Postmodernism Design in Today’s Times

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Words: 2964 |

Pages: 7|

15 min read

Published: Feb 8, 2022

Words: 2964|Pages: 7|15 min read

Published: Feb 8, 2022

During the 20th century, a design movement has surfaced, it has been named Postmodernism. The art movement started around the 1940s then peaked around the 1960s and 1970s, and the term was then officially introduced around the 1970s, which associated with the concepts of universal truths and objective reality. This essay will focus on whether postmodernism design has revived or never left in today’s times (21st century) and also try to find out and understand the narratives behind some of the well-known and new revival designs. Firstly, looking at the definition of Postmodernism in design and what type of art-making has associated with the term postmodernism. Secondly, try to close read and understand design as narratives, the connection between the objects and stories, and how to look at the design object as narratives and telling stories. Thirdly, pick out four examples between well-known Memphis design and new revival postmodernism design, try to compare the differences in narratives or stories that the designer or artist wants to achieve behind their work. Lastly, give opinions and thought on whether postmodernism design has revived in today’s time or never indeed left and also the narratives behind in design objects.

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Post Modernism is a late 20th-century style and concept that encompasses a wide range of developments in arts, architecture, philosophy, and culture. The art movement was initially a reaction against and challenged the ideas and values of modernism; the response was base on idealism, society, and a utopian vision of human life. While modernism support or defend clarity and simplicity, Postmodernism embraces all of the complex and also mutually opposed the layers of meaning. The art movement has also embraced various approaches to a different type of art-making, which begin with ‘pop art’ in the 1960s, then followed by ‘conceptual art, neo-expressionism, and feminist art.’ In the different types of art-making, Pop art is an art movement that emerged in the 1950s and flourished in the 1960s, drawing inspiration from sources in popular and commercial culture. Conceptual art is an art movement in the 1960s, and the term usually refers to art made from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, for which the idea (or concept) behind the work is more important than the finished art object. The argument has made by an architectural historian that “Postmodern styles never indeed left the architectural profession is stronger than ever.” (Charles Jencks, 2017) Which makes the way to approach design have no more boundaries and rules. From this point onwards, designers can approach their design in their ways, and in the 1980s, this newfound freedom would come to influence others.

Postmodernism is considered one of the most controversial movements in art and design history. Over two decades, Postmodernism has shattered established ideas about design and art, bringing a new type of self-awareness about style itself. Magazines and music were also considered essential mediums for disseminating this new phase of the design movement. The most popular postmodern design style in the twenty years will be Memphis Group. Throughout the 1980s, the influence could be seen everywhere: from MTV to music videos it showed; to the interior decoration of Taco Bell restaurants and inside Baskin-Robbins where the design had conquered everything. During that time, the Italian designer and architect Ettore Sottsass have founded Memphis Group, where a group of artists and designers became known from their use of bright and bold furniture design. The Memphis Group strove to design products that were much more than just objects; but also an existential metaphor, visual poetry, and political statements. The Memphis Group was an expert at communicating their ideas with asymmetrical shapes and colourful decoration. The style of Memphis was heavily inspired by Art Deco and Pop Art style. At the time, everyday objects were usually designed to be functional and not decorative. The style of Memphis had to change this with a more creative approach to design, where they poked fun at everyday objects by designing them in a way that was unusual.

In the abstract, ‘Design as Narrative: Objects, Stories and Negotiated’ was an integrative, comprehensive way of making judgments on design objects and look at the objects as narratives. Since the start, design has been taught through a series of processes: specifying, researching, making, testing, refining, and evaluating. ‘As a form of explanation, narrative has also operated by describing… until no lacunae remain.’ ‘Design as narrative’ was about telling stories within the context of design objects, and it also reflects the culture at scales from local to global and to all levels in society. ‘The notion of the design objects being a narrative implies that it can in effect tell a story. The story ‘enfolded’ in the design object… detailed and comprehensive’ (Howe & Dillon, 2002). Which make the design objects tells a journey from research, process to separate part that is related to each other with the use of form, colour, texture, pattern, and shape. In an integrative sense, to read ‘read’ an object involves both synthesis and analysis. It also allows us as reader or audience have criticised the design objects as being a different type of form and to propose the narrative approach to the design object, when the design used alongside functional approaches, it should also provide an interpretation of design as a human enterprise. To appreciate design objects is to read that objects for understanding and meaning. ‘They develop ‘personal constructs’ that enable them to interact with, and interpret…’ (Neimeyer, R.A, 1985) From the statement, to understand the narrative behind the design objects was to appreciate and we reader should have our thoughts to interact and interpret on the objects.

After reading ‘Design as Narrative,’ it introduces the idea of designs where narratives, objects have power in the social settings: they have offered an interpretation of the story of their existence; they give back echoes of their past. The understanding that occur from this form of interpretation which allows the reader to have permitted more realistic engagement with designer works and creative involvement with objects. To regard design objects, the designer wants the reader or audience to seek and find the nuances and twist that went into the making of the objects and interpret them within their frames of reference. It is not the designer’s application of skill in the objects which cause the meaning, and it should be the reader’s power to bring out what the designer does and observe the design objects into a relationship with a deeper understanding where it should promote a form of thinking that is open to negotiated meaning, relevant and personal. It should also be based on the reader’s sentiments and feeling when he or she looks at the design objects. ‘With its emphasis on form… with its emphasis on meaning, the reader, and personal interpretation.’ (Landau, M. 1984) From that, it helps us understand that we should not evaluate a design object only in terms of its fitness for purpose, form, but also the meaning behind the design and how we reader or audience should have our interpretation.

After close reading the abstract, we had picked out four examples of well-known and revival postmodernism design, and we will do some analysis, comparison, and give our thought on the design and try to find out its narratives or stories behind the design. The first example is a Keystone chair from Eindhoven studio OS & OOS, and the fashion designer from Raf Simons has made a lighter version with the use of upholstered in textiles. From that, try to find out the narrative behind the design and the story that the designer tries to tell. They have made the chair for the Danish company called Kvadrat. The chair had built around a wooden frame, which is a more practical version using concrete and ceramic predecessors. There are three types of elements in the Keystone Chair and the elements were found in Roman Bridges, which according to designer Oskar Peet and Sophie Mensen, are ‘abstracted and reassembled,’ and that is an interpretation of three elements. Oskar Peet and Sophie Mensen have described them as: “spanners – elements which connect the bridge to the surface and ensure this foothold does not move or slide – the elemental building blocks, and the keystone, which is an inserted completes the fundamental arch shape.” The back of the chair is formed by a chunky angled element, representing the spanner, while another arched-shaped section has formed the seat. Personally, the overall design on the Keystone chair is postmodern due to the use of a funky combination of shapes, colour, and materials. The first impression on the design was the use of luxurious textiles from Raf Simons and bold colours compare to the original version; The design objects do function correctly as a chair (given it has all the elements of a chair: the back, seat, and leg). The narrative behind the design was to recreate the original Keystone chair with new textiles fabric from Raf Simons, which have reused the postmodernism design and bring out the revival purpose for today’s time.

The second example is the Super Lamp by a popular Memphis group designer Martine Bedin’s. From reading the objects, we will try to find out the narrative behind the design and the stories Martine Bedin tries to tell with the super lamp. The Super Lamp was put on display at the Memphis exhibition at the Milan gallery, in 1981. The art movement Memphis was an influential movement created by a group of designers in Milan. The design was a reaction against the fashion for monochrome functional objects using bright colours, playful shapes, and visually outrageous, almost comic designs. This lamp was made using painted steel with simple light bulbs. Bedin was a founding member of Memphis in the 1980s, and it is one of the younger designers in the group. The art movement has also become closely associated with Postmodernism. Bedin has said, “I was very interested in working in decoration through structure and the building of things. What gives pattern and decoration in my lamps…”. The first impression on the pieces was the use of bold forms and bright colours on the design, and it does function like a regular lamp; however, it could be more as a decorative art piece. The associate words that came to mind are “playful”, “quirky”, “vivid” with style. The most colours that were used are white, blue, yellow, and orange. The narrative behind the design was that Martin Bedin wanted to create a new design collective with a group of artists in December 1980; the group of designers has come up with ideas under the name of Memphis. The art movement has been thriving since, due to the use of bizarre colour, geometric shapes, and bold patterns and the designers have to change the design approach on everyday objects and turn the objects in a way that was unusual, which have made the collections significant.

The third example is the textile designer Camille Walala’s collection of home accessories with the use of bold patterned graphics, which was seen in the 2015 London Design Festival. Inside her collection, it includes a range of cushions printed with a colour palette of blue, green, red, white and black. On the geometric designs, there are dashes and dots fill coloured blocks, square grids and also diagonal stripes. The home accessories are cube-shaped pouffes carry striped patterns in various combinations. On the back surfaces, it has wall-mounted shelves with black edges frame patterns applied. From looking at the design, the collection of home accessories patterned with bold graphics are influenced by the Memphis Group. The first impression on the collection was the use of playful and fun graphics, and the objects are a more strong interpretation of Memphis’ influence. The associate words that came to mind are “fun”, “colourful”, “shapes”, “lines” with style. The most colours that were commonly used in the collection would be white, black, blue, and red. The narrative behind this design was Camille Walala’s work have heavily influenced by the Memphis Group, and she has used the style as inspiration, which is easily seen from her famous textile-based work to encompass art direction and interior design. Her style shows that it has translated the powerful message of using Memphis Group inspiration that she took and make the postmodernism movement revive in today’s time. She is now working on a grander scale than ever before, with an overriding ambition to imbue the urban landscapes with the use of her intense energy and eye-popping colour.

The last example is the Bel Air chair, which is also in the Memphis Group, Peter Shire is also in the design group Memphis, and he had created a signature object for the collective. Peter Shire had made several furniture for the Memphis Group. The ‘Bel-Air’ chair was considered one of his most important contributions in the collection, and the design has been influenced by The Art Deco and 1950s Space Age architecture in Southern California, Los Angeles culture of surfing and hot rodding, and the America mass culture. The first impression on the piece was quirky but sophisticated, playful but not over-the-top, the quarter-circle backrest, and the ball-shaped “chair leg” for instance. His designs on the chair are very creative reinterpretations of standard forms. The design objects do function correctly as a chair (with all the elements of a chair: the back, seat and legs), but it could also fall into the category as a piece of artwork—the chair changes when we try to look at it from a different type of angles. Nevertheless, the elements have come together very well, like a harmonious explosion of colours and shapes. The associate words that came to mind are “classic”, “expensive”, “elegant”, “deluxe” with style. The most colours that were commonly used would be red, white, green and yellow. The narrative behind the design was Peter Shire has created a new design collective with a group of artists in December 1980; the group of designers has come up with ideas under the name of Memphis. The art movement has been thriving since, due to the use of vivid colour, asymmetrical shape, and bold patterns and the designer has to change the design approach on everyday objects and turn the objects in a way that was unusual, which have made the collections significant.

From the four examples of well-known and new revival postmodernism design, the similarities between the design are the use of vivid colour, asymmetrical shape, and the design objects were far more than just furniture with simple function and purpose. The two well-known Memphis design examples are a piece of art that serves as an existential metaphor, visual poetry, and political statements. Which also influence new designers to find inspiration from their design pieces. As Chambers observes, ‘… many narratives relate voyages, whether literal or metaphoric, into a ‘hearts of darkness’: narratives information is not here so much as a form of knowing…’ (Chamber, R. 1989) From the two well-known examples, the design products were much more than just furniture; also, an existential metaphor, visual poetry, and political statements, which can be seen on the design and fit the statement in the abstract ‘Design as Narrative’.

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In conclusion, after close-reading and analyse the definition of Postmodernism, the abstract ‘Design as Narrative’ and the four examples of well-known and new revival design to support the argument with relevant research from all types of sources. The Postmodernism movement was a reaction against modernism, and it is based on complexity and contradiction, and it has associated with different types of art-making. From the postmodernism movement, the most popular design style will be Memphis Group, which was around during the 1980s, and the characteristic of Memphis Group are the use of bold, often clashing colours, the haphazard arrangement of geometric forms, and the use of plastic laminate, which was previously unseen at the time. Picked out the narrative and purpose on four examples between the two well-known Memphis examples and the two new revival example, the Memphis examples was an expert at communicating their ideas with the use of asymmetrical shapes and colourful decoration. From close reading new revival examples, it has an element of playful, iconoclastic postmodern design that reacted against its purity and offered an alternative vision for design that was more fun, warmer, experimental, and colourful. Furthermore, the stories that the Super Lamp by Martine Bedin and Bel Air Chair by Peter Shire want to get across was the group of artist in the 1980s have created a new design collective, and the designer has use haphazard arrangements, clashing colous, and brightly coloured plastic laminate, which was previously unseen and it has made the art movement successful ever-since. From close-reading the abstract, design as narratives were about us reader should not evaluate the design objects based on its purpose, we should have personal interpretation, which allows us, readers, to have creative involvement, and we should permit more realistic engagement with the design objects. In the end, postmodernism design has revived in today’s time with supporting examples that can be seen on the Keystone chair from Eindhoven studio OS & OOS and Camille Walala’s collection of home accessories. From Camille Walala’s collection, the work was patterned using bold graphics, with influence from the Memphis Group, Camille has taken the inspiration and apply it into her work. On the other side, there is the argument that was said by architectural historian, and he has commented on Postmodernism had indeed never left in the architecture scene. To summarise, it is hard to say whether postmodernism design has ever left or revived; however, there are supported examples; therefore, it shows the design movement has been revisited and inspire new designers or artists and us reader we should appreciate the design objects and have our personal interpretation and feeling toward the design objects. 

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Postmodernism Design In Today’s Times. (2022, February 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 23, 2024, from
“Postmodernism Design In Today’s Times.” GradesFixer, 10 Feb. 2022,
Postmodernism Design In Today’s Times. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 23 Jun. 2024].
Postmodernism Design In Today’s Times [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Feb 10 [cited 2024 Jun 23]. Available from:
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