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December 23, 2021 (Updated: March 8, 2023)
Marketers have a unique role, where they get to be both creative and analytical on the job. The creative side is fun until you come across a project that causes a creative block. Having tactics to break through the brain fog and develop new ideas is a helpful resource for your marketing toolbox. Today, we’re looking at different design movements and art techniques to give you new graphic design ideas with topics like:
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An artistic movement is a design style with distinct characteristics, followed by a group of artists during a specific time period. Many art movements also share a common goal or philosophy to influence how viewers see and experience the world. Designs from these eras and periods may help spark new ideas you can use in your marketing materials today. Here are examples to help inspire your next graphic design project:
The abstract art movement takes real-world objects but makes them look different from how they look in real life. For example, an abstract drawing of a tree may not show it growing upward, but side to side, or in pieces. Artists like Pablo Picasso popularized this style in the 19th century. The elements that make a design abstract vary by the designer and their view of the object, not as it is, but how it could be. Characteristics of this style include the use of ambiguous shapes, unexpected element placement, inversion, and unexpected color usage.
Image via Wikipedia
American Kitsch became popular in the United States from the 1940s to the 1960s. Art déco, another artistic movement, served as its inspiration. Today, people associate this style with movie posters from the era, especially ones from the science fiction genre. Characteristics of American Kitsch include bold colors, cartoon-like illustrations, contrasting fonts and images, dramatic poses, and aerodynamic shapes.
Anti-design is an artistic movement that had a philosophy to prove to its viewers: everything that was once revolutionary eventually becomes commonplace. Instead of accepting this philosophy, anti-design artists choose to go against commonly held standards. The movement rejects principles like usability, homogeneity, or anything considered “the norm” in society or design. The current wave of this movement focuses on characteristics such as clashing colors, illegible typography, crowding of elements, and the illogical use of white space.
Image via Amazon
During the 1920s and World War I era, art déco was a symbol of sophistication, wealth, and luxury. We often associate it with architecture and visual arts. In its heyday and modern revivals, this design movement is one of the most popular in marketing and advertising. Characteristics of the style include geometric shapes, vertical lines, capitalized type, high-contrast tones, bold colors, and flat depth.
Art nouveau was a popular architecture and decorative art design movement, but can also apply to graphic design. The style became popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the United States and Western Europe. Characteristics of the style include bold outlines, illustrative style, the use of natural forms, and features of female-presenting subjects.
Arts and crafts isn’t just a day camp activity name. This international art movement focused on craftsmanship and traditional imagery. It often features folk or medieval figures and type. The movement started in Britain and moved through Europe and North America from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. It reemerged in Japan in the 1920s. Characteristics include lots of texture, illustrated typography, simple fonts, and historical themes. Popular color schemes include neutrals, like browns and creams.
Image via Creative Market
The primary goal of the Bauhaus movement is to bring function, design, innovation, and craftsmanship together in art design. The unusual name comes from its founding location, the Staatliches Bauhaus art school in Germany, where students popularized these designs in 1919. Characteristics include simplicity, grid organization, geometric shapes, contrasting colors, and visual hierarchy.
The Brutalism movement began in the 1950s and was most commonly used in architecture but also made the jump to digital design. This style has some similarities to minimalist design but its own hallmarks, including influences from industrial or building materials and design. Characteristics of the movement include monochromatic color, lack of ornamentation, modular designs, repeated patterns, lack of editing, and layered pieces.
Modernism is the idea of rebelling against anything traditional, like previous styles. Early modernism is the first phase of that movement. Designers used it for everything from art to architecture, and even furniture. Characteristics include geometric shapes, photos instead of illustrations, clean fonts, and minimalistic layouts.
Futurism was an art and social movement that started in the early 20th century in Italy with parallel movements worldwide. Its focus was fitting for the time of the Industrial Revolution, with an emphasis on technology, speed, objects, and transportation. Characteristics include eclectic styles, neutral or muted colors, new technology, and offset text.
Like other art movements in this list, the grunge era also coincided with the popular music of its time. It originated from the 90s subculture movement of the American northwest, in areas like Seattle. The style embodies an urban feel combined with elements of the punk era, which came before it. Characteristics include dirty texture, crooked elements, stains, torn elements, and hand-written or hand-drawn pieces.
Image via Medium by Faizan Bhatti
Hero Realism rose to prominence during the time of Socialist and Communist regimes in Europe and Asia. Designs featured a human figure that was the “hero” of the piece. The supplemental text acted as a call to action (CTA) and encouraged people to do something, such as sign up for a draft or buy a war bond. The Uncle Sam and Rosie the Riveter posters from WWI and WWII are popular American examples of this style. Characteristics include one focal human subject, realistic imagery, bold and clear fonts, and a poster style.
Late modernism was another phase of the modernist movement that came after World War II. It became popular in the contemporary art of the 1950s. This movement followed many of the same principles as early modernism, but with an anti-design twist. Characteristics include non-decorative typeface, distorted geometric shapes, and informal or unplanned structural layouts.
Maximalism aims to fill the empty space of a design. Artists use a variety of colors, shapes, and objects to meet that goal. It’s the opposite of the minimalist movement. To understand maximalism, think of a hidden-picture puzzle. Each time you look at the puzzle, you find a new object stashed throughout the entire design because it takes up all the available space on the page. In maximalism, the graphic designer has the freedom to decide just what elements to use to take up that space, as long as it fits the project’s theme.
The minimalist movement has been around for years, but it most recently became popular again in the 2010s for interior design. The name suggests exactly what sets this style apart from others: sparse use of elements. Another hallmark of minimalism is not using any more elements than necessary to make your point. Characteristics include neutral tones or secondary colors, the use of negative space, no field depth, and linear elements.
Post-modernism is a stylistic phase that followed modernism. It became trendy in the 1970s and 1980s. You may recognize post-modern art for its lack of rules or structure, like anti-design, and its combination of elements from a variety of other distinct movements. Characteristics include collage illustrations, clashing colors, a tilted axis perspective, and overlapping elements.
Image via Behance by Guro Jeppestol
The psychedelic movement influenced art and music associated with the 1960s and 1970s decades in the United States. Its origins came through inspiration from clothing, literature, philosophy, and the culture of the era, especially the hippie counterculture of the western part of the country, such as in California. Characteristics of the style include bold and clashing colors, images and type in art nouveau style, hand-drawn and illegible fonts, and curvaceous forms.
Image via 99designs
The punk movement originated in the 1970s in collaboration with the rise of the music scene by the same name. Many designers of the period didn’t train in art or design. These creators worked with bands and volunteered to help make their posters, flyers, and cover art. Most pieces have a do-it-yourself feel, like something anyone could create. Characteristics include collage style, photographic imagery, low-quality images, grainy effects, and rough texture.
Image via Twitter by @chemicalcuts
Retro-futurism may sound like a contradiction, but it’s actually a combination of other design movements. It takes inspiration from nostalgic and retro designs and how those eras viewed the future. Then it combines those principles with current trending subjects. For example, take any merchandise today that uses the Friends TV series font but not for products promoting the show. This is an example of Retro-Futurism because it combines the nostalgic feel of the font from the 90s TV show with trending subjects of today.
Socially conscious design has become more popular as the world focuses on social responsibility and topic issues like climate change and human rights. Key focus points within socially conscious design include:
The steampunk movement became a subculture trend in the 1980s. It used inspiration from the 19th century, such as the Victorian era or the Industrial Revolution, to inspire its fashion, design, and overall aesthetic. Characteristics include vintage inspiration; neutral brown, gold, and black colors; and industrial objects, such as gears or gaslights.
The Swiss International movement earned its name from its origins in Switzerland in the 1940s. It’s mostly used for poster design because it combines typography, photographic images, and grids. Characteristics include simple design, matte color palettes, asymmetrical layouts, sans serif fonts, and the use of negative space.
The Victorian movement references the period of Queen Victoria’s reign in Britain from 1837 to 1901. This period extended longer in the United States. We commonly associate the style with architectural homes of the era, but it also influences clothing and both interior and graphic design. Typical elements of Victorian style include elaborate decorative borders and fonts, symmetry, ornate imagery, banners, and minimal straight lines or edges.
Artistic techniques are the procedures or processes used to make designs. Most techniques get their distinctions from the ways they use the seven basic elements of design: line, color, shape, value, texture, space, and form. Combining multiple styles into one design helps create unique logos or projects that could help your brand stand out from the competition. Consider these art techniques and principles when searching for graphic design inspiration:
With all the computer programs available to designers today, it’s easier to create 3D designs for graphic projects. The biggest hallmark of this technique is that the images aren’t flat. This means they use principles of perspective and shading to make them look like they have depth. Areas of focus include lighting effects, shadow, and the illusion of volume.
Calligraphy is a lettering practice that dates back to ancient dynasties across Asia and Europe. It’s a visual art related to writing that forms ornate letters with a pen or ink brush. The lettering in calligraphy often includes many bends, curves, and curls. It can also have geometric shapes or designs.
Charcoal drawing and painting combine the color aesthetic of monochrome with the hand-drawn qualities of illustration. These types of designs rely on visual tones and exploring shading and contrast to create a full image using just one type of drawing tool. You can replicate this style using computer design programs.
Chiaroscuro is a painting technique that focuses heavily on the contrast of light and dark within the piece. The name itself comes from the Italian words that mean light and dark. Works in this style help you understand the elements of value, light source, and shadow to inspire your projects.
Collage comes from the French word “cooler,” which means “to glue.” Traditional collage arts include taking scraps of paper, objects, or other materials from different original sources and pasting them together to create one new project. You can also create digital collages using photo editing software to snip and snag elements to create one digital document. This style is a popular influence on artistic movements like punk and post-modernism.
Image via 99designs by @miridi
The terms conceptual design or concept art are most commonly used in fields like film or video game design. This technique often indicates a pre-production phase where you’re just coming up with ideas, but they’re not polished or finished yet. Concept designs often have a cartoonish or illustrative style. They may mimic reality but look like a fictional version of settings or objects rather than something you’d experience in real life.
Dissonance in design occurs when two or more elements send opposing messages. This can happen in any area, such as between the words and images or the colors and the background. The most important point is that there is a visible level of contrast among the elements. Using blur, opposing colors, and images or fonts with different aesthetics can help you achieve this technique.
Doodling is a more informal type of illustration with a less refined finish. Doodles may not look like they come from a graphic designer at all, but a student or amateur artist. Incorporating doodles into your projects may give them a more childlike or relaxed quality. Doodles can be highly personal to each designer thanks to their hand-drawn elements.
Embossing is an artistic process of creating an impression on an existing surface. You can do it on paper, cloth, metal, or glass. Words and logos receive embossing effects to help them stand out and be more visible to the human eye than flat techniques like etching. This technique teaches you about depth, perspective, and shadows. Many photo and design editing programs have an embossing tool that lets you add this effect to different elements in your project.
Embroidery is a type of textile technique that uses a needle and yarn or thread to create a design on another object. It’s common in fashion and housewares for ornamental design. Because embroidery uses stitching, it creates a different type of pattern than you’d see in other types of artistic mediums.
The definition of escapism is the desire to look for distractions from an unpleasant reality by engaging in fantasy. This is a broad term that each designer can interpret differently. This technique doesn’t have a distinct set of characteristics. If you intend to incorporate escapism into your designs, consider themes like vacationing, outer space, or fantasy worlds with characters, like wizards and dragons.
Image via Speckyboy by @steveretka
Flat style relates to minimalism in its design because it often focuses on one main visual element accompanied by nonintrusive text. Designers initially created this technique for graphical user interfaces like websites and apps, but it’s common in graphic design now, as well. Areas of attention include lack of depth, neutral tones, straight lines, and the use of negative space.
Foreshortening is an artistic perspective technique that focuses heavily on angles and light sources. It often depicts human figures, though you can do it with any subject. The focus of the piece often appears at an unexpected or unusual angle to create a different view than you’re used to seeing. Like other perspective styles, this type can create an optical illusion to make a flat subject look like it has depth.
Geometric design is an old principle, dating back to B.C. historical periods and locations, like those of ancient Greece. This technique is based on the rules of geometry and has a focus on shapes, often squares, circles, rectangles, and triangles. Areas of attention for this technique include straight lines and symmetry.
Glassmorphism is a practice typically used in web or app design. This technique uses frames, buttons, and backgrounds to look like there’s glass on the screen. Use blurring, shapes, light, depth, shadowing, and color to achieve this effect. If using glassmorphism, keep inclusion to a minimum to make it the focal point of a project and draw the viewer’s eye to it.
Graffiti is a cousin of street art because it takes place in a public setting. It’s different in that graffiti is technically illegal if the artist doesn’t have permission to display their work where it appears. This style uses handwritten or typographic elements like words or phrases rather than images to convey the message. Use this technique for inspiration for lettering lines and curves.
You can spot illustrations by their hand-drawn, or replicated-hand-drawn style. There are subcategories of illustrations that fall into this broad category, like conceptual art. These designs are interesting because each artist creates them differently with their own style and flair. Even if you get your inspiration from illustrations, you may add your own individuality to your creations.
Image via The Van Gogh Gallery
Impasto is a painting technique that uses thick, repeated layers to make the brush strokes visible in the final project. While not 3D, the image may appear to be because the lines and shapes are thick and seem to rise off the page, screen, or canvas. Areas of focus include light, texture, and tone.
Ink wash painting is a historic East Asia brush painting practice. Using materials similar to calligraphy, this technique requires the artist to apply black ink to paper or silk to create the designs. Areas of focus include the thickness of lines, types of brush strokes, and color gradients.
Kinetic art gets its name from its subjects, those with movement. It often focuses on machines with working parts, mobiles, or light that can change with time or manipulation. You can incorporate kinetic movement and design into both 2D and 3D pieces. Focus areas include joints, lines, and patterns of movement.
Mosaic is a design technique that comes from arranging small colored tiles on a flat surface. It’s an old practice that dates back to Mayan and other ancient civilizations. The small tiles are often opaque fragments of glass or other materials like gems, stones, or shells. The background surface is typically industrial, such as concrete. Mosaics can form just a pattern or a larger image.
Op art is an abbreviation for the term “optical art.” This type of design aims to show and understand the illusions and optical effects of perception. It was a popular technique in the 1960s and 1970s. Characteristics include a focus on contrasting colors, depth, shading, and the movement of lines.
Panorama is both a painting technique and a photographic style. It’s formed by putting a sequence of images side by side to show a longer, larger view than what you could see in one canvas or photo frame. Panoramas can help you understand layout and framing for graphic design projects.
Parametric patterns differ from other backgrounds or shapes because they use intricate geometric structures to make the design. Each line moves and morphs based on its position relative to another. This technique gets its name and its construction from mathematical parametric equations, a type of high-level math function rooted in geometry. Areas of focus include fluidity, 3D depth, and a sense of movement.
Personification is the concept of taking an inanimate object and giving it human qualities and characteristics. Personified objects in writing, film, or TV often keep some of their “object” qualities. For example, in the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast, the enchanted objects can walk, talk, and act like humans. But Mrs. Potts, the tea kettle, comes to a boil when she’s angry. You can use the concept of personification in your designs to help sell your products or services.
Photorealism is a subtype of illustration where the designer uses hand-drawn methods to replicate an original photo image. The finished product looks realistic, but the artist created it with their hands and tools. You can replicate this style with design programs on your electronic devices.
Pointillism is a painting technique first used in Paris in the 1880s. The artist uses individual dots of paint, ink, or other materials to create an entire image from smaller particles. With this technique, you can use different colors, create a variety of shapes, and even include shading, depth, and gradient. Up close, you can see all the individual dots, but when you step back, you see one cohesive picture. You can replicate this style on the computer using a design software program.
Pop art was a new and exciting style in the 1950s and 60s, which focused on representing American popular culture in iconography. It used themes of famous products, pastimes, and celebrities to tell the “American Story,” or sometimes to mock it. Focus areas include bold colors, grainy texture, and heavy typeface.
Quilting is a textile art form that involves stitching together two or more layers of fabric, with padding in between, in unique patterns. It’s a common tool to make blankets, pillowcases, clothing, or wall hangings. Patterns include the nine-patch, log cabin, pinwheel, and eight-point star. Each pattern uses a series of geometric shapes—like squares, rectangles, and triangles—but the arrangement makes each one unique.
Sand painting is a precise art form associated with some North American and Indian indigenous cultures. It involves using crushed, colored sandstone, pollen, charcoal, or other dry materials to create a design. Because of its cultural origins, common subjects include Mandalas or other designs with intricate, repeating patterns.
Splatter paint originated in New York in the 1940s and was a derivative of the Abstract Expressionist movement. Jackson Pollock is one of the most famous splatter artists. You can use this technique with almost any type of paint on any surface or canvas. It’s often chaotic because there’s no easy way to control where the drops fall. Characteristics of this style include a lack of uniformity, gravity, and circular shapes.
Spray paint is the most commonly used tool for graffiti and some types of street art. It comes in aerosol cans, with a nozzle that allows you to spray liquid near or far from the canvas. This can affect the color, saturation, and design pattern.
Stained glass style is most often associated with windows and religious institutions, but you can use it for many artistic projects, including graphic design ideas. The glass gets its color from a metallic oxide coating during manufacturing. Then those pieces get placed in a frame and melded together with materials like stone, lead, or metal. In design inspiration, focus on characteristics like vibrant colors, use of heavy lines, fractured layouts, and opaqueness.
Stop animation is a common term in moviemaking, but it can also influence your static and dynamic graphic designs. This animation technique films a subject by repeatedly stopping and starting each frame. It gives inanimate objects or figures the impression of moving. It may use 2D or 3D subjects, such as paper cutouts, clay figures, or live-action people or items. This style may be popular for graphic designers who work in GIFs, social media, or other types of clips.
Surrealism is an artistic style closely related to escapism but preceded that technique. In 1924, writer André Breton discussed the concept of bypassing consciousness to understand how thought functions. This style shows things that may not make sense in the conscious world. For example, consider dreams. Sometimes you know you’re supposed to be looking at an object you know well and your conscious mind understands that, but in the dream, that thing doesn’t look like it normally does when you’re awake. This understanding, paired with confusion, is the guiding principle of surrealism.
Image via Behance by Natalia Kuzmina
Tactile designs are most common in real-world images and graphics. They’re a type of adaptive image for those with blindness or visual impairments. Similar to how braille is a series of raised bumps for reading, a tactile graphic has raised or textured parts so people can experience it with a sense of touch rather than just seeing it with their eyes. Though it’s not possible yet to do this with a digital image, you can mimic the way one looks on the computer. Pay attention to color, shading, depth, and texture.
The earliest evidence of tie-dye goes back to the 6th century in China, Japan, and India. In the United States, tie-dye became popular in the 1920s. The concept of using colored dye to create patterns on clothing and accessories is most often associated with the 1960s and 1970s counterculture movements and rock music of the hippie era. Characteristics of tie-dye include bold colors, blending, bleeding, use of negative space, and circular patterns.
The phrase trompe l’oeil is French for “deceives the eye.” This technique encourages optical illusions to trick your eyes and brain into thinking the image is three-dimensional. Subjects often include people or everyday objects. Designers may use the border of the piece and layering to enhance the illusion. Focal characteristics include framing, depth, shading, and perspective.
Image via 99designs by @stevenmink
Typography focuses mainly, sometimes only, on turning your word and font choice into the entire focus of a design. The words themselves may form shapes, or the fonts may be the primary subject of the pieces. This is a common design choice for logos, posters, and other branding materials.
Ukiyo-e is a type of Japanese printed or painted artwork that uses hand-carved woodblock to make scenes and designs. The style may be something familiar to vector graphic designers because it uses some of the same elements. Characteristics of ukiyo-e design include flat colors, bold outlines, and limited perspective.
Voxel is a digital art that uses 3D pixels, called volumetric pixels, to create an illustration or animation. Similar to 3D art, areas of focus include shading, depth, geometric shapes, and lines. The video game Minecraft and the 2015 movie Pixels both incorporate this style.
Watercolor design is as simple as incorporating the look and feel, or actual watercolor painting, into your project. You can create anything in the watercolor image, from geometric shapes to backgrounds. Characteristics of this technique include bleeding and blending color, gradient, texture, and imperfect edges.
Wood carving is exactly what it sounds like: creating an image, object, or sculpture with wood. Like other sculptors, woodcarvers often start with a log or plant of wood and cut, chip, and carve away negative space until they’re left with the desired result. Looking at these designs can help you understand positive and negative space in a work.
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