In 1917, Theo van Doesburg unveiled a magazine that would change design. Entitled De Stijl ('The Style'), the magazine -- and the eponymous movement -- promoted a new vision of the arts. De Stijl designers rejected natural forms in favor of... [more]
In 1917, Theo van Doesburg unveiled a magazine that would change design. Entitled De Stijl ('The Style'), the magazine -- and the eponymous movement -- promoted a new vision of the arts. De Stijl designers rejected natural forms in favor of geometric purity -- in particular, they used the rectangle to achieve abstract objectivity. Their reliance on primary colors, contrasted with black, white, and gray, added to the minimalist feel. At bottom, De Stijl design was interested in paring things down to the absolute essentials, creating a universal language of abstract Cubism. (Visual artist Piet Mondrian called this Neo-Plasticism.)
Perhaps the best examples of De Stijl in graphic design can be found on the covers of the magazine itself. An early 1917 design by Vilmos Huszar is a study in ultimate geometric balance. The cover image is basically a yin-yang symbol turned rectilinear: a white L-shaped space interlocks harmoniously with its inverted black counterpart, with contrasting squares floating serenely over both. Even the magazine's title is reduced to its geometric essence. At first glance, we simply see a conglomerate of more rectangles. But upon closer inspection, the mass reveals itself as a highly stylized set of letters: 'De Stijl.'
In general, De Stijl graphic design was very disciplined, employing straight lines, tight blocks, and innovative asymmetrical layouts. Designers also experimented with versions of sans serif typeface, eschewing what they saw as the unnecessary embellishments of traditional types. This insistence on typographic structure and unity laid the groundwork for the later International Typographic Style.
De Stijl magazine was published until Theo van Doesburg's premature death in 1931. Without him at the helm, the movement's momentum gradually ground to a halt. In transmuted forms, however, the movement lived on, echoing in the clean designs of Germany's Bauhaus and Switzerland's post-WWII typographic revolution. For its insistence on a new aesthetic unity, De Stijl is generally acknowledged as the first modern design movement. [show less]