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If Famous Graphic Artists Were Web Designers…

Styles in design are described and classified in many ways. Sometimes they are given a moniker, like “Web 2.0,” other times they are referred to by their appearance: grungy, minimalist, retro, big type. The people (and brands) to which modern design styles are attributed are as numerous as the styles themselves. Many designers look to a brand such as Apple as an example of great modern design because a designer’s sensibility is infused into everything it does.

Even though many current styles and trends can be connected to recent design pieces, they do not originate there. So much modern design originated before computers and the Web were even a glimmer in the eye of their creators.

Article Cover

Looking back and drawing inspiration from very early graphic and print design is a current trend nowadays, but that is not the beginning of the story. As you go further back, you’ll find groundbreaking design decades, even a century, ago. In this article we’ll explore inspirational paintings and artists who have influenced modern design. In reading this article, you will see some true evolution in design.

Where Art Meets Design Link

The term “graphic design” was coined in 1922 by one of the first modern designers, William Addison Dwiggins1. He described himself as, “[an] individual who brings structural order and visual form to printed communications.” This seems to be where art meets design. Design is for communicating and achieving a specific goal. Today, the goal is often to market and sell products or services through design, whether by packaging a product, building a brand or creating a Web experience.

Sistine Chapel

So, is design today merely art created for the express purpose of generating profit? One could argue that great artists in history created their own art for profit. Michelangelo2‘s Scenes from Genesis on the Sistine Chapel and Leonardo da Vinci3‘s great work The Last Supper were both commissioned by the church. Today, we regard their work as innovative and embodiments of the Renaissance, but we forget they were also created for profit.

We like to think of great artists as purely motivated individuals who are driven to express themselves or transform our perception of the world. Colors, textures and composition are part of their process of self-discovery and reflect the aesthetics of the time. Modern designers are no different. Even though a particular design may be intended to communicate the message of a corporation, it still reflects the world around us, and the designer has left their mark on it.

Art History Found Today Link

The best art in history was unprecedented and transcended its time. It sometimes seems as if the artists were conscious of future generations enjoying their work. Their compositions, colors, and styles don’t just hang on gallery walls today. They are all around us, in everything from shoes to album covers.

Piet Mondriaan Link

Piet Mondriaan, Composition with Red, Yellow, and Blue, 1927

Composition with Red, Yellow, and Blue

Mondriaan’s influence seen today: Chiasso Windows Vase4

Chiasso Windows Vase5

Andy Warhol Link

Andy Warhol17116, Orange Car Crash Fourteen Times, 1963

Orange Car Crash Fourteen Times

Warhol’s influence seen today: Soho Brewery Packaging

Soho Brewery Packaging

Yves Klein Link

Yves Klein42147, IKB 191, 1962

IKB 191

Klein’s influence seen today: Chanel Purse in “Klein Bleu”

Chanel Purse Klein Bleu

Robert Irwan Link

Robert Irwin8, Untitled, 1968


Irwin’s influence seen today: ISST Organic Ice Tea Packaging9

ISST Organic Tea Packaging10

Andy Warhol Link

Andy Warhol17116, Banana, 1966


Warhol’s influence seen today: Royal Elastics’ Andy Warhol Shoes

Royal Elastics' Andy Warhol Shoes

Frank Stella Link

Frank Stella12, The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, II, 1959

The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, II

Stella’s influence seen today: ASKUL Branding

ASKUL Branding

Yayoi Kusama Link

Yayoi Kusama13, Infinity Dots H.R.T, 2001

Infinity Dots H.R.T

Kusama’s influence seen today: The Killers Album Art

The Killers Album Art (2008)

If Famous Painters Were Web Designers Link

What if these great masters were alive today? What if they were using a mouse instead of a brush, RGB instead of mixed oils and a computer screen instead of linen canvas. If these famous artists were alive now, these are the websites they might have designed.

Yves Klein Link

Yves Klein42147, IKB 191, 1962

IKB 191

A website Klein might have designed: Britain Rocks15

Britain Rocks16

Andy Warhol Link

Andy Warhol17116, Knives, 1981-82

Basquiat - Self Portrait

A website Warhol might have designed: Carsonified


David Alfaro Siqueiros Link

David Alfaro Siqueiros18, Collective Suicide, 1936

Collective Suicide

A website Siqueiros might have designed: Snagt19


Lyubov Popova Link

Lyubov Popova21, Painterly Architectonic, 1917

Painterly Architectonic

A website Popova might have designed: Douglas Menezes

Douglas Menezes

Claude Monet Link

Claude Monet22, Impression, Sunrise, 1872

Impression, Sunrise

A website Monet might have designed: Viget Inspire23

Viget Inspire24

Henri Matisse Link

Henri Matisse25, La Gerbe, 1953

La Gerbe

A website Matisse might have designed: Devia26


Paul Klee Link

Paul Klee, Fish Magic, 1925

Fish Magic

A website Klee might have designed: Ali Felski

Ali Felski

Basquiat Link

Basquiat4028, Pegasus, 1987


A website Basquiat might have designed: Orange Label29

Orange Label30

Joan Mitchell Link

Joan Mitchell31, Untitled, 1960


A website Mitchell might have designed: Siete De Febrero32

Siete De Febrero33

Georges Braque Link

Georges Braque34, Fruit Dish, 1908-09

Fruit Dish

A website Braque might have designed: Belvoir Fruit Farms35

Belvoir Fruit Farms36

Hans Hoffmann Link

Hans Hoffmann37, Bald Eagle, 1950

Bald Eagle

A website Hoffmann might have designed: Funny Garbage38

Funny Garbage39

Basquiat Link

Basquiat4028, Beat Bop, 1983

Beat Bop

A website Basquiat might have designed: Starbucks Coffee At Home

Starbucks Coffee At Home

A Closer Look At Six Great Artists Link

If asked to name a few great artists, someone might first think of Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol. Many other great artists, though, have shown their influence on modern design. Below are six artists who are unique, innovative and ahead of their time.

Piet Mondriaan Link

Piet Mondriaan (1872-1944) was a Dutch artist known for clean, grid-style paintings. His later compositions, which may initially look simple, took him months to paint. Each element, from the rectangles to the lines, are composed with precision, with careful attention paid to thickness and width. Mondriaan’s work has influenced the design of modern architecture, print layouts, linoleum and, of course, the minimalist style in modern design.

Rhythm of Black Lines, 1935-42

Rhythm of Black Lines

Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1942-43

Broadway Boogie Woogie

Basquiat Link

Jean-Michel Basquiat41 (1960-1988) was an American artist known for graffiti-influenced and early grunge-style paintings. He started out as a graffiti artist in New York City and later sold postcards and the like along with his artwork on the streets. His painting career took off, and he became known for his use of text and images from popular culture, as well as painting on found objects. Basquiat has been credited with bringing the African-American and Latino experience to the art world.

Self-Portrait, 1982


Per Capita, 1983

Per Capita

Yves Klein Link

Yves Klein42147 (1928-1962) was a French artist known for his minimalist monochromatic paintings, featuring his signature deep blue. He worked with blue extensively in his early career and, in 1958, began to use it as a dominant element, making the color itself the art.

International Klein Blue (IKB)43 is the deep blue hue first mixed by Yves Klein. It is outside the color gamut of computer displays, so it cannot be shown accurately in digital format.

International Klein Blue (IKB)44

La Vague, 1957

La Vague

Joan Miró Link

Joan Miró45 (1893-1983) was a Spanish artist known for an abstract, collage-style of painting. He famously declared, “I want to assassinate painting.” Miró wanted to upset the traditional and popular styles of art. He was against art for the sake of propaganda or to give the wealthy a cultural identity. Miró tried not to associate himself with any specific art styles or movements. His bold compositions and fresh thinking have influenced many great modern designers.

Hand Catching a Bird, 1926

Still Life II

L’Oro dell’Azzurro, 1935

The Hunter (Catalan Landscape)

El Lissitzky Link

Lazar Markovich Lissitzky46 (1890-1941) was a Russian artist known for his geometric and early graphic-design style. He was a versatile artist who worked in close to a dozen fields, from painting to architectural design. He influenced the Bauhaus and De Stijl (Mondriaan) movements. His artwork and production techniques heavily influence commercial art and modern design today.

Beat the White with the Red Wedge, 1919

Beat the White with the Red Wedge

Self-Portrait, 1914


Gustav Klimt Link

Gustav Klimt47 (1862-1918) was an Austrian artist known for his decorative paintings that make heavy use of gold and provocative symbolism. He is one of the founders of the Vienna Art Nouveau (Vienna Secession) movement. He is known for his “Golden Phase,” which is characterized by gold leaves and influences ranging from Byzantine to Egyptian. His compositions have symbolic elements that represent such psychological ideas as the “femme fatal.”

The Kiss, 1907

The Kiss

The Tree of Life, 1909

The Tree of Life

Stepping Back To Move Forward Link

Inspiration and examples of well-executed designs fill up galleries, blogs and online sources like Flickr. Leading industry magazines such as HOW and Communication Arts show the best of what modern design offers. Many of us look to these sources for ideas and to find the spark for our next masterpiece.

But many designers do not bother looking to works of art from earlier in history. By stepping back in time and walking through an art museum or reading the bio and studying the works of an artist from the past, we can find new ways to approach today’s design challenges.

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Francisco Inchauste is an interaction designer at Universal Mind, helping clients create great Web experiences. He regularly contributes to Web design blogs, magazines, and books. He recently served as Editor of Smashing Magazine’s UX Design section. You can connect with him on Twitter, or read more on his blog.

  1. 1

    Nice post!

  2. 2

    This author should be a genius!
    I cannot even think how many hours it would have been taken to prepare such a great post.
    Inspirational, indeed.

  3. 3

    I’m sorry, but this post shows a deep lack of understanding of Art History.

    Somebody needed to say it.

  4. 4

    Pedro Gabriel

    August 27, 2009 5:53 am

    What a horrible post

    so pretentious, but dont get it.

    I highly agree with tom muller. Go to school or read a book before talking bout art. We can talk about a lot of things, but art, fashion and culture are the most sensible and hard things to understand.

    What a poor article, with poor taughts over the artists and poor pairings. If you read at least one book about Warhol, you’ll know tha he was a graphic designer, and his folio is very interesting. And about your idea of pairing, i think warhol would cry and would stop to do web, after he looked at this wave of web “artists” thinking that web 2.0 icons are something more than s**t.

    Damn you, and you little brain.

    Read more

  5. 5

    Have to agree a very nice post. :o)

    • 6

      I work for an amazing living artist. Simon Bull is the official artist for Muhammad Ali and his art is amazing! you can see it on our website and on the online museum. or just google his name Simon Bull.

  6. 7

    great post…

    we painted that yellow joan miro pic in fourth grade ^^

  7. 8

    Jasmin Halkić

    August 27, 2009 2:46 am

    Very nice post…

  8. 9

    This post immediately got no1 in my favs. Thanks, Francisco and SM

  9. 10

    Why no Katsushika Hokusai? Look at how the scenery in for instance Super Mario World is inspired by his art. He’s probably inspired a lot of other artists too over the years. :’3

  10. 11

    Nice to see modern day graphic design related back to traditional art mediums, well done excellent article.

  11. 12

    Great article, took a lot of time to sort that one out !!

    Not in to modern art, think its crap. No skill at all. Failed artists.

  12. 13

    very nice…

  13. 14

    One of the best post ever ! Very original and informative.
    Bravo !

  14. 15

    GREAT POST. Well done
    I don’t know much about fine arts, this is really something new.

  15. 16

    Rolando S. Bouza

    August 27, 2009 3:34 am

    Beautiful post! Its been a great surprise to find ones of my favourite artists here (Basquiat and Miro)

  16. 17

    Caesar Tjalbo

    August 27, 2009 3:39 am


    The Warhol shoes, Chanel purse and the window vase are all obvious, it wouldn’t take much effort to find dozens of similar examples. Mondrian’s paintings from the 1920’s have been used as inspiration for decoration for just about everything. Yes, everything.

    The Killers album reminds me more of the tests for color blindness: if you want to put a Japanese name with that I’d choose Ishihara.

    The examples by “If Famous Painters Were Web Designers” I find weak too. Yup, I see some (small) similarities but with those painters, there are reasons why their paintings look the way they do and that’s not reflected in the websites. Tell me, what’s kubist about the Belvoir Fruit Farms website? By your example, it looks like Matisse could have designed Google’s website too. Oh and Ebay’s.

    (ps. typo: “Robert Irwan”)

  17. 18

    Not so much a case of ‘If famous graphic artists were web designers’ more a case of here’s a bunch of websites that have been inspired by graphic artists.

    Agree with post above with regard to art history. I would probably go as far as to say lack of understanding web design as well. The two mediums are very different and have very different purposes, in fact you’d be hard pushed to suggest these sites are any more than a pastiche, which there’s nothing wrong with but to suggest it goes any deeper than that would be silly.

  18. 19

    wow, great job on this post, very inspiring!

  19. 20

    Nice post love it.

  20. 21

    It’s great that someone wrote this because a lot of web designers have no clue about modern art history or design history, and really they should. Also great parallels between then and now even though some were just too obvious :) Really love it and hope you’ll make more posts like this SM. Great job.


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