Defining Postmodernism

Rick Poyner writes in No More Rules that “Postmodernism cannot be understood without reference to modernism.” (Poyner, 2003, p. 10).

Therefore, as a design theory, I define postmodernism as an extension of modernism: postmodern design is an expansion of typographic rules and an evolution of spacial understanding. For starters, in typography even the rebellious Wolfgang Weingart first learned the modernist rules of typography during his apprenticeship at a letterpress before he and his students began experimenting. Their work eventually became known as New Wave Typography. (Meggs, 2012) They sliced up characters, explored wide tracking, mixed typefaces, and pushed the bounds of readability in favor of imagery.

Second, in postmodern compositions I find example after example of letters and objects floating in space. In a complete rejection of the grid, postmodern design embraces intuition and favors personal interpretation. Without a grid, there is little in the way of traditional hierarchy to guide the eye through a design; looking at a poster, some viewers may see an object first, some may see the title first, some may see a quirky piece of punctuation first, and so on (see Figure 1). In postmodern design, this is an acceptable approach because typography is an experiment and space is subjective.

Greiman, postmodernmism poster.
Figure 1. April Greiman. Sci-Arc Poster, 1991. ARTstor Slide Gallery, accessed 9/7/2017. The photograph of the hand anchors the poster, but from there where does the eye go? To the eyeball at the top? The title in reverse? Or to “1991” with the thick border?