Newton’s Third Law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. I was never very good at physics, but I find it much easier to apply this law to design trends. Antidesign, brutalism and neo-acid graphics are opposite reactions to the hyper-polished corporate design we see all around us. (I see a lot of overlap between the three movements so I’ll be discussing them all together.) Exhausted by the status quo, designers have started incorporating elements from early web design, rave posters, and other underground pieces. The undesigned or under-designed have become design trends.
These trends seem to mirror Dadaist art, which was a rejection of the capitalist values of the day. Antidesign / brutalism / acid graphics rail against cookie-cutter, templated design. Harsh colors, distracting patterns, seemingly random layouts, a lack of hierarchy: these are all devices used to upend the norms of design. It’s raw, honest, disorienting and haphazard. It definitely stands out in a sea of sameness. It’s a raised middle finger to mainstream design and in that regard, highly successful. Who says punk is dead?
But does the movement have staying power? Will history be kind to its legacy or is it a flash in the pan, destined to be erased by the 20-Year Cycle? We’re roughly 5 years into its lifecycle, so it’s hard to say whether it’s here to stay or not. Personally, I think designers will borrow elements and tactics from all three movements but I’m not sure it will be around for another 15 years. Mainstream design is everywhere because it works for the majority. Unless companies start getting a lot more rebellious and daring, we’ll continue to see plenty of “clean” corporate design.
I don’t think many could argue that mainstream design doesn’t work; it generally follows the principles of design that make a given piece beautiful and functional. But I definitely understand the desire to experiment, break the rules, go against the grain. It’s necessary to keep the design field fresh and relevant.