Academy Xi Blog

The evolution of design

By Academy Xi

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In 1903, when Spanish archaeologist Hermilio Alcalde del Rio first discovered the cave paintings of Cueva del Castillothe, little did he know that the region of Cantabria would become the epicentre for scientists, scholars, futurists, and designers to understand the origins of art and design. These cave paintings are believed to be the oldest cave paintings in the world dating back to 40,000 years ago.

So what is so special about these paintings? While they seem like a child’s drawing at first glance, at a closer look they appear to be primordial masterpieces — so much so that when Picasso first visited he remarked ‘We haven’t learnt anything in the last 12,000 years.’ These paintings are the manifestation of humans’ innate desires; the need for safety, food and self-actualisation. The panel of hands was designed for onlookers to touch them and surrender to the transcendental or supreme force.

Since then, design has become important for us to reimagine life, engage with society, and fulfil our desires.

Accelerating demand for design: the Industrial Age

If the Stone Age led to the birth of design, the Industrial Age led to the demand for design. In 1814 when the steam-powered engine was invented, there was a major shift in design. Lower cost of print promotions enabled more reach to people which led to a massive demand for design. Since then, the discipline of design has branched further, touching many areas of human life.

Today, design is interwoven into every layer of society including areas of visual design, web design, User Experience (UX) Design, fashion design, graphic design and eco-friendly design. Let’s look at the evolution of design from various lenses in more detail.

The evolution of visual design

Swiss style of design: Originated in the beginning of the 19th Century, Swiss style design was built on the design principles of objectivity, legibility, and simplicity. By using grids, sans-serif typography, and a crisp hierarchy of graphical elements, the Swiss style instantly became a global movement in visual communication, travelling to different countries and being loved across all languages.

Minimalism: Having similarities with Zen philosophy, minimalism has achieved a cult following owing to its ‘less is more’ ideology. Found in New York in the 1960s, minimalist design removes unnecessary elements to bring out the core essence of a design out; making it easy to leave a memorable imprint on the viewer. Doesn’t Ford’s minimalistic logo look much more appealing than its original design?

Skeuomorphism and flat design:

Skeuomorphism is often used in graphical design where real-world objects are animated into interface objects such as app icons. With skeuomorphism, users find designs more intuitive as they feel like they are engaging with real-world objects. Skeuomorphism also helps users easily understand the purpose of the app.

Flat design has followed suit with minimalism by doing away with elements like drop shadows, variable lighting, and textures. Flat design reduces the complexity and enhances the user experience in design.

The evolution of web design

With 4 billion users online today, web design has come a long way since the first website was launched back in 1991.

The world’s first website was created by CERN, and was exclusively text-based due to low internet speed. However, the web exploded when the Mosaic browser was first launched in 1993 leading to exponential change in web design over the years.

Today, web design is a critical component of many brands’ and businesses’ marketing strategies, becoming a vital tool to succeed in the digital economy. From just providing information, the web has now evolved into a platform allowing us to shop, communicate, read the news, watch movies and more. The evolution of websites has now become more minimalistic with large background images and videos to enrich the user experience.

The birth of Web 2.0 made the internet interactive and gave rise to videos which today are used by 92% of all internet users. Multimedia applications and social media such as Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube form bulk of internet traffic giving billions of web users the tools to express themselves and share in the digital world.

The evolution of User Experience (UX) Design

With the complexity of web ever evolving, UX Design has taken a giant leap from traditional design with the objective to create functional and delightful experiences. This shift has been possible through a Human-Centred approach. While designing an experience, designers now keep in mind the medium used by consumers, such as desktop, mobile, and smart devices.

UX Design course consists of an iterative process of research, idea generation, prototyping and testing ideas. Coupled with an Agile mindset, this has led to an evolution in design where user research forms a key part of the process of designing a solution.

The evolution of graphic design

The origins of graphic design can be traced back to the caves of Lascaux. Throughout history, we can observe the use of graphic design on the walls of ancient Egyptian temples, navigation maps for sea exploration, or heraldry during the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

It was only in 1436 with the invention of the printing press by Guttenberg that graphic design took a leap into the mainstream and its demand grew exponentially. However, the term ‘graphic design’ was only coined centuries later by William Addison Dwiggins in 1922.

Most graphic design was done by hand until 1984, when the unveiling of the Apple Macintosh by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started the digital age. Various artists have contributed to the development of the discipline, and it can be best understood through the following movements in history:

  • Art Nouveau
  • Modernism
  • Art Deco
  • Advertisement boom
  • Pop art
  • Swiss style
  • The digital age 

Today graphic design has come a long way and is deeply interwoven into a cultural, political, economic, and educational activity.

The evolution of fashion design

Clothing went from being a human basic need to being a symbol of personal identity, social behaviour, and intuitive interactions. The environment that humans live in greatly influences the choice and style of clothing. With the advent of the technological revolutions merging into every fabric of life, fashion design is also set for a revolution.

Today, fashion is being reimagined as an interactive interface between the wearer, garment, and the environment leading to new inventions. One such example is the Jacquard by Google — a platform designed to merge textile with technology for everyday use. The Levis Commuter Jacket is one such idea built on the Jacquard by Google platform where you can listen to music, get call alerts, navigate the city, and communicate by using hand gestures. This is the start of a new era where everyday objects such as shoes, jackets, and sunglasses will become a key medium to connect with the digital world.

How ready-to-wear has changed over the centuries

For most of human history, clothing has been handmade. Archeological records show us that the first ready-to-wear garments emerged in 1400 BC. In ancient Rome, garments were produced in workshops of up to 100 workers to outfit the military.

The Roller Spinning machine which converted cotton into thread along with steam-powered machines were first introduced during the Industrial Revolution. This accelerated the adoption of the ready-to-wear industry and the ability to standardise clothing measurements.

In 1846, Elias Howe invented the sewing machine which empowered workers to piece garments quickly. Today ready-to-wear industry works at lightning speed. 40% of all fabric fibre produced is polyester which is basically plastic. Retail stores introduce new fashion line every few weeks and we have an infinite choice to select from.

Eco-friendly design: the growing demand for ethical fashion

According to a Nielsen study, a whopping 81% of global respondents feel that companies should help improve the planet. Today young consumers are changing the game for commerce, giving rise to ethical fashion. Young people want to better the planet and are extremely conscious about their carbon footprint and the consequences of what they purchase and wear.

In a nutshell, ethical fashion and eco-friendly design comprise of practices that preserve the planet. Today marketers are expanding the narrative by educating consumers about conscious brands and fast fashion brands such as H&M and Zara — who are also adopting eco-friendly designs to their product offerings.

From caveman to conscious man

Design has come a long way, originating with the caveman and leading us to the conscious consumerism we know today. Every evolution of man is complemented with a change of design language. With the exponential pace of innovation today, the future of design is all set for a major overhaul. New mediums -such as Mixed Reality– and technological revolutions -such as the Blockchain technology – demand design to go back to the drawing board once again, and do so for a better planet and tomorrow.