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Styles in Graphic Design: from traditions to minimalism

New means create new forms. What styles became influential enough to change the art trends, and which styles transformed to suit the demands of the 21st century?


The rise of graphic design is not only a technological revolution in art but also artistic. New means create new forms. As such, some of the unique styles in art now were created because of and by artists using digital means and hardware only. At the same time, classic designs were transformed and got a new look within the graphic design. So, what styles in design became influential enough to change the trends in art, and which styles transformed to suit the demands of the 21st century?

For the sake of our experiment, we have tried to transform a single image to see how it would look in different styles. Here is the original image, we will be adapting.

The style that definitely has found a space in modern graphic design and contemporary aesthetics is minimalism. “Less is more” changed from the art motto to a statement that is easily applied to any part of our lives. Minimalism became popular in the 1960s as the counterculture to widespread abstract expressionism. Instead of complicated, frequently not aligned patterns, that meant to deliver some deep sense, the minimalist artists preferred clear shapes and forms. Minimalist painter Frank Stella famously said about his paintings ‘What you see is what you see’.

Since then, minimalist aesthetics has been heavily applied in architecture, interior design, photography, music, and other creative industries. But how did it become so popular among digital artists? When the computer era has come, the common imagery that people would see drastically changed. During the early years of the Internet, tons of new shapes, colours, and forms were created. For the first time in history, we had the palette of millions of colours at the tips of our fingers. This created the aesthetics that often was over-flooded with elements and shades. Every page tried to be brighter, more screaming, and more distressing. Similar to its history in the 1960s, minimalism aesthetics appeared as the counterculture for it.

Graphic design in the 2010s becomes much cleaner, details are replaced by the space, bright colours are replaced with neutral and pastel shades, saturation is replaced with functionality. More clean space makes even simple fonts and logos pop up, and a few bright details highlight the negative space.

But what about the acidy and overcrowded styles? One of the most influential styles coming from the early computer aesthetics is vaporwave. Its purple and neon backgrounds paired with grids and glitches are distinctive characteristics of this genre. It comes from early computer imagery combined with the satirical philosophy that makes fun of consumerism and promises the game-like utopia. As such, vaporwave commonly features the well-known brands and their logos, Chinese and Japanese characters, elements from the cartoons and famous animes, as well as this notion of the glitched computer screen that is often visualized with the screen of failed Windows 95 or looped error notifications.

In contrast to the minimalist style, vaporwave is mostly presented in graphic design, but not only. In the early 2010s, the music style emerged from the same sense of nostalgia towards the aesthetics of the early 90s. It combines lounge-like melodies with jazz, R&B, and wave.

One of the later use of the vaporwave aesthetic came into fashion. Repetitive slogans, futuristic elements, metallic and neon colours were among the biggest trends in 2019.

Now, it is back in style again. With the goal to reach millennials, artists and producers avail of vaporwave with the goal to stir nostalgic feelings, bringing them the aesthetics of their childhood. Stretchy fonts, pixelated images, vibrant colours are back on the agenda of many artists. The rise of NFT art pushed it even further since many refer to cryptowave as the new form of vaporwave, in which the reference to Bitcoin and other digital money is taking place.

But what about very traditional styles? How they are presented in graphic design.

Some popular pre-modern aesthetics come from the end of the 19th century. They stand somewhere between modernism in its current understanding and classicism. One of such styles is Art Nouveau that was created deliberately to escape from historicism in the art of that time. However, it still employs techniques that are understandable for the viewer: lots of organic lines, ornamentalism, geometric shapes. It comes to illustration a bit later, with its distinctive female persona as the main character of the composition, who is frequently surrounded by floral and animalistic elements. In a way, it presents the new reality, rapidly developing and industrialized, in a more optimistic light, still connected to the natural world.

Art Nouveau in graphic design usually comes in separate elements, fonts, and sometimes whole compositions. The distinguishing elements are ornamental hand-like writing, floral frames, curvy, sinuous and longer lines, and mosaic backgrounds. It is frequently used to create a retro effect, using natural not saturated colours that throw a user back to the aesthetics of first printed posters.

Do you have a favourite style? Let us know in comments below what about your preferences! And vote for the best version of our adaptations.

Which style did you like the most

1. Minimalism vote

2. Vaporwave vote

3. Art Nouveau vote

Go to poll page

World of Design


Veronika is part of RenderThat community management team, writing about hints and tricks for artists in her free time.