Design and Designers

Published on .

Reprints Reprints

One of the first art and design influences on advertising was the Arts & Crafts movement, started by William Morris in the U.K. In the 1880s, as a reaction against the uniformity of mass production, Mr. Morris advocated a return to high-quality craftsmanship. He emphasized plain, solid, handcrafted work in all areas of design.

Another design movement, Art Nouveau, developed alongside Arts & Crafts. Originating in France, Art Nouveau protested against realism and industrialization, featuring an ornamental style that is characterized by natural forms; dark, graceful, organic lines; silhouetted figures; fanciful backgrounds; and flattened, repeated elements. The rise of Art Nouveau occurred at the same time as the first illustrated ads, woodblock prints that appeared in Harper's Weekly and Leslie's Illustrated in the 1890s. Both the colorful, illustrated ads and posters, central to the Art Nouveau movement, were made possible by advances in lithography.

Chief among Art Nouveau poster designers were Jules Cheret, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Theophile-Alexendre Steinlen, Aubrey Beardsley and Alphonse Mucha. Among the artists who created early magazine ad images were Edward Penfield, Jessie Willcox Smith, Maxfield Parrish, J.C. Leyendecker, Will Bradley, Ethel Read, Louis Rhead and Frederic Remington.

Many ad illustrators in the late 1800s portrayed women in individualized styles, making them instantly recognizable as creations of a particular artist. One well-known example was illustrator Charles Dana Gibson's series of Gibson Girls.

The birth of graphic design

Advances in printing technologies and the simultaneous increase in advertising during the second half of the 19th century led to the birth of graphic design as a profession. The relationship between advertising art and text became strong at the turn of the 20th century, led by the efforts of Earnest Elmo Calkins at Calkins & Holden.

Mr. Calkins believed advertising was more appealing when the graphics related to the copy. Most of his ads followed a simple, stylized Arts & Crafts format. Some of Mr. Calkins' more notable campaigns included the Arrow Collar Man (illustrated by J.C. Leyendecker), Wesson oil, Sherwin-Williams paint and Pierce-Arrow automobiles.

World War I brought war-related imagery into advertising, both as part of government recruitment efforts and as a way for companies to display their patriotism. The U.S. government's Division of Pictorial Publicity, part of the Committee on Public Information, produced more than 700 poster designs in support of the war and was led by Charles Dana Gibson.

One of the most famous advertising posters of this era was James Montgomery Flagg's "I Want You" recruiting poster for the U.S. Army. Many popular illustrators also continued to create advertising images for consumer products during the war, including N.C. Wyeth, who worked with Cream of Wheat and Coca-Cola, and Norman Rockwell, who contributed ad images for Coke, Black Cat hosiery, Mennen shaving cream and Perfection oil filters.

Art Deco

The Art Deco movement arose in the mid-1920s, profoundly changing the way ads were designed. Art Deco ads were known for their heavy ornamentation as well as for featuring images from antiquity, and they normally did not focus on the product. The designs were highly stylized and geometric, featuring repeated patterns, smooth, parallel lines, sans serif typefaces and an asymmetrical layout.

While the Art Deco style prevailed in Europe and the U.S. during much of the period between World Wars I and II, the stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression made it seem less attractive. The opulence that characterized Art Deco was antithetical to the concerns of the American public during the economic downturn. In fact, advertisers began to avoid using art, illustration and color, and ad design reflected the more simplified Art Moderne style, which remained prevalent through 1939.

Depression trends in advertising

Helen Lansdowne Resor of J. Walter Thompson Co. was a particularly influential designer during the 1930s. She created advertising that emulated the editorial look of magazines and drew readers in with ads that resembled editorial content. Copy was aired with paintings that appealed to the magazines' readership. One of her most famous campaigns was for Woodbury's facial soap.

The 1930s witnessed the rise of polling as a factor behind the creation of ad campaigns. Polls by organizations such as Gallup found readers preferred white space in their ads, so text-heavy layouts were replaced with airier versions. Readers, according to Gallup, also liked italic and boldface type, subheads to help them follow the copy, rectangular pictures and photographs that were uncropped.

Another design trend in this decade was the resurgence of photographs in ads. One leading supporter of this movement was the J. Stirling Getchell agency, which assembled a library of photos it made available to its clients. It hired highly regarded photographers such as Margaret Bourke-White, whose work promoted DeSoto automobiles.

While photographs were in favor for magazine and newspaper advertising, the popularity of paintings was on the rise when it came to advertising posters. In 1933, the government's Public Works of Art Project commissioned painters to design posters, many of which had an industrial, streamlined look. These designs helped support the perception that the economy, by 1936, had returned to strength after the long Depression.

One of the companies that significantly influenced advertising design in the 1930s was the Container Corp. of America, which embraced fine artists in its advertising, leading other advertisers to do the same. One of the key designers behind CCA's effort was Charles Coiner, who joined N.W. Ayer & Son in 1924.

Ayer's work with CCA began in 1936, around the time advertisers began to look to artists, especially from the European avant-garde, to make their advertising and package design appear "modern."

One innovation of CCA's ad campaign was its concentration on image rather than product. The campaign, known as the Great Ideas series, linked the CCA name with ideas and institutions of Western culture by commissioning well-known modern artists to abstractly illustrate phrases and quotes. Many critics still consider the campaign, which ran through 1960, as unique in the history of ad design.

Modern art continued to influence advertising throughout the 1930s and '40s. Influential designers in the 1930s included Herbert Bayer, a Bauhaus student who made his mark in typography, including for CCA; Lester Beall, designer of posters for the Rural Electrification Administration and of packaging, advertising and corporate identities for International Paper and Martin Marietta; and Paul Rand, who designed campaigns for Coronet brandy, Dubonnet aperitif, El Producto cigars and Ohrbach's department store.

The New Bauhaus movement was founded in 1937 in Chicago and headed by Hungarian artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. It influenced ad design throughout the '40s, which became known as the "streamlined decade." Streamlined products from trains to teapots appeared on the scene, and the same themes and design elements were included in advertising as well.

The end of World War II witnessed a period of great creativity in the graphic arts, and designers looked for new ideas rather than using traditional means to solve design problems. It also marked the rise of American-born graphic designers, who started to achieve recognition at home and abroad.

Among those designers were Saul Bass, who created corporate identity programs and advertising for AT&T, Exxon, Quaker Oats and Warner Communications; Lou Dorfsman, the art and creative director at CBS TV, who specialized in on-air graphics; Gene Federico of Grey Advertising, who did work for advertisers and publications such as Woman's Day and The Saturday Evening Post; and Bob Gage, who worked with copywriter William Bernbach on campaigns for clients such as Ohrbach's.

TV and postwar consumerism

In the 1950s, TV created a new style of ad design simply because of its technical requirements. The visual look was considered as important as, if not more than, the text. The advent of TV also allowed a new type of advertising, the demonstration spot.

Older European art styles, such as Coca-Cola's impressionistic ads by McCann-Erickson, were appropriated to suggest urbanity and good taste. When they were not in aprons and frocks, women were dressed in long, thin sheaths to conform to the clean, uncluttered graphic landscapes in print ads.

One key designer in the 1950s was William Golden, among the first graphic designers to be recognized for his work in TV. He is best known for creating the CBS eye logo in 1951. Mr. Golden was succeeded in 1959 by his protege, Lou Dorfsman, who created a total design scheme for CBS built around its new corporate headquarters and extended to everything from advertising to ashtrays in the building.

Photography played a central role in the 1960s. Bold photographs&emdash;such as Irving Penn's close-ups of Jell-O&emdash;with little copy were central to many of the most high-profile campaigns.

The "creative revolution"

In the 1960, three agencies are credited with launching what was termed the "creative revolution": Leo Burnett Co., Ogilvy & Mather and Doyle Dane Bernbach. After what many considered a creative lull in the 1950s, Burnett zeroed in on the product rather than relying on image or trendy creative devices in its ads.

DDB and its chief, William Bernbach, advocated an integrated, symbiotic relationship between art and copy. Ads from DDB&emdash;its Ohrbach's and El Al campaigns being primary examples&emdash;were created through a back-and-forth process between art director and copywriter.

David Ogilvy was a proponent of image advertising with a strong selling message. He specialized in high-price, status-symbol products such as Rolls-Royce and developed a consistent formula of using an attractive picture, a long headline and straight-talking copy. The debonair eye patch-wearing "Hathaway Man," symbol of Hathaway shirts, was among his best-known campaigns.

The social activism and upheaval of the '60s affected trends in advertising design. The youth and drug cultures of the decade gave rise to the neo-Art Nouveau style of Peter Max, as well as the intertwined styles of Pop, Op, Camp, Psychedelic and Funky art. While these movements did not necessarily appeal to mainstream consumers, they made some appearances in mainstream advertising, especially for products geared toward young people, such as posters, magazines and records. Those styles were particularly evident in the poster craze of the late 1960s and early '70s.

Although there were few rules or consistent trends in the 1960s, the eclectic design that emerged was characterized by wit and humor, flat outlines, bright colors, controlled yet personal images and often-humorous juxtapositions. That style was pioneered by organizations such as Push Pin Studios, which had been founded by Milton Glaser, Seymour Chwast, Reynold Ruffins and Edward Sorel in 1954.

In the 1970s, the design of a product became of paramount importance, and marketing campaigns focused on design as a reason to purchase. One of the leading advertising art directors of the 1970s was George Lois, known for his irreverent, outrageous style.

The 1980s avant-garde art movement, led by designers from the Netherlands, also affected advertising design. Art directors tried to emulate the movement's focus on personal statements, its placement of photography in a central role, the incorporation of layers of imagery and the use of a broad mix of media. Some American proponents of this postmodern design style, sometimes referred to as New Wave, were April Greiman, Dan Friedman and Willi Kunz.

Although it is difficult to look back on the 1990s and determine the lasting design trends, it is evident that technology drove many of the innovations in ad layout and themes, especially late in the decade. Most important, the advent of the Internet as an ad medium added the potential for interactivity to advertising messages.

In this article:
Most Popular