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Look at the Empire State building in New York or that of Havana, Cuba and even the famous London Underground in the United Kingdom; what ties all these things together? The symmetry, stainless steel, aluminum, elegance, and glamour of art deco.
You may have seen examples of art deco style design and not have even been aware of what it was; you may have even used art deco for your graphic designs or examples, without even knowing what it was, only that it had a style unto itself. But what is art deco? How do you know it when you see it? How is it used, and how can you use it in your own designs and ideas?
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What is Art Deco?
Art deco was a design style that came about in the 1920s in Paris and then picked up in the 1930s around the time of World War II. The term 'art deco' actually started appearing at least thirty years after it's introduction, when a French art exhibit held a 25th exhibition, in which the term art deco subtitled the event name.
Art deco in itself is based on previous art designs, such as neoclassical, cubism, modernism, and futurism; as well as taking in some of the design work from the Egyptians and the Aztecs. Most of these are based in geometry, with zig-zagging lines, shapes, linear objects, etc. If you have ever seen a stained glass window with a variety of pointed shapes, that is an example of art deco.
If you're a fan of some of the Hollywood classic movies (or the 'Golden Age of Hollywood'), many films from this period are examples of art deco - Orson Welles' Citizen Kane shows such influence.
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Where To Find It?
As mentioned earlier, you can find art deco design in a lot of architectural work, such as the Empire State Building and the Rockefeller Center in New York; both California and Texas have several buildings and areas which are influenced by the art deco movement. If you have the opportunity, plan a trip to the RMS Queen Mary, which is currently docked in Long Beach, CA. Much of the ship's interior is thus art deco and now that it is retired, the ship has been turned into a museum for tourists to view her.
The United States wasn't the only country to have used art deco within it's structures and sights; Latin America and Europe also have many places in which art deco is on view for the public. If you find yourself traveling to Asia, you'll find many an art deco style design; in fact, Asia is the second largest place to hold many buildings and areas in this style (the first being Miami, FL in the US).
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But don't let buildings and art be the only way to find this type of style. As mentioned, Hollywood used this style within many of their movies and poster designs; to the left, you'll find the cover to one of the most famous detectives stories turned into a blockbuster movie. And due to the popularity of desktop publishing, graphic design, and other software, you can find art deco graphic design within even your computer with such programs as Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office, and others.
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How to Use
If you're considering using art deco graphic design for a project or even art deco style business cards, here are a few tips to make your design unique:
- When using color, the approach towards art deco is to have bright colors against neutral colors, such as blue against white or dark browns against white.
- The use of geometric shapes are a staple of art deco - circles and lines, zig zags, chevrons, etc. Sunbursts, flowers, and birds can also be used.
- As mentioned, art deco can be found in the buildings of the art deco era.
- Art deco can also be used as a font, which can usually be found for free and downloaded for your use. Many tulip dingbats show a huge influence to art deco style.
Using this type of design for your desktop publishing needs is easily achieved, depending on the program or software that you are using. Many of these will have either some type of art deco style or font that can be used to replicate the grace and simple uniqueness that defined this era. The image above was made with the use of Power Point 2000 from the Microsoft Office suite, pulling from one of the template designs and choosing a font that was similar to that of traditionally used art deco style lettering.
Again, many of these templates and fonts can be downloaded, usually for free, from several different sites; not only can you find these designs, but you can also view how they are used, as well as the classic posters from that era in which the style thrived and was used often.
Art deco design, and thus using it in graphic design work, is not only a unique style, but one that offers an elegance of a time gone by. Despite falling out of favor around the 1940's, art deco design has made a comeback in the case of design work and that of interior design, allowing for the eclectic visions and styles to return again, this time in the way of different technology and visual representations.