a major factor for those wanting to connect us to our past as well as future, but also to connect a community to its history."

"Traditional typography techniques are seeing a revival. Methods such as letterpressing are being combined with modern aesthetic interpretations. Das Mainzer Grotesk Experiment by design collective Zweizehn celebrated the experimental use of the letterpress rather than simply focusing on its retro charm. Zweizehn created and cast its own letterpress type and invited up-an-coming typographers Marcel Häusler, Alexander Lis, Daniel Weberruß and Malte Weinmann to create posters in response to the question 'More than Retro?'"

I think it's interesting to frame these layout patterns as a part of this "Real Thing" trend, and I definitely think there's a confirmation in what's been previously mentioned in this thread around the ideas of levity, reaction against corporate mass-production and its attendant polished styles, and a pivot on classic design clichés. Here's some more examples from groups that they call out in the collection:


See also:
www.aronfilkey.com
www.les-graphiquants.fr
blog.zweizehn.com/
Das Mainzer Grotesk Experiment
Davis Ngarupe
KUNG
YACHT

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Jory: I most certainly observe the trend. It is widely employed in the Oslo graphic scene, but it’s getting old quickly. In my opinion a “movement” implies some sort of deeper reasoning, and that I don’t see here.

jbenjamin's picture

I find this discussion extremely interesting. I feel like graphic design as a function in society is becoming more and more recognized (departing the »Oh, thats actually a job?«-sphere). Living and working in Berlin, it's ubiquitous — both this ›anti-design‹ and the awareness. I like the pastiches within pastiches, because I like the inherent post-modern idea to take existing codes and rearranging/intertwining them. It can be very exciting, and there can be great results from people approaching a design with less inhibition concerning rules and proper usage. I kind of see it as graphic designs’ equivalent to Jaimie Warrens’ photography in a way if that makes sense...

As a job, graphic design is a craft to me. Me and some colleagues refer to this style as ›hortig‹, meaning HORT, a Berlin-based agency that constantly rides the edge of ugliness and genius or just pleasing. And I have done that myself I guess. But this ›anti-design‹ can also be nothing more than just a quick fix. If applied properly though, with context and function or the deliberate disregard for both, I would definitely consider it a style that is itself composed of anachronistic elements. Movement might be a bit much though.

Anyways, my two cents. Exciting.

doubledaggers's picture

Frode: I agree that these microtrends have a brief half-life, and I don't see these small patterns as underpinning a movement per se. I think the emotional response they seem to born out of, however, is building into something of a movement. It's a nice exercise to attempt to identify a movement in its infancy, but you are absolutely right: we can only really look at it in hindsight, so time will tell.

All I was trying to do here is figure out some nomenclature so I could track down more examples of it. I'm trying to give my layout students a better look at trends in type and the design world as they happen, and train them to look for these trends, and get at deeper cause as to why a trend gains traction and usage.

doubledaggers's picture

Jesse: Oh man, HORT! Their collateral for Modular's Neverland was bonkers!

hrant's picture

Jory, it's not useful to try to limit the ways in which different people will react to a question. People you disagree with can be your best teachers. Also, you don't have to like something to think it's worthy of analysis; I myself dislike all the "anti-design" examples I've ever seen* (even though I dislike Modernism as well) but I try to pay attention because that's a designer's responsibility. However I think it's good to remind people that just because something is trendy doesn't mean it's Good or that it will have deep cultural impact.

* Especially type that acts technically stupid - it's insincere.

That said, I think your quest to grasp the terminological "common currency" is very worthwhile, and I hope you share your findings here.

hhp

jbenjamin's picture

Haha, I just saw it. Well, ›hortig‹ is not exclusively positive, to be sure. Nice collection up there, hard to say if this debate is gonna go much further or be conclusive at all. But good to know it exists.

My prediction: This ›anti-design‹ will stick around for quite a while, even if frontrunners are moving on; and the point is widely stressed that design doesn't have to be punk or folk (just look at a few decent current bands) but can put a lot of notes into one arrangement.

doubledaggers's picture

Hrant: Please don't get me wrong. I love a good back and forth in a discussion, and I am thrilled to interact with people who are fundamentally at odds with me in terms of taste, preference, and style. You are absolutely right: these people are often your best teachers.

But when your first response to a specific question in a forum is "What's worse acting dumb or being dumb?" it amounts to little more than interrupting and pulling focus. Where exactly is the conversation supposed to go after that?

So yes, let's have a discussion about what defines this trend, let's identify what qualities these pieces share, let's talk about what is at the core of the movement (which, hey, maybe "acting dumb" is a quality at its core) — but let's not derail things right off the bat with flippant remarks about ebola, whether being intelligent is cool, or what have you.

Am I crazy here?

If this was a real life discussion, and I'd laid out a bunch of work from various people, and said "I'm trying to classify these pieces, is there a name out there for this style and I just don't know it? Or is this something new? These are what I could find, but these are some qualities I'm talking about..." and you strolled over after the discussion had begun with an arch "What's worse acting dumb or being dumb?" How exactly do you think that would be received?

Is or is it not a dick move to sit through this conversation of your own free will and then interject "This is boring! I'm amazed you people actually care about this!"

Is or is it not a dick move to walk into a room where people are talking about trends and drop an icy "I think all people who follow trends are abdicating their individual responsibility and refuse to think for themselves"?

Are these the actions of people trying to have a conversation, or trying to put the brakes on the conversation? Do the rest of us get to just jump back in to what we were talking about, or do we have to actually stop and address and acknowledge what in any other situation would be patently rude behavior?

hrant's picture

Where exactly is the conversation supposed to go after that?

Anywhere anybody wants to take it. Nobody is obliged to react to anybody else, certainly not in a way they want you to...

But I apologize if I was dismissive. It might be because -unlike you- most people who are fans of this style are not interested in thinking/communicating, but simply doing. Which to me is boring. In fact the last thing I want to do is prevent discussion.

hhp

eliason's picture

Eike König of Hort will be speaking at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis on Tuesday as part of their Insights lecture series. It will be webcast live.

5star's picture

To label this graphic design evolution as anti-design can't be fully justified.

I thought the old fogies learnt how ridiculous it is to try to stop evolution! Even after they burnt all their Beatles LPs ...and their Elvis LPs too ... LOOL!!!!!

n.

aluminum's picture

"Am I crazy here?"

No. But maybe a bit naive. This is the internet. It's full of snark. Roll with it. ;)

etahchen's picture

lol

etahchen's picture

i feel like the happiest people are the 'dumb' ones. thinking is just really stressful.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

The term ‘anti-design’ is not necessarily dismissive. It just describes the breaking of established rules and norms. In the context of type, anti-design could for example be to omit optical adjustments in search of a naïve style. (Berton Hasebe, Platform; Aurèle Sack, LL Brown; The Entente, Aperçu) What I’m missing from the discussion is this: When does anti-design become just poor design?

jbenjamin's picture

Frode: That is exactly how I meant it. I don't think ›anti-design‹ is necessarily dismissive, just as anti-establishment isn't.

And personally I think the application of these styles are poor when implemented without context or cause. It can be quite a quick fix, create a duplex-image and a 4-by-6-grid using Century Gothic with 120%-glyph-height and there you go. If the content of the design on the other hand transcends historical/political/etc classifications, ›anti-design‹ can be a fine choice — but regarding work ethic, I think it has to be a deliberate choice (even when playful – at least in hindsight) or it's just insulting pretty much.

PublishingMojo's picture

All design, from corporate branding to my barber's hand-lettered sign that says "No Waiting," has the purpose of adapting a client's (or author's) message to a medium and an audience.

What we might call anti-design is mostly just getting attention by subverting the audience's expectations--or more likely, reassuring an audience that they're the cool kids because they're in on the subversive joke.

Poor design promotes the designer's message--or lack of one--at the expense of the client and the audience. Poor design drives the audience away, e.g., by lack of legibility or insensitivity to cultural symbols. Poor design sends the wrong message about the client, e.g., by rebranding a prestigious state university as a beach-bum party school.

JamesM's picture

> All I was trying to do here is figure out some
> nomenclature so I could track down more examples of it

Keep in mind that newer trends may not have agreed-upon names. I've seen this in articles about logo trends, for example, where various magazines and blogs use different names for the same trend.

John Hudson's picture

Karl: You can call it whatever you want, just don't complain if someone takes that as the basis for a new movement : )

Now you're talking! I look forward to observing the progress of the International Ennui Movement in art and design.

JamesM's picture

> from corporate branding to my barber's hand-lettered sign

One of my design professors used to use this example. Imagine 2 signs. One says "First National Bank" and is made of steel and marble. The other one is outside a farmhouse and says "Fresh Eggs" and is made from a piece of cardboard. It's hard to image 2 signs that are more different, but each is appropriate for its purpose and setting.

> What we might call anti-design is mostly just getting
> attention by subverting the audience's expectations

Yes, I think that's a big factor. And even though it might be harder to read in some cases, readability isn't the only factor in design. They are trying to appeal to their target audience.

hrant's picture

Victor, James, that all certainly makes great sense. What bothers [people like] me though is the celebration of incompetence.

hhp

oldnick's picture

Well, Hrant, thanks to the democratization of design via desktop publishing, incompetence will—increasingly and unavoidably—always be with us…

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