I’ve always been interested in the relationship between culture and graphic design. When you look at design output from Japan, the UK, Germany and Russia…it’s not just the alphabets and type faces that are different. As technology has made our world smaller, edges have blurred and cultures clash but I do think that there must be differences in the semiotics of design from different regions. As there are in how we express ourselves verbally and physically. In a very simple way I hope to put together some examples of design work from around the world and see what I find, starting with Russia. With a 100yr anniversary since the Russian revolution it seems a good place to start.
When I think of Russian design, I go right back to 1917, to the Russian Revolution and the powerful propaganda machine that accompanied the massive social changes after the devastating civil war.
In terms of design, this period became one of the most influential periods of Russian art and design history as artists and designers became drivers in the march towards social change and design was to serve the proletariat. A new type of visual representation was required which was utilitarian, beyond style and served society. Simple Geometric forms were adopted as being somehow communal, fitting with a new vision of industrialisation and had no connotations towards being of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ taste.
Examples of the Suprematist style by artist Kasimir Malevich
Known as Constructivism and influenced by the suprematist artwork of Malevich and global modernism. The movement was led in great part by Rodchenko who rejected painting to better serve the new emerging state and society using a wide array of media, working in sculpture, design, photography and photo-montage. With his rejection of painting and the founding of the Constructivist workers movement, Rodchenko sought to redefine ‘art making’ as a form of professional expertise and labour like any other, and not as a spiritual calling. His work has been hugely influential globally with advocates including Jan Tschichold and Neville Brody.
Constructivist collage and photography: Alexander Rodchenko
With technological advances, global influences have created a design style which is more universal. European and Russian design practices appear very aligned in current times. However, the style created by the constructivists has had far reaching global influences starting, significantly, with the Bauhaus movement. At home the style was adapted for less political spheres marrying well with the technological advances in film, until it was ousted by the Social Realist movement, which met with Stalin’s ideal of the peasant hero.
While it’s hard to see a specific influence of Constructivist art movement on Russian graphic design today, I think it’s fair to say that Constructivist design vernacular is the language of choice for revolution and propaganda…from the fraught and meaningful
to the parody and the tongue-in-cheek.
An interesting twist on the Russian constructivist propaganda machine is the resurgence of the genre for a series of posters around Glasnost and Perestroika in Gorbachev’s Russia in the 1980s. It may not be a coincidence that at this historic time Constructivism enjoyed a revival globally with the UK’s Neville Brody of ‘The Face’ magazine at the fore.
Modern Russian design portal: https://www.artlebedev.ru/
Shepard Fairey’s whole career is built on the principles of constructivist style. https://obeygiant.com/
More on the revolutionary design agency behind ‘What’s brewing?’ Craft beer https://www.designweek.co.uk/issues/23-29-october-2017/rebranding-craft-beer-festival-totalitarian-state/
And just in case you weren’t sure what the colour of revolution is, it’s red