Learn from one of the most recognizable styles of modern art to create recognizable modern design.
Pop Art emerged in the mid-1950s and 60s in Britain and America when artists created works inspired by the realities of everyday life — of popular culture, hence the name.
Artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Richard Hamilton questioned elitist culture and fine art traditions and instead used imagery and techniques drawn from mass media and mass culture.
With saturated colors and bold outlines, their vivid representations of everyday objects and everyday people reflected the optimism, affluence, materialism, leisure and consumption of postwar society. Here are 10 ways to apply the lessons of Pop Art to your design.
01. Play On the Themes of Consumption And Materialism
First up, let’s lay down a couple of the central themes of Pop Art. Whether it was an endorsement or critique of capitalism, artists depicted the affluence and abundance of postwar society with imagery that celebrated materialism.
Consequently, Pop Art works have imagery drawn from advertising and consumerism with prominent brand names and recognizable packaging.
Sciencewerk’s visual identity for Basha Market draws on ‘Broadway’ and its array of colorful typographic and symbolic signs, each one advertising a popular product of service for consumption.
This set design by Adrian & Gidi has a cool Miami vibe and advertises a selection of the cosmetics on offer at perfume shop Ici Paris XL. Packaging and brand names are all recognizable and elevated to protagonist status, sporting handbags, sunglasses, and shopping bags.
02. Obsess with Fame And Celebrity Culture
A second theme of Pop Art is the obsession with fame and celebrity culture—and surely little has changed today. Hollywood, movies, television, magazines, and newspapers were booming and as Andy Warhol declared, “In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes.”
Certainly fame and celebrities, like everything else in the 1950s and 1960s, was something to be consumed, and it’s evident in the Pop Art representations of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley.
East meets West on this cover of Vogue Italia and it’s clear to see where Steven Klein got his inspiration from, reinterpreting—and almost recreating—Warhol’s iconic image of Marilyn Monroe.
Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe series also provided the inspiration for this cover of Tatler magazine, which features four images of Kate Middleton in bright, saturated colors. Is that because the public just can’t get enough of the Duchess of Cambridge?
03. Borrow From Mass Media
With fame and consumption so heavily promoted in the postwar mass media, artists turned to them for inspiration and reference.
They borrowed physically and aesthetically from visual sources such as television, magazines, and comic strips, and created work that incorporated magazine pages, were rendered like comic strips, and featured images of recognizable products and people.
This political poster by Michael Hendrix uses an image from a magazine or newspaper—it’s grain clearly visible—overlaid with a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat, the catch cry of hopeless political-hopeful Donald Trump.
With a black eye to reference the violence he incites, it’s certainly not the picture of “Hope,” Shepard Fairey’s portrait of Barack Obama, which also draws on some Pop Art conventions.
Alexandra Bruel also borrows from mass media visual sources, and in this case it’s Pop Art. This set design for British Vogue features models of Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans to showcase the glittering jewelry, which serves to break down the barriers between high culture and low culture.
04. Showcase Commonplace Objects
Artists incorporated and created images of objects that were banal, commonplace, and ubiquitous: items on people’s weekly shopping list, products found in the back of a pantry, and tools stored in a cleaning cupboard.
This elevation of everyday objects to high art status subverted cultural hierarchy and commented on art’s role as commodity. In doing so, artists like Andy Warhol elevated everyday objects to museum status.
The commonplace burger has become a gourmet offering in recent years and this visual identity by Kissmiklos captures that transformation as well as contrasting high culture and low culture references.
It has everyday images of burgers and soft drinks, plus a logo rendered in the style of Louis Vuitton, laid out in a pattern à la LV.
Erin McGuire transforms a can of Coke Zero into a piece of pixel art by borrowing aesthetically from two visual sources. The first is the popular 1980s video game Space Invaders; the second is pixel artist Invader who leaves his mark on spaces throughout Paris.
05. Enlarge and Repeat Objects
To drive home the theme of consumption and the point that art may borrow from any source, artists satirized everyday objects. The result was commonplace objects enlarged to gigantic proportions and repeated for visual effect.
This playful and interactive packaging for sugar-free chewing gum by Hani Douaji has a mouth that takes center stage, and it’s large enough for the individual pieces of gum to appear like teeth.
Wei Yi Boo’s campaign for Chupa Chups not only repeats the image of the iconic lollipop, like Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe series, but it also draws on characters from popular culture.
Each Chupa Chup represents a different cartoon including Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Where’s Waldo, and the Super Mario Bros.
06. Isolate Material from Its Context
Pop Art is, in many cases, removed of emotion, and it does this by removing material from its context. For example, a banana painted as part of a fruit bowl in a still life is quite different to this oversized banana by Andy Warhol.
Objects are not only removed from their context, but also combined with other objects or images to create other associations that play on the themes of consumption, materialism, and fame.
‘VJ Day in Time Square’ (1945) by Alfred Eisenstaedt is one of the most famous black-and-white photographs in existence, and probably the most well-known from America’s post-WWII celebrations.
Van Orton Design used the image for a Sisley window display and rendered it in Pop Art style with saturated colors and sharp lines.
These posters by Twice Studio not only take a Pop Art approach aesthetically, with bright saturated colors and bold black lines, but what look to be images of cartoon characters are blown up to almost abstract proportions.
07. Use Found Images for Collage
Pop Art artists fashioned meaning in their works by combining similar and dissimilar images, many of which were ‘found’ in magazines, comic books, advertising and other mass-produced graphic work.
The effect was to create analogies between popular products and people in order to make an artistic or cultural statement.
This cover for Washington Posts’ ‘Favorite’ issue by Snask features a series of objects in the shape of letters that when combined spell out the word ‘favorite.’
Heath Killen is an Australian artist and designer who incorporates images from magazines and photographs into his work, arranging, overlaying, enlarging and coloring various elements to create meaning related to the product or service on show.
08. Reproduce, Overlay, Duplicate, and Combine Images
The visual effect of Pop Art, whether it is collage or repetition, is created via the reproduction, overlay, and duplication of various images.
This combination of images was used to reflect everyday life of postwar society, while repetition emphasized those elements the postwar population found fascination with.
This very clever campaign by Sagmeister & Walsh overlays a set designed to look like a bedroom or living room with color that emphasizes object outlines in a comic-strip style typical of Pop Art. The effect transforms three-dimensional spaces and objects into flattened form.
Artist and designer Mojoko bombards viewers with abundance of imagery in his work Red Flower Power, with an array of recognizable faces from Western and Asian culture.
09. Use Saturated Colors
Postwar life was filled with color due to the mass production of new plastics and other materials manufactured in a rainbow of colors. Bright colors conveyed the optimism and affluence of postwar life, and Pop Art artists used primary colors and saturated neons to vivid effect.
Vibrant color is the name of the game when it comes to Reynolds & Reyner’s packaging design for Waldo Trommler Paints. Designed to ‘stand out’ on shelves, the cans combine green, yellow, pink, purple, red, blue, plus more.
This design by Kissmiklos borrows directly from Pop Art’s rendering of comic strips. In bright, saturated colors, a comic illustration with the word ‘BOOM’ appropriately hides the boiler.
10. Use Clear Lines and Sharp Color
Similarly, clean lines, bold outlines, and sharp color are familiar characteristics of Pop Art, as artists drew on commercial production techniques of mass media imagery. Many artists began their careers in the world of commercial art, and trained in production techniques such as screen printing they looked to the visual style of mass media imagery, such as comic strips.
Jan Baca’s visual reference is very clear, not only in the aesthetic style of the work, which looks like Roy Lichtenstein’s famous paintings; but also in that the style has fittingly been applied to a product that promotes consumption and materialism.
Clean lines and sharp color are also evident in H 7’s Juice Up. Each packaging unit is wrapped in a design that represents the flavor of contents of the juice itself, enlarging the fruit beyond its typical proportions.
Art and design is an expression of culture and society, and like Pop Art, a lot of modern design is about the realities of everyday life.
Applying the characteristics of Pop Art to your design will not only help make it easily accessible and understandable to a popular audience, but also recognizable and hopefully memorable — which may, in turn, provide your hard-earned ’15 minutes of fame.’