Bugging out over Op Art design

Some art movements have bigger impact in the world of graphic design than others. Optical, or “Op” Art made an especially grand entrance in the mid 1960s.

While the movement receded from the art world relatively quickly, making room for the Warhol-led Pop Art, its red carpet continues to roll triumphantly through the worlds of logo and packaging design. Here, Op absolutely still “pops.”

Feast your eyes: this is actually part of a magnificent wine label design by Meeta Panesar

In a nutshell, Op Art refers to geometric patterns that are mathematically designed to play with visual perception or produce an optical illusion — a sensation that the actually-flat surface is three-dimensional or moving.

Some of these designs really seem to swell, roll or swirl. Others take the form of shapes that are logically “impossible” or have two incompatible interpretations.

Trippy stuff.

This spirographic by Simon C. Page suggests depth

The Penrose triangle and the devil’s tuning fork are two so-called impossible objects

There are two ways to see this image by Outmane Amahou: is it a cube sitting in the corner of a room, or a floating cube with a corner chunk removed?

In this poster advertisement for Spanish bank Caixa Catalunya, stationary spirals appear to move. Focus on one and it will stop. Are you freaking out yet?

How about now?

Most of the Op-inspired graphic design work is a little more subtle but the influence is clear. Check out these radical logos, book covers, posters and packages:

The logo for the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City was distinctly Op Art-inspired

So was the one for Munich, 1972

Even Melbourne, 99designs’ original home city, has a semi-Op logo

Coca Cola tried an Op Art promotional campaign

The 1965 publication Essays in Existentialism, by Jean-Paul Sartre, has an Op Art cover design

Experimental indie rock band Animal Collective used an Op Art design by Akiyoshi Kitaoka for the cover of their 2009 Album, Merriweather Post Pavilion. Move your eyes around the image to make it ripple.

A vinyl sleeve for GOLD PANDA’s Mountain/Financial District 7″, designed by Andy Gilmore

“Activities of the Inanimate” (top) and “Chemical Affinities” (bottom), both by Andy Gilmore

Meeta Panesar‘s acclaimed Op Art wine label series 

Op-inspired packaging for Calvin’s Puzzles, by 99er bachnguyen

Seen/created any cool Op Art designs recently? Share in the comments.

Alex Bigman is liaison to 99designs' awesome community of graphic designers. He is a recent grad of UC Berkeley, where he studied history of art and cognitive science.
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