Will the Coronavirus Pandemic Affect How We Design? History Says Yes

graphic designer's desk

Undoubtedly, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we live. Nowadays, we do almost everything online—from studying and working to getting household supplies. Even the way we do business has gone mostly digital. Brick-and-mortar shop owners have built websites and sleek product pages, hiring professional web design and photo-retouching services for jewelry and other items.

But there’s another aspect of life that the pandemic will likely change: design. How our society responds to the global crisis today will affect architecture, interior design, graphic design, and product design in the coming years. History is a testament to this. Let’s look back to design revolutions after global upheavals.

Spanish Flu Pandemic and the Roaring ‘20s

After the devastating World War I, one-third of the world’s population got infected with the Spanish Flu. Over 20 million people died, including 675,000 Americans. This series of unfortunate events sparked a desperate need for optimism. People were determined to reshape the future, and they did, as the next decade was the roaring twenties.

In the 1920s, the US experienced a decade of economic boom and widespread prosperity. This era sparked the rise of art deco architecture and modernist, flashy, and opulent designs. Think of The Great Gatsby. This design revolution is a stark contrast to the dark image of the Great War and Spanish Flu pandemic.

The Great Depression and Industrial Art and Design

stained glass, bricked wall and cement

A decade after the roaring ‘20s, The Great Depression marked the worst economic downturn in the world. About 15 million Americans lost their jobs, and nearly half of the country’s banks had failed. But it paved the way for industrial art and design as manufacturers relied on design to make their products stand out and boost sales. At the same time, architects moved away from art deco and started using industrial materials, such as steel, concrete, and glass. Opulent gold was also replaced with bright colors to lift people’s morale.

Space Race and Abstract Designs

After World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union were in a global conflict that turned into a “Space Race.” The national obsession with who would first land on the moon or orbit the space inspired the use of abstract designs, bright colors, star and galaxy images, and other elements that represent a future of boundless possibilities.

Civil Rights Movement and Radical Designs

Optimism after World War II and Space Race took a nosedive in the late ‘60s and ‘70s. The Civil Rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam war fueled social unrest. Radical youth culture also emerged in this era, along with the popularity of psychedelic designs, colorful patterns, and groovy typography.

The Great Recession and Minimalism

The sub-prime mortgage crisis in 2008 led to the Great Recession and near collapse of global financial markets. This economic downturn sparked distrust in mega-corporations and fueled the rise of direct-to-consumer brands, which offered practical value. Products became simple, sleek, and elegant. Perhaps, the most iconic brand in that era was Apple, which relied on simple design sensibility to be massively influential.

The impulse toward simplicity also became visible in fashion, interior design, and architecture. Basic tees and navy sweaters were trendy, while white walls and minimalist home designs started to make waves.

Fast forward to today, some designers predict the rise of touchless taps and doors, while others expect “tactile” graphic designs as people spend more time staring at mobile screens. Many also project higher demand for nature or outdoor-inspired designs. One thing’s for sure, though: the pandemic will change the way we design.

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