When has design sold its soul?

At the end of the XVIII century the Industrial Revolution turned the whole world upside down. We all know what happened, we learned about it at school, however do we really understand how big was designs role in it? It was almost as if designers didn’t understand their power before. Now having the whole world as their canvas they started using their power in several different ways. But what was most significant was the fact that design has reached the corporate world.

This consumer-based approach had not been left without an answer. The respond was a birth of several movements. One of them was the Arts & Crafts movement that loudly opposed the approach of design being a mass-production factory. They saw a negative impact it had on society and the decrease of quality of the products. They decided to reach back to past all the way to Medieval times. They wanted to go back to the hand made art so in 1888 they established their own school Guild and School of Handicraft, which was supposed to train another generations of craftsmen. One of the most important individuals in Arts & Crafts movement was William Morris – British architect, painter and poet. After discovering that industrial civilization equals the death of beauty, he abandoned London and moved to live in the countryside. One of his most renowned pieces was a house outside of London called the Red House. Its facade was supposed to reflect functional rooms system. It was a primary beginning of Art Nouveau.

5693885734_48af2e35e3_b   Bez tytułu

In opposition to the Arts & Crafts movement emerged the Industrial Modernism, represented by the Bauhaus German school of design created by Walter Gropius in 1919. They expressed an opposite approach to modern art and believed that design should be accessible to everyone. They saw an opportunity in new materials that could now be used in design. Unlike Arts & Crafts they were open to experimentation within art. Gropius wanted to combine technic with art not to separate it. He believed that every artist should be a craftsman and every craftsman an artist. In 1933t the school was closed by the Nazis, and many of designers emigrated to the US.

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US have become a Mecca for corporate designers. Even today many world-famous companies use logos that have been designed in that period.


It cannot be forgotten that the XX century not only gave the designers’ consumerism and corporate industry but also two dramatic World Wars. During an unspeakable time of terror, poverty, exploitation and constant live-threating danger people tended to turn to two sacrum: God and Art. It gave designers the opportunity to hold an amazing power of bringing people hope, however they could also become a part of propaganda mechanism and serve various political goals.


We all have seen this poster and many of its interpretations. In XX century every street was filed with posters trying to gain support for The Cause. Some posters were gentle and easily got sympathy.


”Donation for German Red Cross”

Others were more radical and daring:

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“Each bullet one German”                             “Hands off!”

 Design could also be very easily used to manipulate the masses:


“One Nation, one Reich, one Leader”

Is it really something we haven’t seen before? Since the time when ancient Rome was the master of the world, leaders had glorified them selves through art. They were building enormous monuments that we still admire thousands of years later. During the French Revolution Jacques Louis David, minister of propaganda created “The death of Marat”, a true masterpiece so perfectly reversing the truth in the most deviant way. Marat was one of the leaders of the French Revolution and personal friend of David. He was famous for his belief in bloody terror as an answer to political and social problems. After he was murdered by the girondist Charlotte Corday, the famous painter decided to honour his death with a masterpiece. He presented Marat as a martyr of revolution by perfectly stylising every detail presented. Its one of the most well thought paintings in the history of art and definitely the best painting in the history of propaganda. Why is it so significant? Probably because its powerful, magnificent, poetic, tragic and believable. However, as Simon Schama said, “It’s a lie”.


”The death of Marat”



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