Art Deco: A strong, striking style for graphic design

All old styles are destined to become cool again eventually. Good designers know this and great designers know how to work it. The call for “retro” has maybe never been louder than it is now and with the roaring 1920s taking culture by storm these days (Downton Abbey on TV, The Great Gatsby soon in theaters), we’re thinking Art Deco will be making a serious comeback in graphic design.

Deco is a strong, beautiful style. Here is the history you need to know, to do it right.

Art Deco

Art Deco, a term first coined in Paris in 1925, is a hard style to define. We can list its typical attributes – geometric shapes, bold curves, strong vertical lines, aerodynamic forms, motion lines, airbrushing and sunbursts galore – but this really does not do justice to the style. Memorize this list alone, and your design may still miss the Deco spirit.

For that, a greater context is required. So let’s take a visual tour of the 1910s, 20s and 30s – the cultural milieu in which Deco took form.

art deco inspiration
(clockwise from left) Table by a Window, 1917, a cubist painting by Jean Metzinger; the 20th Century Ltd. locomotive, designed by Henry Dreyfuss, 1938; New York City’s Times Square in 1927

The Roaring 20s was a time of rapid cultural change. Transportation technologies (cars, trains, planes) were getting faster, buildings taller, cities more packed. It was also a time of incredible wealth, especially in the United States. The result of all this was a feeling of dizzying fragmentation, which you’ll see in the cubist and futurist artwork of the time, paired with an obsession with luxury, speed and power.

In a word: Art Deco.

Art Deco architecture

Note the strong vertical lines in Singapore’s Parkview building, the sunburst facade of New York City’s famed Chrysler building — the peak of Art Deco architecture — and the metallic embellishments on this building on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles.

art deco architecture
(left to right) Parkview Building, photo by Razmataz’; Chrysler Building façade, photo by François Hogue; a building on Hollywood Boulevard, photo by daryl_mitchell

Art Deco patterns

New York’s Radio City Music Hall (below) is one big sunburst. The elevator in the Chrysler building is a collection of geometric shapes, curves, metal embellishments and vertical lines. The doorway façade top right is Deco at its most powerful… and slightly gaudy.

art deco patterns
(clockwise from left) Chrystler Building elevator interior; an art deco entrance façade; Radio City Music Hall interior

Art Deco objects

The architectural and ornamental motifs noted below take new form in this selection of Deco-inspired jewelry and a sweet pair of headphones

art deco accessories
(left to right) a Deco-inspired ring; necklace; headphones

Art Deco posters

We move from architecture to graphic design with French designer A.M. Cassandre, its unparalleled leader.

Note the imposing power of the ship in “L’Atlantique,” the cubist and futurist inspiration in the posters for “Nord Express” and “Clipper 314,” and the flat geometric quality to Cassandre’s Pivolo ad — perhaps the most famous Art Deco poster of all time.

art deco posters
L’Atlantique by A.M. Cassandre and Clipper 314, by Michael Kungl
art deco posters
Nord Express and Pivolo, by A.M. Cassandre

The movie poster (below) for Baz Luhrmann’s new cinematic imagining of The Great Gatsby sports a very heavy Art Deco look.

art deco poster
Poster for The Great Gatsby, 2012, and the cover of Vogue magazine, November 1926, by Guillermo Bolin

Art Deco logo

Today, Art Deco makes frequent appearances in the world of logo design. Just look at the verticality, sunbursts, airbrush effects and typeface choices in the below three designs.

art deco logo
Logo for The Nautilus Napier hotel, by Mel Gardner; logos for Miami Aesthetic Surgery and Stone Art by GDS

Art Deco on 99designs

Naturally, 99ers have made some pretty AWESOME Deco-inspired logos as well. At this point, the Deco-ness of the following designs should not require explanation.

art deco logo
Logo designs by Firekarma (left) and The13thDesign (right)
Art deco logo
Logo designs by sterling cooper and dialfredo
art deco logo
Web design by tockica

Deco typography

Last, but certainly not least, Art Deco has made an incredible impact on typography. A.M. Cassandre’s Bifur typeface, composed of thick base forms ornamented with thin filler lines, is nothing short of brilliant. Broadway and Peignot are two other Deco typefaces we see all the time.

art deco typography
(clockwise from left) Bifur, Peignot and Broadway typefaces

Seen any other designs inspired by Art Deco? Share in the comments!

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