From Posters to the Web: The Link Between Print and Digital Design
Visual communication has always played an important role in the history of mankind. From cave drawings, symbols, calligraphy, heraldry, all the way to the print and present-day web design, we’ve enjoyed visual content since our early days and used it to convey various types of messages. From cave walls to computer screens, design has certainly come a long way.
In this article, we’re going to explore the connection between poster and web design. The two are inextricably linked and share the same key function, which is to communicate with viewers through visuals. Both have been heavily influenced by the technological advances that continue to shape and change our world, but also by art in general. As a result, we’ve seen the birth of many different design styles that artists have experimented with and applied to their works. We’ll focus on four that we consider the most influential and we’ll also talk about what’s popular nowadays:
We’ll illustrate each style with several striking examples that best reflect the features of these eras. The artists, brands, and trends we’ll discuss include:
Let’s dive right in to learn more about these styles, explore their legacy, and how they’ve influenced the way we create visual experiences today.
Swiss Style, also known as the International Typographic Style, is a trend that was developed with the purpose of communicating in a simple, clear, and objective manner. It first emerged in Switzerland in 1918 and then fully flourished in the 1950s, which is also when it spread outside of Europe.
Its main principle is that form should follow function. Designs are stripped of any superfluous, decorative elements so that the viewers’ undivided attention is focused solely on the content.
The Swiss Style is a grid-based style, characterized by asymmetrical layouts and sans-serif typefaces. In print design, the preference for photographs over illustrations is evident as well, while in web design that doesn’t seem to be the case. To add more personality to their projects and to make them unique, designers often incorporate illustrations into their online works.
Typography is also a major aspect of designs done in Swiss Style. In fact, it is often used as the primary design element, as was the case after World War II. At a time when international trade began to flourish, straightforward communication between brands and their consumers became very important. All designs revolved about typography, hence the name International Typographic Style.
While there’s a myriad of examples that show the Swiss Style at its finest, we wanted to share with you two examples that illustrate the use of this trend in print and another one showing how it can be applied in web design.
Josef Müller-Brockmann is regarded as one of the most important and prominent Swiss Style designers. His works are influenced by Bauhaus, with heavily used typography and dominant geometry. He applied strict composition grids in his work, used objective photographs, and relied on mathematics and geometry to create designs devoid of emotion. It’s all about efficiency and simplicity.
A lot of designers find his oeuvre highly inspirational, not just the designs but also his books. Perhaps the most popular one he wrote is “Grid Systems in Graphic Design”. In this book, he shared his knowledge about grids: “The grid system is an aid, not a guarantee. It permits a number of possible uses and each designer can look for a solution appropriate to his personal style.” He encourages others to find what grids work best for them, but he does warn about the importance of learning how to apply grids in the first place. The book is used by many designers as a foundation and a guide that helps them navigate the world of design and grids in particular.
Otl Aicher was a well-known German graphic designer and typographer. He designed the Lufthansa logo, but his most notable works are the pictograms he designed for the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. Each pictogram represented one sport (he made more than 180 pictograms), and was created using strict grids, the Univers font family, and bright colors. Otl is known for his simple, clean projects that have stood the test time, and for designing the Rotis typeface family.
Klarheit Grotesk is a typeface created by Extraset. While the entire Extraset website contains some elements of the Swiss Style, the page dedicated to the font beautifully demonstrates the use of this style in web design. The authors have boldly used interactive elements along with asymmetrical layouts. There’s not a lot of graphic content, save for several black-and-white photographs. Typography rules this project. There are letters in all sizes and font weights and an abundance of textual content. This website looks like an illustration of Emil Ruder’s book “Typography – A Manual of Design”. Ruder was one of the pioneers of the Swiss Style and an expert in typography. This book is like a manifesto on typography and it helped promote the Swiss Style.
The easily recognizable psychedelic style came to prominence in the second half of the 60s. It was heavily influenced by Art Nouveau, the hippie movement, pacifism, and the widespread use of hallucinatory drugs, LSD in particular. This movement had an effect on popular culture and art in all its forms, as well as the way people dressed, behaved, and spoke at the time. Its purpose was to communicate social and spiritual messages in any way possible.
The psychedelic style stood as a counterpart to the slick and clean Swiss Style. Burning with vivid, wild, often fluorescent colors, strong contrasts, curvilinear images, wavy typography, and flashy elements intended to depict the state of being high, these works emanate freedom and capture the viewer’s attention instantly.
This era has gifted us with some stunning art pieces and timeless, intricate designs that continue to inspire audiences and artists worldwide. The characteristics of this style translate well on web design and we’ll illustrate its versatility with these examples of great psychedelic print and web designs.
Wes Wilson is possibly the best-known designer of psychedelic posters, heavily influenced by the Art Nouveau movement and the culture of San Francisco, where he started his career. He created concert announcements for the promoter Bill Graham and some of the most notable rock bands at the time, including Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and others. His posters are characterized by loud, vibrant hues, compelling imagery, and interesting lettering. He invented the recognizable psychedelic font with the swirling letters that look as if they are on the move and his style is widely considered synonymous with the peace movement.
Milton Glaser was a famous American graphic designer, known for the I ♥ NY logo, as well as other impressive works he created for DC Comics and numerous tv shows. One of the most notable projects he did is the psychedelic poster designed for Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits album in 1967. The iconic poster shows Dylan’s side profile in all black contrasted by the colorful, swirling, wild lines depicting his unruly hair.
Adult Swim Singles is a music platform that releases one song a week for people to download for free. The website created for the singles published in 2016 is inspired by the psychedelic style which is evident in the color and shape choices. The hues are loud, vibrant, and the graphic content accompanying each song looks wavy, buoyant, and dispersed. These elements are paired with the sharp, well-readable typography, showing the author’s ingenuity in mixing the characteristics typical of the Psychedelic era with the modern-day trends which resulted in a terrific website.
The development of technology and design software has had a tremendous impact on graphic design. Many people consider 1984 to be a turning point, as that’s the year when Apple introduced their MacPaint editor. This program marked the start of the migration from paper to computers. It allowed designers to experiment more than ever before, try out different layouts and typefaces, and instantly see the effects of the changes they’ve made. Moreover, the golden age of arcade games was in full force until the mid-80s, and these types of games also heavily influenced the design style of the time.
Everything about the 80s designs looked futuristic. The artists relied on 8-bit pixel art and the use of grids. Their works were attention-grabbing, extravagant, characterized by bright, neon colors, geometric shapes, and loud lettering.
The creative oeuvre of the 80s artists is incredibly vast and rich, so it was quite hard to single out just three examples to depict the design tendencies of this wild era, but we believe these works best reflect what 80s designs were all about.
Futuristic posters were a big thing in the 80s. Sci-fi movies were booming, and the accompanying artwork beautifully encapsulated their futuristic settings and adventurous feels, reflecting the effects of technology on design. Filled with other-worldly objects, metallic fonts, and electrifying colors against a black background, a lot of these posters have stood the test of time. Some of them look amazing and futuristic even today, like the iconic posters created for the movies Tron, RoboCop, and Blade Runner.
Paula Scher is regarded as one of the greatest graphic designers in the world. She is known for her boundary-pushing projects, cool typography choices, and the use of eye-catching colors. One of her most notable and talked-about works from the 80s is the poster she created for Swatch in 1984. The poster features a head of a smiling woman and an arm with two Swatch watches on it placed against the snow-covered background with several skiers on it. The backdrop image is the work of Herbert Matter, a Swiss designer, who made it for the Swiss National Tourist Office. This project raised a lot of controversy at the time, as many accused Sher of plagiarism, but she has explained that her poster is simply a parody of Matter’s work, who is also credited as the poster’s author. She picked massive typefaces for this work and manipulated different graphic elements, which resulted in a memorable poster that is much talked about even today.
The 80s-influenced website of the Dallas-based designer Alex Pierce is nothing short of impressive. It resembles an arcade game and comes adorned with 8-bit typography and sprites, a bright color palette, and stunning animation effects. As you browse it, you almost feel as if you’re holding a game controller and not your computer mouse.
The 90s were marked by some quite unforgettable moments and phenomena that have left an indelible mark on pop culture today. As far as design goes, we could talk about several turning points that occurred in the 90s.
Photoshop 1.0 was launched on February 19, 1990, the term user experience gained in popularity, and PHP 1.0 was created, to name just a few. Photoshop, in particular, brought once unimaginable levels of comfort and experimentation to design. Artists were introduced to a platform that was so powerful that they could create and manipulate digital projects exactly the way they always imagined. And after that, the design world has never been the same.
To see some of these trends in action, we’ll take a look at several interesting projects.
David Carson is a contemporary American graphic designer known for his work as the art director of Ray Gun, a magazine about alternative music and lifestyle. His use of innovative typographic styles and unconventional layouts have completely changed the design scene at the time. Some of his most notable works are featured in the book “The End of Print: The Graphic Design of David Carson”, through which we can observe the way he explored the possibilities of typography as a form of expression.
Nirvana’s Nevermind album, regarded by many as one of the greatest albums of all time, has changed the music world forever. This masterpiece is recognizable not only for incredible songs but also for its phenomenal cover art designed by Robert Fisher. The picture of the baby underwater looking at a dollar bill attached to a fishhook is a 90s classic now featured in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art. The name of the album is written in a wavy typeface, mimicking the undulating nature of water.
The 90s are also known for the creation of the first website for a major movie, Batman Forever. This site contained compelling imagery, interesting typography, and some interactive features that made it very fun to explore. While this website was far from perfect, the reason why it’s so important is that it introduced designers to the power of the World Wide Web and showed them what they can achieve with it.
When it comes to the design trends of the 00s and modern-day tendencies, one thing’s for certain – anything can happen and everything is possible. With technological innovations and the attempts of brands to stand out from the crowd, we’re witnessing the creation of some stunning, unique designs that are unlike anything we’ve come across before.
We’re seeing different styles and eye-catching color schemes combined, the widespread use of digital collage, bold typography, and cool animation effects. But we couldn’t possibly list all the popular techniques, as designers are constantly trying to re-invent themselves. What was “in” yesterday may be outdated tomorrow. We’ve reached the point of complete visual digitization, and designs created using contemporary tools know no bounds. However, none of that would be possible had it not been for print design. Through poster creation, designers have learned how to use their works to convey different types of messages and emotions to the audience. And thanks to the development of technology and powerful software, things have been taken on a whole new level. Nowadays, anything designers can imagine, they can create.
Selecting projects that best illustrate current trends was really difficult. However, we believe the following examples demonstrate how far design has come and prove its immeasurable creative power.
Superfluid is a cosmetic brand with a website that combines lots of different colors and contrasting color palettes, large sans-serif typography, and cool animation effects. The pages are packed with action, and no matter where you move your mouse, you’re bound to spur some elements into action, be it letters or images. All the transformations you see on the screen perfectly signify the brand’s exciting nature and its desire to constantly evolve.
Qode Kaleidoscope is a curated collection of Qode Interactive’s premium WordPress themes that reflects the importance of color in design. The project features six themes. To explore them, you need to use an interactive navigational wheel that looks just like a kaleidoscope. Everything is booming with intense colors, and exciting motion and transition effects that capture the viewer’s attention from the get-go. Single pages look minimalistic compared to the homepage but also feature compelling animation effects typical of the Qode Kaleidoscope project. The contemporary design techniques are juxtaposed with the retro-looking and unobtrusive typefaces which allow colors to fully shine.
Brutalism, which was also quite big in the 90s, has made a comeback in recent years and is now possibly even stronger that it was 2 decades ago. We simply cannot talk about contemporary trends without mentioning this style. Brutalist designs are known for their raw, unpolished look, the use of vivid colors, asymmetrical layouts, peculiar imagery, and weird text placements that, when combined, go against artificiality in all its forms.
The perfect example of a modern-day brutalist website is Toilet Paper Mag. The site for this picture-based magazine features animated graphic and video content, with lots of surreal and unusual images. You’ll also notice how the designers often combine comical with serious concepts throughout the site. This is a bold kind of a website that is certain to leave a strong impression on viewers, especially on the alternative audience.
From the clean, grid-based Swiss Style, the sinuous lines and vivid colors of Psychedelic Style, the loud and geometric 80s trends, the large typography and experimentation of the 90s, up until the present day’s unique works, design has certainly come a long way. With technological changes that have permanently altered the way art is made, we’ve gone from print to web design and swapped paper for computers.
However, it would be impossible to talk about contemporary web design without noticing the large influence poster design and styles from the previous decades have made on it. Print and web design have lots of things in common, but the most important one they share is their goal to leave a strong impact on the viewer. In the end, regardless of the medium of communication one may choose, it’s important to remember that impression comes before experience. With that in mind, you should use textual and graphic content in a way the viewers will find inspiring and compelling, to provide them with a visual experience they won’t forget any time soon.