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Modern Art Movements To Inspire Your Logo Design


It’s always nice to go to a bookstore, grab a book of logo designs, sit down, inhale that new-book smell and absorb the goodness. But knowing where all of these designs, fonts and creative elements have come from is also good. In this article, we look at modern art movements and a series of diverse logos inspired by those movements. You may be surprised by how easily these colors, shapes and strokes can be adapted to logo design. Have a look, see how logo design works and maybe even draw inspiration for your own creativity.

Bauhaus Link

J. Schmidt - Bauhaus
J. Schmidt, Bauhaus

In 1919, the Bauhaus school was founded in Weimar Germany. More of a lifestyle than a school, Bauhaus was based on the static rules of Art Deco. One basic idea of the Bauhaus was to remove everything superfluous and break a design down to its essential elements. This static minimalism changed everything and can still be found in design today, such as in the logos of Faboo Taboo and Axion.

Kandinsky, On White II. Paul Klee, Castle and Sun.

From an artistic standpoint, Bauhaus shares elements with Russia’s constructiveness movement in its simplicity and boldness. According to the aesthetic, designs should be simple, daring, bold and uncomplicated. These designs stick out in your mind because of their lack of ornamentation and beautiful, brutal simplicity. Red and black are favored colors; some goofing around in Illustrator should yield the right washed-out shades. For inspiration, look at Wes Anderson’s films, especially The Royal Tenenbaums, which make extensive use of Bauhaus’ Futura font and have a modernist aesthetic.

Art Deco Link

A.M. Cassandre, Pivolo

Art Deco began parallel to Bauhaus in the 1920s but originated in Paris. Both schools share an elegance of form, sparsity of material and strength of color. Art Deco is distinguished for its stylized representation of shapes. Art Deco artists seemed to use the geometric rules of architecture. One of those artists was A. M. Cassandre, who became popular for his logo design for Yves Saint Laurent. His poster design Pivolo is highly representative of Art Deco. The aesthetic has been adopted by Miau and Machine for their corporate identities.

Tamara de Lempicka, The Musician. Michael Kungl, Americana Deco Coffee.

Principal elements here are a celebration of geometry and a near-fetishization of the machine. Pay particular attention to big sweeping curves, which have a luxurious quality to them. Art Deco reached its nadir in the 1920s and shares that era’s opulence and wastefulness. Designs share the Bauhaus school’s fascination with form but celebrates form as a means to a “new” aesthetic, rather than trying to reconcile it with function. Art Deco’s most lasting influences can be found in grandiose architecture and industrial design, so look to New York City’s Rockefeller Center, Chicago’s Mather Tower and the paintings of Tamara de Lempicka.

Blaxploitation Link

Superfly poster

Blaxploitation was an American movie genre that had its heydey in the 1970s, with movies like Coffy, Foxy Brown and Shaft. Accompanied by funky music by such artists as Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield, the movies brought a new lifestyle to the black community, one that encouraged black empowerment and love, backed by soulful, funky beats. This culture can be found not just in movies but in music and fashion and even diverse logo designs, such as this one by Form.

The Sugar Hill and Cotton Comes to Harlem posters.

The blaxploitation aesthetic seen here was typical of 1970s poster design. It featured large sweeping letters that favored aesthetic and form over readability: a stark contrast to European designs of the same era, which favored minimalism and functionality. In your own designs, use bright lively colors for the base, and add a washed-out effect to deafen the colors and give it that vintage look.

Dadaism Link

Theo van Doesburg, Kleine Dada Soirée

Dadaism, also known as Dada, was founded in 1916 by diverse artists in Switzerland and Germany. The idea was to explicitly reject “conventional” art and genres. To put it bluntly: destroy and rebuild! This provocative aesthetic was a revolt against art by the artists themselves. This irony still exerts a big influence on design and art. These two logos evoke Dadaism in all respects by destroying something and rebuilding it completely new.

Hannah Höch, Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany. Marcel Duchamp, Fountain.

What is Dada? Dada is adad? Dada? Adadadaa? What is Dada? Dada is nonsense, an unstable, poorly defined morass of liberalism and irrationality. Dada is deconstruction run wild, and Dadaists do not worry about what is or is not Dada. Dadaists originally theorized that such a world that could descend into the mindless violence of World War I ought to have an art that reflected this state of irrationality. Is art not an imitation of life? What is life but death? Dada questioned all established convention and the very origins of design. Why is an eye an eye? What makes an eye? At what point do we stop recognizing an eye as an eye? Why is a “G” a “G” and a “6” a “6”? This deconstruction and arduous critical examination is what yields a truly Dada result. But what is a result? Who is to say what your result is? I have to go lie down now.

Hard-Edge Painting Link

Frank Stella, Agbatana III

Hard-Edge painting was a contemporary art genre popular in the 1960s, best represented by the American artist Frank Stella. As the name implies, the genre is about planned, simple forms and stripes that contribute to an overall colorful picture. This polychromism and color intensity, as done by Frank Stella, can be found in diverse logo designs today, such as Optik: Split Stitch Division.

Richard Anuszkiewicz, Temple of the Radiant Yellow. Theo van Doesburg, Counter-Composition V.

Harsh angles in art, as a semiotic shorthand for conflict, has existed for centuries, but only during the 20th century did it assume its status as an artistic tool in the new abstract painting schools. Stella, among others, adopted Hard-Edge as a reactionary style against east-coast America’s abstract expressionism in the 1960s. Where abstractionists preached free expression of emotion and impulse as an art, the hard-edgers practiced a highly impersonal, extremely purposeful style of painting. The alienation of the viewer forces a critical appraisal of the work, similar to Brecht’s “Verfremdungseffekt,” or distancing effect. To force such an effect, the designer must put design above purpose. Design for the sake of art is a nearly foreign concept because it violates the rule that corporate design must raise awareness of the brand. Design that puts art first alienates the consumer, who then approaches the work with a critical eye, as they would for a Hard-Edge painting.

Light Painting Link

Picasso, Vase of Flowers

Pablo Picasso and photographer Gjon Mili might be the first Light painters in history. Picasso’s self-portrait in 1949 opened new doors in the world of modern art. To create this special effect in this Light painting, Picasso chose a dark room and diverse light sources, along with the help of the longer exposure time of photo cameras. By moving the light, Picasso created mind-blowing images, which could serve as great inspiration for logos. Use lines side by side to build objects, letters and even words.

Cenci Goepel and Jens Warnecke, Untitled.
Vicki da Silva, Obama Hope at the End of the Tunnel.

Light painting is like graffiti and theater mashed up. The spirit is of street art, with the freedom to make anything a canvas. The ephemeral nature of the execution comes from performance art: while the process can be documented, it can never really be accurately recreated. The aesthetic elements are easy enough to emulate in Illustrator, but the real appeal comes from channeling the spirit of Light painting. While it would take some effort, animating a static logo would make it a real attention-getter.

African Art Link

Masson Magalie, Massais

Early African artists created beautiful sculptures, mostly out of wood. That canvas did them little service, because the climate and elements made the sculptures susceptible to termites and other vermin. This makes any African art older than 150 years very rare. The art was influenced by native African myths, celebrations and rituals. The world of ancestors and gods is kept alive in this artwork. That’s why artists mainly used masks and figures, which protected people against diseases and evil spirits. The artistic approach is deeply spiritual, and its forms can be applied to logos and corporate designs.

Fronty Aurelia, Au Marche. Obote Jerome, African Tunda.

To channel the aesthetic of African tribal art, use heavy abstraction to create simple, effective shapes that catch the eye. Abstraction and bright colors are key. Conversely, you could scale back the abstraction and use natural, familiar shapes that evoke African art. Something as familiar as a woman’s profile can take on additional layers of meaning when they are given colors and patterns common to African culture.

Art Nouveau Link

Alphonse Mucha, Job

Art Nouveau is an artistic movement from the late-19th and early-20th century. The school originated in Europe, particularly Germany, where it was interpreted differently, depending on the area. Broad similarities remained, though: decoratively curved lines and floral ornamentation. Both are timeless elements that can be found in many designs today.

Aubrey Beardsley, The Peacock Skirt. Alphonse Mucha, Bieres De La Meuse.

Art Nouveau at its peak was not merely a style but a way of life, encompassing architecture, clothing, painting, sculpture, even furniture. For your own logo, you can bring in the incredibly intricate details and textures and the thick full-bodied line work. The movement borrowed heavily from Japanese woodcut design in its ornamentation and execution, so the work of Hokusai and Utamaro will give you some thematic elements. Art Nouveau originated partially as a rejection of Gothic revivalism’s cluttered pattern work, so remember not to go overboard with your ornate floral decorations and patterns.

Cubism Link

Pablo Picasso, Figure au Corsage Rayé

Along with Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso might be one of the most popular modern artists in this genre, which he turned into a milestone in visual art at the beginning of the 20th century. Like Dada, Cubism was a particular critique of traditional art forms. Abstract perspectives were added, inspired by distant epochs and primitive cultures. Cubism was a new attempt to create harmony and unity in two dimensions. The “Cubist Coffee House” is obviously an heir to this movement.

Georges Braque, Woman With Guitar. Juan Gris, Still Life with Fruit Dish and Mandolin.

Cubists were originally interested in the power that simple designs could exert in art, in contrast to Europe’s traditional ornamental art. Perhaps the most radical element to remain conscious of is the absence of “perspective.” One challenge will be to find your inspiration; Cubist Coffee mashes up a face with a coffee cup: an effective decision. One of the most controversial elements of early Cubism was some of the grotesque faces that evoked African masks. These exaggerated features were a hallmark of Cubism. Moreover, the interplay between elements—a core aspect of Synthetic Cubism—will further strengthen your logo’s association with this style. Your aim is a sort of detachedness in technique, resulting in grotesque, exaggerated forms.

Pop Art by Roy Lichtenstein Link

Hopeless and That’s the Way.

Aside from Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein was the most popular representative of the genre known as Pop Art, which originated in the 1980s. His style, reminiscent of classic newspaper comics, was truly groundbreaking. In the early 1960s, Lichtenstein began to experiment with this form, which unexpectedly exploded into a full-blown movement. The “lowbrow” style makes for a distinctive image and is a good way for a company to get attention.

Whaam and Drowning Girl.

Lichtenstein’s Pop Art was different from Warhol’s in that it celebrated the commercial designer and focused on art that we’re already familiar with and ignore. These are works we automatically recognize and take for granted. And just what are we as a society taking for granted? This critical examination of everyday art and design in the vein of Duchamp solicits more than a nod of recognition. The simple, fast and effective communication practiced by commercial designers and artists is strongly codified, and these logos channel these conscious and unconscious levels. A familiar “Click” logo is made more powerful and memorable by comic art’s ubiquity among consumers.

Pop Art by Andy Warhol Link

Marilyn Monroe and Marilyn.

No one has missed Andy Warhol’s polychromatic Marilyn Monroe portraits. For years, Warhol created variations on the theme that influenced not only art but the fashion world in innumerable ways. We can’t be surprised that this style is still an inspiration for simple, effective corporate designs.

Campbell’s Soup I and Zebra.

Warhol famously refused to analyze his own works in public. He suggested that any meaning of his work should be obvious from the outset. The Marilyn Diptych was originally thought to be a commentary on the life and death of the actress, though the more colorful “life” half is remembered better. Don’t just create simple color squares; choose instead subtle variations. Something as minor as a rounded corner or adjustment in shape can speak volumes to your audience, though it’s ultimately up to them to figure out what it means.

Tibetan Art Link

Chenrezig, Tibetan Thangka

Tibetan art is a great source of inspiration. The centuries-old culture of Tibet has its own icon, such as the Mudra hand gesture, which represents happiness and shows respect to the gods. The lotus flowers represent purity and fertility and represents also the “Chakra,” which consists of the seven elements in Tibetan myth. A semiotic approach to logo design implementing Tibetan designs and motifs will show your company’s deeper appreciation of spiritual matters.

Gordon Wiltsie, Buddhist Painting Inside the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet. An Important Tibetan Thang.ka Depicting Bkra.Shis.Dpal.

Tibetan spiritualism is renowned worldwide, and you’d be remiss not to tap into this goldmine of deities, myths and symbols. Traditional Tibetan art is rife with angry gods and harsh brutal symbols, so reconcile it with modern Buddhist understanding by reducing the elements to their most recognizable aspects. For example, lotus flowers (representing purity) and the various Mudra hand gestures are extremely well-known elements of Buddhism and Tibet in particular. Use these elements as you would use Western symbols, to communicate your design.

Summary Link

  • When creating your designs, look anywhere and everywhere for inspiration.
  • The further you look from your industry, the more original your designs will be.
  • Don’t be afraid of where you draw inspiration from. Paul Rand said it best: “Don’t try to be original. Try to be good.”
  • Modern art can provide a lifetime’s worth of inspiration for design.
  • For a more original design, draw on abstract elements from various images; such as the color from one image, line work from another and composition from yet another.

Other Resources Link

Literally hundreds of renowned movements fall under the umbrella of modern art. Learning about these movements is not just fun but brings new life and perspectives to your work.

  • Wikipedia: Modern Art1
    For an extensive list of modern art movements, start on Wikipedia.
  • Pop Art Survey2
    A Smashing Magazine survey of famous pop artists, and a great place to get started with reference material.
  • Bauhaus Survey3
    A Smashing Magazine survey of the Bauhaus movement, and a great place to get started with reference material
  • Vital Tips for Effective Logo Design4
    If you’re just getting started with logo design, this post is a great starting point to turn your favorite modern art piece into a quality logo.
  • Taschen Books5
    Unfortunately, not a whole lot of quality modern art is easily accessible online. Your best bet is to buy some cheap art books from your local bookstore. Taschen is a good publisher to start with if you’re having trouble at the bookstore.
  • Google Images6
    If you’re broke or don’t want to buy books, type in a movement you like into Google Images
  • Modern Art Infographic7
    Check out this awesome visual timeline of the origins of modern art.
  • Modern Art Timeline8
    An interactive timeline of modern art, with in-depth information on many movements and artists.

By the way… Link

Smashing Magazine is offering a student trainee position9 in Smashing Magazine’s Office in Freiburg, Germany. We are looking for a motivated trainee student who wants to learn about online publishing and editorial work. You can gather a first hand experience from one of the most successful blogs by working side by side with the Smashing Magazine’s editorial team. Details10.

And for our German readers: Smashing Magazine sucht Unterstützung für die Redaktion11 — Stelle: (Online)-Redakteur m/w. Details12.

About the Author Link

Moritz Schürmann is a contributing editor of Freshbump.com13, Formatmag.com14 and Collect3d.com15.


Footnotes Link

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Daniel Eckler is the founder of Piccsy, an image bookmarking site for creatives. Glenn Manucdoc is the creative director of Piccsy.

  1. 1

    Great article, nice to see how art styles from the past still inspire us today!

  2. 2

    NICE! Thx ;)

  3. 3

    I really enjoyed this article. Getting away from the screen and trying to draw inspiration from other areas of the art/design world can turn an uninspiring project into something really unique. It’s too easy nowadays to hop onto logopond or any of the countless logo inspiration websites out there.

  4. 4

    Really good article! Very inspiring, but I just happened to notice that the first picture of ‘Blaxploitation’ really reminds me of a Norwegian chocolate-company called Freia. Their logo has almost the same F and the colors are practically the same.

  5. 5

    Nice article! I just love Art Nouveau, you should have mentioned William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement though, and what it stands for, to give a pretty good idea of their rules about proportion and influence in graphic design.

  6. 6

    awsome :D

  7. 7

    Great article, should have had the Logo Lounge books listed in there too.

  8. 8

    Fantastic article

  9. 9

    Very cool list of inspiration for logos.

  10. 10

    Superb job! While in school, I became fascinated by many of the movements you mention here, and Frank Stella is one of my favorite minimalists! Anyway, good job presenting these movements, and their main ideas, in a concise, easy-to-understand post!

  11. 11

    very inspiring, though I did not know about blaxploitation and dadaism

  12. 12

    Great article! Really inspiring!

  13. 13

    Like Aleks said, that Form logo is basically a spitting image of the logo of Norwegian candy manufacturer Freia. In fact, it’s so close I would almost assume it’s a deliberate reference, although I couldn’t be sure, of course. See it here:

  14. 14

    great article. very unique and inspiring :)

  15. 15

    Mushroom Digital

    January 7, 2010 7:40 am

    Excellent article. Very inspiring work. I can see quite a few elements from the designs being used in some of the latest trends.

  16. 16

    As far as I know Futura isn’t a Bauhaus typeface. It was designed in the period that Bauhaus was active and Renner shares ideas with them, but its not made by Bauhaus. I’ll also risk my neck and say that using Roy Lichtenstein as an ‘art movement’ is stretching it. If you want to use that example then just go all the way and use the American comic book as an art movement, and not a pop artist who was inspired by them. My 2 cents.

  17. 19

    It’s interesting to see Theo van Doesburg as a ‘Hard-edge painter’, especially since apparently

    Hard-Edge painting was a contemporary art genre popular in the 1960s

    ‘De Stijl’ is an art genre from mainly the 1920s and I think its graphical language is still popular today. As an active art genre it died however with its founder in 1931.
    (The example used with Dada-ism is great, reminds me of his poetry.)

  18. 20

    Now if i could just find a client with an open mind to try a logo like that, and not be so corporate stuffy…

    • 21

      while it would be great to find such client, keep in mind that “corporate stuffy” may be a trend for the second decade of the 2000’s. :)

  19. 22

    I’ve never heard blaxploitation extended beyond the film genre. The “large sweeping letters that favored aesthetic and form over readability” that is described started in the sixties within the counter-culture and psychedelic art movement. The style was influenced by other genres mentioned: pop art, art nouveau, dadaism. It seems to me that blaxploitation would only be one example of the counter-cultures that (occasionally) used this style in their designs.

    The Form logo does bear some resemblance to the Freia logo. And to me they both remind me of the Chupa Chups logo designed in 1969 by Salvador Dali, a surrealist.

    Check out Wes Wilson, Alton Kelley, Victor Moscoso, or even Peter Max for more examples of aesthetic over readability.

  20. 23

    Just a note on “other resources” – another great place to find books full of art is your local library. They might even have those Taschen books!

  21. 24

    Stop posting so much good stuff. I’m not getting any work done! Lol.

  22. 25

    where is the Javanese art? where is the Batik art??


  23. 28

    Nice post… usually you don’t even really think about these things, but when it’s pointed out with nice designs accompanying it, it’s always a feast to the eye :)

  24. 30
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    your little paragraph on dadaism made me laugh. oh man, that was good! you captured the essence of dada brilliantly! kudos to you!

  26. 32

    I enjoyed this article. It is definitely important for graphic designers to be aware of art history and fine art movements to draw inspiration from.

  27. 33

    These are great. Good article. One of those things you have to sneak in sometimes with a client, but always good. Sometimes the finished piece doesn’t look much like the inspiration anyway, it’s just a good place to start.

  28. 34

    A great article!! For those are iniciating now, a free art history lesson…

  29. 35

    Wow…… good!

  30. 36

    I’m sorry, but modern art is pretty much a write off. After the minimalist movement, there really wasn’t any place to go. Andy Warhol killed art, and one day it will be reborn. I hope.
    Good design need not pray off bad art. Come up with your own ideas, this is tripe.


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