Timeline of Design Periods


Approx. 1850 - Approx. 1910

A reaction to the Industrial Revolution, design leaders such as William Morris (1843-1896) and John Ruskin (1819-1900) believed in the beauty of hand-made quality goods. They resisted the use of the machine other than in aiding hand skills. In contradiction, Morris wanted his and others' quality products to be available and affordable for the mass population. The movement occurred in Britain and America and is characterized by simple, honest, timeless design

Aesthetic Movement designers in America, such as Christopher Dresser (1834-1904) were more open to using the machine, while still following the same constructive beliefs of the time.


Henry Cole (1808-1882) organized the event for various countries to come together and share ideas. He believed that it would lead to greater competition and a higher class of work.

1867 - 1959

While he was inspired by the ideals of Morris and Ruskin from the Arts and Crafts movement, he differed in their view of the machine. Wright believed the machine was worthy of use, as it saves time and effort and frees precious human labor.

Frank Lloyd Wright was always trying to answer the question of "What's appropriate for Americans?" He worked to think of Americans needs while also creating character and expression in his work. He founded the Taliesin School where he was the sole teacher.

Wright incorporated his houses and buildings into whatever landscape they were a part of. His last project was the Guggenheim Museum which was not entirely functional for the purpose of exhibiting art pieces, yet the architecture itself is a piece of art.

1880 - 1914

Art Nouveau, "New Art" in french, was a design movement characterized by a search for new vitality, energy, life force. Design was influenced heavily by flora and fauna featuring curvilinear lines and a sense of danger. Emphasis was on affecting people's moods and the machine was now being embraced.
A leading designer was Henry Van De Velde (1863-1957) who designed with factory production in mind and whose goal was for his products to reach as wide a population as possible.


A group of Austrian artists, painters, sculptors and architects banded together with the motivation to experiment with the new and reject emulation of the old.
One prominent member was Gustav Klimt

1900 - 1914

Two noteworthy early modernists include Adolf Loos (1870-1933) and Le Corbusier (1887-1965) who believed that progression of cultural intelligence was signified by a move away from applied ornamentation and towards the machine and the purest forms of function. They believed ornamentation was unnecessary and waste time, effort and money; in other words, childish.


Established by Josef Hoffmann and Kolomon Moser who broke off from the Vienna Secession. This group was centered on the value of individual work and against the evils and cheapness of the machine.


The goal of this group was to increase competition as an effort to improve manufacturing companies in Germany. The group composed of craftsmen who worked in partnership with mass production. This group emphasized form and function rather than ornamentation.
Inspired by Herman Muthesius (1861-1927) who believed achieving form was the fundamental task and the goal of the group to raise manufacturing quality.

"Form without Ornament"


Henry Ford (1863-1947) is often credited for the use of an assembly line to achieve mass production. This idea was very influential in design, as a way to increase speed and efficiency while lowering cost. Most importantly, it required less human effort.

1914 - 1918

World War I was traumatic for many, but also lead to a strong nationalism. Particularly in Paris, this influence sparked a new form of Art named Art Deco.
In addition, World War I created a push for new technologies that were later translated from war time to other aspects of life.

1919 - 1933

Founded by Walter Gropius (1883-1969), Bauhaus school is an inclusive place that models collaboration among teachers and students, strives to unite all forms of Art and reforms design to reduce forms to simplicity. Students at the school study multiple disciplines and work towards efficiency and the most basic form needed to achieve functionality. The school was extremely influential though not accepted greatly by society at the time.

1920 - Approx. 1939

This period became popular in Paris following World War I, where people were traumatized by the war but also experiencing a sense of nationalism. Design became very luxurious, ornate and influenced by high fashion. Other characteristics include expensive and strong materials, contrasting colors and ornamental style. This was likely a reaction from the forced austerity of the war. The idea of collections and museums grew, a notorious collector being Emile Jacques Ruhlmann (1879-1933)

A noteworthy icon of this period is Josephine Baker (1906-1975) who was an African American dancer and singer whose persona created a phenomenon around energy, sex and risque behavior.


The uncovering of King Tut's tomb inspired European and American designers of the time to incorporate exotic elements to their products, especially Egyptian, African and Asian influences.

1925 - July 31, 1925

This international exposition of modern decorative and industrial arts was intended for the privileged elite to come together to share high fashion, strong forms and luxurious strong materials. It took place in Paris and featured decorative arts from twenty different countries. The rules for entering an exhibition required that all work be modern.

1929 - 1939

The Great Depression had a great impact on many people. Consumption dropped, as people could not afford to buy goods. Designers incorporated the ideas of hope and fantasy into their products to appeal to consumers.

1930 - Approx. 1940

Influenced by the Art Deco movement in Europe, new designs emerged in the United States that similarly became symbolic of luxury and modernity. Art Deco in the United States differed in some elements, however, such as the fact that products were designed more so for the middle class rather than the privileged elite (like Europe). Much of the middle class was experiencing prosperity. American Art Deco also was different in its theme of vertical emphasis. Skyscrapers began to emerge such as the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, and this idea became infused in other areas of design such as book cases and art forms that emulated the skyline.

Art Deco also influenced film, which began to portray the luxurious side of Art Deco on movie sets, spreading the ideas quickly to the masses.

Approx. 1930 - Approx. 1950

As a reaction to Art Deco and a reflection of poor economic times. As the great depression progressed, industrial designers began designing pure-concept objects with elements of aerodynamics. The idea became popular when consumer demand declined and people had to be careful what they purchased.

The teardrop shape and other elements suggested speed and lack of resistance. This gave consumers a sense of efficiency and movement, which was comforting in a stagnant time.

Other aspects of design in this period centered on hope and fantasy in order to get people to buy our way out of the depression. Mass production and the assembly line were used to increase efficiency of production and make products available to many.

Influential people of this time:
Henry Dreyfuss (1904-1972) conducted mass research on the measurements of human beings in consideration of product design. His goal was to eliminate discomfort for the user

Raymond Lowey (1893 - 1986) remade objects with less visual complexity, prompting consumers with the idea of novelty. He follows the idea of MAYA (Most advanced yet acceptable), that people need to feel comfortable with products as they advance.


Built in 1930, this skyscraper was named the tallest building in the world. Designed by William F. Lamb, the architecture fits into Art Deco style with its stepping tower levels that decrease in length until a point is reached. Both the outside and the inside demonstrate prestige and modernity.

Approx. 1933 - 1965

Following World War II, a sense of euphoria developed along with prosperity for many people. Capitalism was roaring and consumption increased tremendously. Life became easier and design evolved as both a result and a propeller of social life.
Consumer demand changed to want products that were interchangeable, inexpensive and replaceable. Universal designs were created to meet these desires, making it easy and affordable to buy products and then dispose of them. In addition, DIY (do it yourself) emerged as a fun, affordable method to furnish one's home.

As consumption increased, people needed a place to put all of their goods, therefore advertisements for storage space emerged featuring all of the PLENTY.
Alongside euphoria, there also existed a sense of fear due to cold war tensions and the threat of war.


This particular exhibit, in the Museum of Modern Art featured industrial objects such as springs, gears, pans, scientific instruments and other machine made objects. Philip Johnson (1906-2005) was a leader of this concept and believed aesthetic quality of these objects could be determined by their technical/material beauty, their visual complexity and their function.

Approx. 1935 - Approx. 1950

Amidst streamlining and industrial design, the overarching idea of Modernism during this time can be summarized by "less is more." This statement came from Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) who agreed with many of his peers that form should always dictate function. Products were designed to be sleek and simple, aesthetics being found from the material, form and use itself.

Ideas during this time emulated the earlier ideas of the Bauhaus School in Germany that did not get enough recognition during their time.
These designers practiced minimalism as a response to the overused ornamentation that came before.

1938 - 1945

World War II influenced culture and design in several ways. The war brought America out of the depression which resulted in a positive euphoria and increased capitalism and prosperity.
In addition, war time technologies and new materials were introduced during the war but later incorporated into every day life and design.


The world's Fair of 1939 was a coming together of commerce, capitalism, progress and hope. People were recovering from the great depression and beginning to envision a more positive future.

Democracity model and Futurama both represented the modern future that will be better! Skyscrapers and Highways with streamlined industrial designs were portrayed as the way of the future.

1954 - 1968

The Civil Rights movement sparked a rising of the individual and non-conformist groups. In addition to African Americans, LGBTQ members and other minority groups began to gain a voice in society. People felt and were more free and this sense of freedom and individuality influenced design towards the free expression of Pop Art and Postmodernism

August, 1957

When Russia launched Sputnik, it was a monumental moment in the race for space. Many people feared that whoever got to space first would dominate the planet. Designers worked to bring the idea of space home to make people more comfortable with the idea rather than afraid.

Approx. 1958 - 1972

Designs of Pop Art were generally bright, colorful and full of character. The younger generation was driving design to be young, hip and interesting. Advertisements were made to be eye catching while other products featured "trippy" or psychedelic elements associated with drug culture.
Comic books became popular during this time and Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997) took inspiration from the Ben-Day dots design popular Pop Art.

Another popular pop artist was Andy Warhol (1928-1987) whose trademark design was to create duplicates of an icon.


In 1969 Apollo 11 landed on the moon and Neil Armstrong planted the American flag. This was a huge excitement for the United States, causing imaginations to soar. People felt that a new way of life was emerging and that America was going to dominate the globe. Elements of outer space emerged through design and manufacturing. People wanted to learn more and bring a world of space into their own home.

Approx. 1970 - Approx. Present

With Pop Art as its foundation, Postmodernism arose as a direct response to Modernism. The goal was to improve the "blandness" of modern design. After years of moving away from ornamentation, it now started coming back. This design was not for everyone though; much of it was elitist, impractical and intellectual.

As non-conformist groups and youths became a growing force in society, design no longer had such defined rules. Instead of "form follows function," now form followed emotion.
Robert Venturini (1925- ) mocked Mies van der Rohe's "less is more" statement with a new idea; "less is a bore."

Designers allowed consumers to be agents of choice with multi-purpose furniture and many other products were made to be used just once and then disposed of.

1981 - 1988

Founded by Etorre Sottsass (1917-2007) and other italian designers, Memphis' work was ground breaking with shocking bold and colorful designs that became popular immediately and then died down. This type of reaction is a fad, but Memphis was okay with it as long as their fads were full of vitality.