Art Deco Graphic Design: The Ultimate Guide to Art Deco Style

Even if you're not familiar with the name Art Deco, it's definitely a style you've seen before. As one of the most prevalent artistic movements of the 20th century, the stately opulence of Art Deco design helped shape the visual impact of the American landscape for centuries to come. This is especially true in cities like New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles, where Art Deco helped define the city's architectural style. It's no surprise, then, that Art Deco remains such a potent influence on 21st-century graphic design.

The history of Art Deco style

Sometimes also called style moderne, Art Deco came about in the 1920s. Its original focus was architectural design but the principles of the movement eventually expanded to a variety of artistic crafts. By the 1930s, it was one of the most predominant styles in both the United States and in large parts of Europe.

As Britannica notes, "Art Deco design represented modernism turned into fashion." Whereas many modernist impulses championed minimalism, Art Deco was more concerned with fashionable decoration (thus the "deco") through artistic means. The purpose of adding lavish decorative elements to otherwise sleek designs was to signal opulence, wealth, and luxury.

Of course, the goal was never to make the design look busy; simplicity is, after all, a tenant of modernism. Instead, geometrical and stylized ornaments were added to streamlined shapes to highlight the contrast between the simplicity of the design and the sophistication of its decoration.

Basic principles of Art Deco design

There are many clear, unifying principles to help one identify Art Deco graphic design. Some of the most prominent include:

  • Industrial Age References: Art Deco was a product of its time, so there is a tendency to highlight mechanical engineering, the perceived futurism of an industrial world, and the wealth associated with the classes who could afford to benefit from each.
  • Symmetry and Geometric Elements: Whether layering shapes or using the guiding principles of geometry to streamline that which was to be decorated, the clean geometry of Art Deco stands out and keeps the design from becoming too busy.
  • Aerodynamic Curvature: Where Art Deco does use curved lines, it's important to keep them aerodynamic and streamlined, again echoing the modernization of industry.
  • Egyptian Inspiration: Ancient Egypt was a large influence on Art Deco design, partially because the discovery of King Tut's tomb in 1922 made it a craze. Palms, reeds, and hieroglyphic-like graphics are all common features.
  • Motifs from Lighting and Theater: The lights of the big city and the theater world were enchanting in the 1920s, so these motifs also showed up in numerous Art Deco contexts. Here again, the association with both wealth and the upper classes was significant for its conclusion in Art Deco design.

To emulate the style in modern art deco graphic design, think geometric symmetry, theatrical fonts, industrial imagery, metallic elements, and intricate line work. Remember to edit your ideas—while the point is to be decorative, it is not to be over-the-top, so edit thoughtfully and keep things sophisticated.

Art Deco today

Despite being a century old, Art Deco-inspired graphic design remains an ever-present influence. Owing in part to nostalgia for all things vintage and in part to high-profile celebrations of the aesthetic, such as the 2013 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby, Art Deco is still a dominant design influence in today's society. Art Deco graphic designers still use the style to call to mind the sophistication, luxury, and charm that has always been associated with the movement.

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