Story: Graphic design

Page 4. The digital age, 1980s to 2000s

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1980s–90s: postmodernism

Graphic design in late-20th-century New Zealand was marked by a return to adornment and decoration, and to borrowing from the past. Postmodernism first emerged internationally in the 1970s. The style celebrated expression and personal intuition, where the modernists had focused on formula and structure and refused historical references.

New directions with type

Knowledge of typefaces and typography in New Zealand has increased greatly since the arrival of desktop computers. In the early years of the 21st century three internationally recognised Kiwi designers began exploring typographic design in distinctive ways.

  • Catherine Griffiths used type in printed material and in the environment. Her work ranged from award-winning book jackets to a series of installations on the Wellington Writers Walk.
  • Sarah Maxey was known for thoughtful design and print solutions for the publishing industry and arts-related projects. Her unique combination of colour, wit and hand-lettering in an age of digital design was refreshing.
  • Kris Sowersby released his first typeface, Feijoa, in 2007; his second, National, won a Certificate of Excellence from New York’s Type Directors Club in New York.

Digital revolution

In the 1980s few designers had the skills to use the new computer-based production technology; in the 2010s computer mastery was a prerequisite for design work. In the decades between, Macintosh released the Apple computer; desktop printers were developed that could print 1200 dots per inch; and computer applications for page layout, design and image manipulation became standard for designers. Computers replaced many of the skilled trades in graphics and enabled one person to fill many roles.

Following the sun

In 2013 the Tauranga design company Right Aligned used the following-the-sun business model to provide PowerPoint presentations and graphic-design and web-design services to international clients. This meant taking over the workflow from their European colleagues in the morning and handing it back to them in the evening, providing a 24-hour service to clients.

Since 2000 internet-based communication has dominated information exchange, and online media came to represent the leading edge of graphic design. Initially web layout relied on basic HTML coding and was controlled by programmers and their technical abilities rather than aesthetics. In the 2000s designers could dictate the look, aided by the creation of web fonts (which allow designers to use fonts that are not installed on the viewer’s computer) and high-speed internet which allows fast downloading of graphic material.

The core principles of good graphic design, such as strongly structured layout and effective typography, remain at play in the dominant media form. The work of Timothy Kelleher and Matthew Arnold at Sons & Co demonstrates a new level of simplicity and sophistication, all presented online to an immediate global audience.

How to cite this page:

Hamish Thompson, 'Graphic design - The digital age, 1980s to 2000s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/graphic-design/page-4 (accessed 31 October 2020)

Story by Hamish Thompson, published 22 Oct 2014