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Design Glossary


                                   By Alex Brown                               



The GLOSSARY below offers definitions of some of the art and design styles or movements which are to be discussed in the Cultural Studies Programme in this academic year. The key point is that each of these recognizable styles uses a particular set of forms which distinguishes it from others and makes it unique. The glossary is organized in alphabetical order.


1.       STYLE    


A limited set of familiar and recognizable forms which are combined together in certain conventional ways to produce a coherent and meaningful image. These recognizable forms could be musical chords, architectural elements (columns, capitals, etc.) colour and/ or compositional techniques in painting, clothing, fabric, accessory combinations in fashion styles and so on.


Individual artists and designers do not invent whole styles on their own. These are produced by many people over long periods of time by exchanging ideas and images which are then combined and recombined using variations on the same limited set of forms. This produces historical change and development in the style.


2.       MOVEMENT


the activities of a group of people who are attempting to create a STYLE or who consciously use the same style in their design work. A Movement usually considers only one style to be ‘correct’ or appropriate for their kind of design work.


The 'MODERN MOVEMENT' in design





This style - totally abstract in nature (no subject matter) -was a radical American development of the Expressionist school of painting in Europe where colour had become a powerful independent force in painting. Continual development of this approach by American artists led to the final dominance of colour over all other aspects of the painting surface including the elimination of the subject matter. The painting became a pure colour composition. As spontaneous expressions of the artists unconscious mind to be experienced purely through colour and line. At the same time they ceased to be understandable to the general public since they were 'non-representation.       


Period: From the 1940s.  Artists: Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko


4.       ART NOUVEAU


An attempt to maintain the humanity and beauty of craft-design and production in the face of growing machine/mass production techniques which simplify and neutralize the form of objects. Art Nouveau sought inspiration in the forms of the natural world, e.g. plants, flowers, etc. as source of decorative motifs. Linear emphasis based on the stems and branches of plants and vines exaggerated and lengthened to give characteristic Art Nouveau `flowing' look. Special interest in furniture, product design and graphic illustration. Polychromatic, complex and rich colour selections. However, by 1910, Art Nouveau had ceased to be a viable alternative either to Classicism or to machine produced product.


Period 1890-1910  Artists: C.R. Mackintosh;  Voysey;  Horta; Gaudi.




It sought a return to craft-based traditions as a means of humanizing life and art. Design Sources were the pre-Industrial Revolution life in villages; Gothic vernacular; the usefulness and simplicity of peasant/rural products and designs; the natural world. Rejecting factory production it sought to return to a `hand made', craft-based approach to the design of products. Use of natural materials and colours, flowered patterns, `cottage style' interiors suggesting simple peasant life. Again, a decorative approach to the design of  products and ultimately, neither Arts and Crafts nor Art Nouveau could offer a realistic design alternative to mass produced goods: Like Art Nouveau, it was unable to become a viable alternative to alternative styles.


 Period: 1850+ Artist/designer: William Morris


4.      BAROQUE


In the Baroque, the stylistic rules of Classicism and the Renaissance were bent and twisted to achieve more variety and emotion of expression in all the arts. The Baroque appealed to the senses & emotions using grotesque and sensual images. Shock and Illusion were used to produce super-realistic images which would affect the emotions of the observer. Art and design in the Baroque period comes very close to being  pure theatre. Techniques used included illusion, rich colours, dynamically posed figures, spiraling movements, dramatic shadow and light all to achieve a more complex and plastic artistic effect.


Period: 1600-1700  Artists: Bernini, Caravaggio, Vivaldi, Scarlatti


5.      BAUHAUS


Founded in Germany, the Bauhaus was certainly the most influential design school of the time (or since). Its basic philosophy defined by the architect Gropius and the artists Itten and Kandinsky can be outlined as follows: An integration of all the arts to produce a totally designed and unified environment; design based on rational analysis of functional problems; design for mass production methods/standardization; the teaching of 'creativity' in design. The Bauhaus's main influence was on 'applied design' (product, furniture, glassware, etc), where simplicity and the possibility of mass production determined the shape of objects. E.g. the tubular steel chair is typical of the Bauhaus style. In many cases, especially in furniture design, comfort was not the key issue. The School was closed down by the Nazi government who considered it too avant garde and 'un-German'. Many of the artists and designers fled Germany for the UK and USA and in this way the Bauhaus became very influential in spreading the Modern Movement position throughout the Western world. The Bauhaus educational system became the basis for design education throughout the West. This centers on rejection of tradition, understanding of basic design processes, analysis of functional requirements and a search for new and creative solutions to design problems.


However, the basic Modernism/Functionalism of the Bauhaus approach has been rejected by most designers in favour of a Postmodern complexity.


Period: 1919 -1932  Artists/designers: Itten, Gropius, Kandinsky




An artistic or essentially architectural style based on Greek and Roman precedents. This would include the use of Greek architectural elements: columns, capitals and decorative features found in architecture throughout 2000 years of Western history. The architectural source of this style is a set of column types referred to as the 'Five Orders': Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite applied in standard ways and also involves the use of a definite system of proportions for the Orders. I.e. definite ratios of height: diameter: base. The Roman architect Vitruvius established the first description of the Orders and this was completed by the Renaissance architects Alberti and later Serlio. In terms of painting and sculpture Classicism meant Greek or Roman subject matter. (The term 'En-classicism' is used to describe a revival or return to pure classical design principles after a period of distortion of the original classical rules of composition. The prefix 'neo' means 'new').




The Russian Revolution took place in 1917. The establishment of the Soviet Union gave artists and architects what they thought was the opportunity to build a completely new society which demanded a new and revolutionary art where products were determined by social goals and needs. Constructivism was the Soviet version of the Modern Movement and can be summarized as follows: totally anti-historical, anti-art, and functionalist in character, dynamic expression of individual volumes, spaces, structure & transparency, Red and black colours predominate and diagonal elements are used to express dynamism. By 1932 Constructivism as a style had been forbidden in the Soviet Union.


Period: 1918 - 1932  Artists: Tatlin, Malevitch


8.     CUBISM


By extending Cezanne's 'cubic'/geometric painting technique, the subject became just a starting point for the final image of the painting. The Cubist artist 'deconstructed' the subject into basic planes and cubes and re-arranged them within the picture frame - creating a new reality: that of the painting surface itself. The characteristics of Cubist work are: more concerned with form and geometry than colour, use of collage and layering techniques emphasis the surface plane, fragments the object into its constituent geometric parts which are re-arranged to create a semi-abstract image. Multiple viewpoints of everyday objects (newspapers, bottles, guitars) are combined in the same painting.


Period: 1908+ Artists: Picasso, Braque, Leger, Gris




In the Modern Movement design problems could be solved within precise cubic spaces or could be forced into them on the grounds of rationality and functionalism. Producing a fake monumentality and certainty. Deconstructivism was influenced by similar movements in philosophy and literature (where the author is made to reveal himself and his biases in the work), began to break open the closed forms of the Modern Movement architecture. (That is, to DE-CONSTRUCT it). The general characteristics of Deconstructivist design are that it Explodes architectural form into loose collections of related fragments.  Provokes shock, uncertainty, unease, disquiet, disruption, REJECTS FUNCTIONALISM


Period: Post 1980.  Designers: Peter Eisenman, Bernard Tschumi and Zaha Hadid.


10.    DE STIJL (the `Style' )


This section of the Modern Movement was established in Holland: by the painter, Piet Mondrian; architects, Theo van Doesberg and Gerrit Rietvelt. The ideas of this group centred on the search for and recombination of the most fundamental elements of design, namely the basic planes and cubic forms. The theories and aims of the group can be stated as the search for a universal language of art which could unite all designed objects. Essentially artistic in character and concerned with pure colours and forms. Rectangular grids and planes and the use of primary colours were the means used to unify all the arts from furniture design to painting.


Period: 1918+ Artists/designers: Mondrian, van Doesberg, Rietvelt




Colour in the painting took on a life of its own quite independent of the subject matter and the real colours of the object depicted. 'Expressionism' meant that the artist expressed his feelings within the painting through his free use of colour. Expressionism: Pure vibrant colours independent of the subject matter, colour is sometimes detached (or shifted slightly) from the shape of the object and can be read as an independent form within the picture frame, the shape of the object is secondary to the EFFECT of the colour harmonies and combinations. Flowing and almost casual use of colour. A more specific name for this style in France is FAUVISM. (fauve = wild beasts, so-called because of their violent use of colour).


Period: 1900+  Artists: Matisse, Kandinsky, Klee,




Founded by Filippo Marinetti, Futurism was one of the most radical art movements of the early 20th century. Violently ant-historical it proposed the complete and total reconstruction of society around the new industrial realities of POWER, SPEED, THE MACHINE AND THE CITY. By every conceivable means: leaflets, poems, paintings, sculpture and architecture, dance and theatre, the Futurists attacked and abused the art and culture of the 19th century which still prevailed and endlessly praised the dynamism of the new  MACHINE AGE. "We must invent and build the Futurist City. dynamic in all its parts.......and the Futurist house must be like an enormous machine" (Sant'Elia & Chiattone). The key images are the representation of motion and speed.


Period: 1909-1917  Artists: Boccioni, Sant' Elia


13.    GOTHIC


In the 5th century AD the Roman Empire in the West collapsed and parts of it were ruled by Gothic tribes (Goths, Vandals and Franks), who originally came from Northern Europe and who had already been influenced by Roman  culture.  The visible remains of Roman Classical art - the ruins of great buildings, statues, etc, the 'northern' character of Gothic art itself, ( decorative, natural/linear, writhing twisting vines and other natural forms and  Christian religious symbols and themes fused together to produce a new artistic era: the Gothic period, which lasted until the 15th century AD.


The Christian church, the main intellectual and spiritual power in Europe built a large number of churches and monasteries in a style which at first resembled that of the Byzantine Empire in the East. However by the year 1200, this had evolved into a uniquely Western European style called Gothic. This involved the use of the pointed arch and large stained glass windows in cathedrals which were cross-shaped in plan. The art of the Gothic period sought to represent grace, sainthood, delicacy and the divine.


Continual development of the Gothic style in Europe plus the growing influence of the rediscovered Classical past gradually led to the formation of a new era in European civilization: the Renaissance.




A Postmodern movement which rejected the International Style. The idea being to enrich the Modern style with more complex historical elements and details.


According to some critics the Modern Movement was fundamentally wrong. The complexity and interest of historical styles built up over a long period of time made them a much more sympathetic and humane response to design problems. They were familiar forms. In effect what this meant was a combination of classical details (including columns and capitals), set within a Modern framework or even just decorated on to the surface of an otherwise conventional Modern building. In another and more sophisticated sense it gave each new building an 'instant memory'. While it gave some new buildings a superficial complexity and interest, it was (is) an essentially superficial means of doing so.


Period: 1974+ Designers: Leo Krier, Michael Graves


15.    HIGH TECH


A development of the Modern Movement 'technology' bias. Certain designers sought to push some of the technological image to its limit by emphasizing  the buildings or products as  'machines'. The visual interest and complexity would arise out of the full expression of technical apparatus: structure/services - columns/ducts etc, emphasis on complexity of detailing: rivets, bolts, joints, gaskets, etc., bright colours indicate different structural/service systems.


Period: Post 1980.  Designers: Norman Foster and Richard Rogers.




Experiments in light and colour and different techniques of painting taking place in late 19th Century Paris saw the rise of a new style of painting: IMPRESSIONISM. It challenged the 'photographic realism' of the academic painting techniques of the Romantic period (18th and early 19th centuries). The smooth surfaces of Classical art were transformed into soft, blurred flashes of coloured light which gave the Impressionists their name. These paintings were seen by observers as fleeting impressions of their subject. This was a result of the technique used by the painters where individual colours were applied separately as individual points or brushstrokes: the painting dissolved into a million points of coloured light. For the first time perhaps the activity of the artist could be seen in the work itself in the brushstrokes that were now an obvious part of the image.


Period: 1870+  Artists: Seurat, Renoir, Manet, Monet




Installation Art shares the Minimalist concern to focus on the PURE event or experience. by creating, setting up or 'installing' temporary events, objects or environments in galleries. Equally Installation art tries to reduce the 'precious' quality of art produced in the secrecy of the artists studio. The artist does not produce the work in the privacy of his own studio then bring it to be seen in public. He 'creates' it in public. Leaves it to be experienced and then removes it. The work is, in other words, 'installed' in the viewing space.


Period: 1980s+


18.    MEMPHIS


Founded by the Italian designer, Ettore Sottsass. Rejecting the functionalist and `neutral' concepts of the International Style, Sottsass started the Memphis design movement. Their purpose was to reintroduce the qualities of colour, texture, humour, sensuality and joy into design which had been lost or abandoned by the functionalist approach from the 1920s to 1950s and the puritan ethic of the Modern Movement. In Europe, a tradition of intellectualism and abstraction was the dominant theme. Memphis sought to break through that tradition and incorporate pleasure into design. Combining elements from Pop culture and Classicism, modern technology, colour shock, humorous references within the object and outright fantasy.


Period: 1980s  Artists: Ettore Sottsass




Radical artists sought to escape from the over-commercialized world of the art market and return art to the making and contemplation of 'PURE OBJECTS' which had no aesthetic or inherently valuable attributes. Minimalism strips away all obvious 'artistic' suggestions in order to focus on the pure, untreated, un-designed object itself. The result was the presentation in galleries of simple pieces of wood, bent metal, glasses of water and so on as neutral, non commercial objects of experience. (This still has not stopped Minimalist works (e.g. piles of bricks) from being seen as commercially-valuable art). 


Period:1970s. Artists: Carl Andre, Donald Judd.




Established by the 1920s in Europe, The Modern Movement was in part the application of machine production to design. It rejected ornament and decoration in favour of a pure rational analysis of design problems in order to produce FUNCTIONALIST, convenient and mass-producible solutions. This usually meant the use of simple geometric surfaces and forms. It also meant the separation of structure (skeleton) and cladding (skin) in buildings and also in chair design where steel tube skeleton was separate from the fabric or leather seating web. It meant the extensive use of glass as the key Modern material. The Modern Movement applied its design principles to all products, architecture, furniture, lighting, cars, etc. Influenced by the work of Le Corbusier, Mies Van der Rohe and the Bauhaus school of design, a whole new generation of architects and designers arose who accepted the philosophy and practice of the Modern Movement. A combination of European Modern Movement theory with American technology was successful and by the 1950s the design style so produced had spread throughout the world and became known as the 'International Style'. That is, the dominant design style of the 20th century.


Period: 1920s+ Architects: Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius


21.0    POP ART


Surrealism had shown that familiar objects could be given visual power by changing the context in which they were seen -  making them unfamiliar. in the United States - the ultimate mass culture society this technique was used to create a new kind of art.


The raw materials and subject matter of Pop Art are the NON-HEROIC everyday items of the 20th century Consumer Culture: cult images, soup cans, the flag, comic characters, the face of the President, etc. All of these easily-accessible images found in the home and the supermarket are given a new power by manipulating the colour, number or scale of the object. In a century which saw the rise of television and the movies and the instant images of advertising, Pop Art sought to match the mass medium aspect of the new consumer culture in terms of its accessibility to popular understanding, its immediacy and its 'boldness' of image. Pop Art tried to emulate the multiple images thrown at the observer by the mass media and to de-sentimentalize art from its Romantic associations by using techniques of shock.


Period: From the 1950s. Artists: Andy Warhol, Rauchenberg, Oldenberg, Lichtenstein




Impressionist painting analyzed the image in terms of colour and light thereby blurring the image. Post-Impressionist artists developed and emphasized the approach of the Impressionists to the point where their colour and brush technique almost dissolved the subject matter. Bright colours flowed independently across the picture showing strong brushstrokes. Colour in these paintings began to take on a life of its own. So too the shape of the subject matter was also analysed into its constituent geometric parts of flat planes. The only true reality for the Post-Impressionist painter was that of the painting surface itself. Some Postimpressionists emphasized the power of colour and some emphasized the geometry created by brushstrokes across the surface of the painting.


Period: 1880+  Artists: Van Gogh, Gaugin, Cezanne, Pizarro, Lautrec, etc.




By the mid-1970s the search was on to recover the 'lost humanity' of art, architecture and design. Modern Art and Design had become too rigid, abstract, mechanical and 'inhumane'. It saw itself as the only 'correct' and appropriate model for design solutions. Designers tried to combat this overly rational and authoritarian position by introducing tactile, sensuous, humorous, colourful and shocking elements into their designs in order to recover interest, complexity and a more spontaneous image. Equally, instead of a standard approach to different problems there was an attempt to produce more diverse solutions to the same design problems.


24.0    PUNK


Punk was a reaction to the increasingly soft and 'glamorous' fashion and music of the early '70s. It also suited a decade where unemployment, poverty and disappointment had become general conditions amongst youth in the UK and the USA. The result was the TOUGH leather and chains style of the British PUNKS, their coloured spiky or mohawk style hair, added to the hard and radical image. Punk music was a violent, anti sentimental sound: violent, thrashing and almost tuneless plus driving energy. Punk was more than just a musical and fashion revolt. It was one of lifestyles


Period: 1976+  Artists: The Sex Pistols, The Clash 




By 1450 in Italy, Late Gothic culture gave way to a spirit of rational analysis and scientific experiment. In the arts, Humanist ideas on Man as 'the measure of all things' produced a return to classical Greek and Roman sources and the use of classical architectural elements. The Italian city states who financed the new art: Florence, Pisa, Siena, Milan, Venice saw themselves as the 'new Romans'. By studying Roman classical works including  literature, the Renaissance (re-birth) recovered the traditions of the ancient world. The human figure became the key image of Renaissance artists. Over the next hundred years, the ideas of the Renaissance spread with great vigour throughout the whole of Europe. A major effect of the Renaissance was the development of the Scientific Method, led to a revolution in scientific discovery.


Period:1450-1600  Artists: Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, Bramante


26.0    ROCK `N ROLL.


Rock `n Roll was based predominantly on a mixture of American Black `Rhythm and Blues' sounds with some White `Country  music'. The driving beat of the music (which is its key character) is essentially Black, while the melodic aspect is the White Country sound. `Beat' music had been around for a long time in the Black community in form of Rythym and Blues and before that Jazz. In the 1950s White groups began to play their version of Rythym and Blues. The result of this fusion was the creation of Rock n' Roll. The popularity of this music with American youth was instantaneous and its influence spread quickly across the Western world. Rock n' Roll and its various developments (Hard Rock, Heavy metal and & Disco), remains the most popular form of music today. It has been closely linked through the media with other elements of youth culture such as fashion, attitude, movies and TV.


Period: 1950+  Artists: Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly




A term used to describe the style of European art in the late 18th and early 19th century. In the previous period art had been dominated by Classical principles which limited the degree of free expression of emotion or imagination. Romanticism can be described as a movement in all the arts which sought freedom of expression to excite the imagination, to use dramatic, grotesque, agonized and sometimes horrific imagery. Nature (as against the restrictive Classical system) became a primary source of artistic images in painting (landscape) and poetry. So too in a period of revolutions and wars, death, heroism and tragedy became important subjects for the Romantic artist. In their reaction against Classicism, the Romantics also had a fascination for the Middle Ages of knights, forests and semi-religious or supernatural subjects.


Period: 1790-1850  Artists: Goya, Blake, Turner, Delacroix, Friedrich




The fantastic and sometimes horrific visions of the late Romantic painters suggested an ALTERNATIVE REALITY - that of the DREAM where realistic objects are placed in unfamiliar, impossible and Sur-realistic relationships to each other. Influenced by psychological theories, Surrealist painters concentrate on the subject matter of painting and -the beauty of the unexpected and the strange. Thus: concern with the subject matter and its possible relationships, changing contexts in which objects are usually seen makes Surrealism the artistic equivalent of the dreamstate- deeply symbolic.


Period: 1914+   Artists: De Chirico, Ernst, Magritte, Rousseau, Miro, Dali





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