Graphic Design Portfolio

Creating an Art Deco Poster for Korea – A country which knew no Art Deco Period

The early 20th century saw a large number of very rapid changes in all areas of life, particularly those of industry, architecture, fashion, and design. A number of advancements in technology, as well as two World Wars contributed a great deal to these rapid changes, while the Wars themselves greatly pushed the technological and industrial advances. Art Deco is probably the most well known and abiding design style from that period, and its effects could be seen in all areas of life (and still can be seen in many old and new designs today). However, for the enormous weight of its impact on design, the true Art Deco period itself was rather short-lived, and much of the tail end of it shifted into another, similar design style, for which it is often confused: Streamline Moderne. A brief summary of historic events is helpful in more fully understanding the transition of design into and then beyond Art Deco, as well as the reasons Korea seems to have completely skipped over this revolutionary design period.

Designing an Art Deco poster for Korea was a very difficult task, given that Korea has virtually nothing of Art Deco design in its history, save a single image I found from the 1988 Seoul Olympics, at a time when Art Deco design was going through one of its many comebacks. But, using as many resources as I could find, and as much creativity as I could muster, I made it happen:

Now, let’s get into the historic background that led to the Art Deco design period in the Western world.

From Victorian Design through Art Nouveau and World War I

Following the Victorian era of design in the mid-1800s, the world underwent a Second Industrial Revolution from 1870 to 1914, during which the “rate of pathbreaking inventions (macroinventions)…picked up steam again” after having slowed down around 1825. (Mokyr, 1998, p 1). While “the first Industrial Revolution brought steam power, factories and railways[, the] second gave rise to new kinds of power – electricity, new chemicals, new plastics and new drugs – particularly from industrialized nations like Germany and the USA.” (The Science Museum, 2004).  Additionally, Henry Bessemer solved the problem of making cheap steel in 1856, allowing the growth of the steel industry to expand into all areas of industry (Mokyr, 1998, p 3), and “by 1914 automobile manufacturers had become the leading consumers of steel.” (The Science Museum, 2004). The Second Industrial Revolution additionally brought these other notable inventions: the typewriter (1873), the telephone (1876), the phonograph (1877), the incandescent light bulb (1879), the skyscraper (1885), the dishwasher (1889), the escalator (1891), the gas-powered car (1892), the submarine (commissioned by the U.S. Navy, 1898), the airplane (1903), and the Model T (1908) (WGBH, 2009).

As far as design went, Art Nouveau was the style of the period, and “was established as the first new decorative style of the twentieth century…[It] was in many ways a response to the Industrial Revolution. Some artists welcomed technological progress and embraced the aesthetic possibilities of new materials such as cast iron. Others deplored the shoddiness of mass-produced machine-made goods and aimed to elevate the decorative arts to the level of fine art by applying the highest standards of craftsmanship and design to everyday objects.” (Greenhalgh, 2000).

The period of Art Nouveau ended by 1914 when the First World War took hold of the world. In 1917, when U.S. troops arrived on the battlefields of Europe, they found the “bloodiest conflict in history. Armored tanks, machine guns, poisonous gas, submarines and airplanes [forced] military commanders to rethink traditional strategies of war.” (WGBH, 2009).  The war fostered several more advancements in technology, most notably great improvements to the airplane, as this was the first war in history to see their use.

Following the war, the world was irrevocably changed and many in the US “were tired of sacrificing lives and money to solve other people’s problems.” (Beardsley, 2006). With the election of Warren Harding as President in 1920, the US turned inward, away from the troubles of Europe, and “became more concerned with material things.” (Beardsley, 2006). The government had controlled all areas of industry for the war effort, but by the 1920s, industries that had been focused on the war were producing products for a peacetime economy. Among these, the car and radio were some of the most important. Additionally, wages for workers were higher than ever, and people “had enough money to enjoy life more than they had in the past.” (Beardsley, 2006). A new, prosperous, and exciting age had dawned, and the “new age demanded new architecture” (Juster, n.d.) and design.

The Beginning and Swift End of Art Deco Design

By this time, “Art Nouveau’s organic inspiration seemed irrelevant in [the] increasingly industrial society… In this machine age style, power and speed became the primary themes. Shapes were simplified and streamlined, and curved letterforms were replaced by sleek, angular ones” (International, 2009) that focused on the geometric shapes of letters. In 1922, King Tutankhamen’s tomb was discovered, and created a “craze for all things Egyptian.” (Kenney, 2009). The Egyptian influence is apparent in many designs of that period that include chevrons, zigzags, sunbursts, fountains and exotic motifs of flora and fauna (Juster, n.d.).

This new style of design, Art Deco, had begun taking hold of the world earlier, but the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industrials Modernes event in Paris in 1925  “set the stylistic tone of early Art Deco.” (Juster, n.d.). “Art Deco is characterized by its simplicity, drastic geometry, and vibrant colors” (Kenney, 2009), and it certainly helped set the tone of the period. The ornamentation of Art Deco additionally focused on machinery, botany, and nationalism, and “these ideals created architecture which was not unique in design, but in its powerful and beautiful ornament.” (Brynmawr, n.d.). In fact, Art Deco had a big influence on architecture, and with the growth spurt of many urban areas following World War I, “the birth of the skyscraper became a symbol of progress and of nationalistic pride, representing America’s place in a brave, new world.” (Inviting Home). Art Deco allowed architects to dress up otherwise boring skyscrapers, and by 1929 over half of the skyscrapers in America were located in New York City. (Kenney, 2009). Of these, two of the most famous are the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building.

One of the most remarkable and trend-setting designers of the time was Adolphe Mouron (A.M.) Cassandre who is famously known for his posters of automobiles, locomotives, and ocean liners. He invented many typefaces and always began with the geometric shapes of the text. He often reduced his subjects to geometric symbols and silhouettes and believed in the total integration of the word and image.  “This is perhaps his single most important contribution to graphic design… He sold ideas, not things, using motion and action” (Young, 2009) and romanticized the appeal of modern transportation. The Roaring Twenties and the Art Deco Period in America captured the bright optimism and the promise of a wonderful future for the industrialized nation. But when the stock market crashed in October 1929, it altered everything.

“The Great Depression’s effects were swift and severe… After reaching a peak in 1929-1930 the era of the Art Deco skyscraper began to recede. A consequence of the Depression was the emergence of a new architecture that really was modern. The Streamline Moderne was both a reaction to Art Deco and a reflection of austere economic times. Gone was unnecessary ornament. Sharp angles were replaced with simple, aerodynamic curves. Exotic woods and stone were replaced with cement and glass.” (Juster, n.d.). But, Art Deco and Streamline Moderne were not necessarily opposites, and Streamline Moderne is considered by many to be a branch of Art Deco design. In fact, what was designed as Streamline Moderne is often mistaken for Art Deco today.

Streamline Moderne: A Branch of Art Deco and its use in World’s Fair Posters

Streamline Moderne carried with it many elements from Art Deco, including airbrushed techniques in design, which Cassandre made famous for their machine-like qualities (A Brief History…, 2009), and a focus on the romanticism of industrialization. However, while Art Deco was “lavish and excessive, reflecting the economy of the [Roaring Twenties]” (Tiffany, 2010), Streamline Moderne cut the lavish decoration and focused on clean curved shapes, rounded corners and aerodynamics. Everything from cars, to trains, to aircraft (the Airstream trailer and Hindenburg airship are good examples) were affected by this rounding of corners. In fact, as the “popularity of ocean liners was reaching its peak at this point” many architectural designs carried elements of ships within them, such as rounded door-tops and windows. (Tiffany, 2010).

The World’s Fairs of the 1930s were the perfect examples of Streamline Moderne design. “Chicago’s Century of Progress World’s Fair of 1933-34 was streamlined from stem to stern. The fair lifted the spirits of the weary, forecast the future and even made a little money… The Streamline Modern’s finest hour was the New York World’s Fair of 1939-40. Here the ‘World of Tomorrow’ showcased the cars, kitchens and cities of the future, along with a robot and a remarkable new device called the television.” (Juster, n.d.). But with the breakout of World War II in late 1939, the world’s attention shifted, and the period of Art Deco and Streamline Moderne design ended. Nevertheless, “historically, Art Deco was the breath of fresh air taken between the smoke of World War I and World War II.” (Art Deco Style, 2009).

My Reasons for Choosing an Art Deco Poster for Korea

This in-depth, though brief study of history provides many insights into the general feeling of modernism, and events and principles that guided design in the 1920s and 1930s. The World’s Fair posters of that time are incredibly iconic designs, and I wanted to design something similar. Because the world is currently experiencing the greatest economic recession since the Great Depression, I wanted to create a poster that reflected poster designs during the Great Depression. Ironically enough, even though most of the U.S. was suffering a great deal during that time, many of the poster designs don’t reflect that. In fact, it was probably because of the hardships people endured that caused designers and the public to crave more images that reflected the joyous, hopeful feeling of the 1920s. The World’s Fair posters are perfect images that depict joyful, hopeful events and the Fairs themselves showcased designs, and possibilities for the future. One similar upcoming event in Korea – that brings together the nations of the world and discusses possibilities for the future – is the G-20 Summit, which will be held on November 16 to 17. It is for these reasons that I chose to model a poster for the G20 Summit after World’s Fair posters from the 1930s.

When I started out on this design, I studied primarily Art Deco design, rather than Streamline Moderne, because that is what the majority of sources classify 1930s World Fair posters as. It wasn’t until my in-depth look at Art Deco that I stumbled upon Streamline Moderne and was able to recognize some of the subtle differences between it and 1920s Art Deco – both styles are quite similar as the latter branched off the first. Some of the primary differences in style are that Art Deco is more symmetrical, very geometric, sharp, and decorative (often including Egyptian elements), and objects are often reduced to simple shapes in order to greater emphasize the 2D aspect of posters (at least, this is what Cassandre often did).  In the Chicago World’s Fair poster1 that I modeled my design after, the 2D aspect of the medium is not emphasized as much, since many of the objects are airbrushed to include shadows and highlights and give a 3D feel. Ray bands in the sky, and an emphasis on modern technology – airplanes and a Zeppelin – are still present.

Difficulties Finding any Art Deco in Korea

When I began this design, I didn’t fully realize the deep significance and impact architecture had on design of this time – and vice versa. So many images I studied from this time period included stair-stepped buildings and skyscrapers that were designed in the Art Deco style. In Korea, however, none of this existed in the 1920s. In fact, until the Korean War of the 1950s, there was not much Western influence in Korea at all.  Art Deco it seems, never made it to Korea at all, and I’m sure the same is true for the majority of countries that were not in direct contact with, or under some indirect influence of the U.S. in the 1920s.  The majority of Art Deco design took place during the relatively short span of the Roaring Twenties, and only a handful of countries experienced it – the U.S., and some European contacts.

Korea’s Historic Reasons for the Absolute Absence of Art Deco in the Country

Just as Korea did not experience the Art Deco period, so too they did not experience many of the events leading up to, or away from that period. For much of their history, Korea was a rather closed off country, living in the shadow of their big brother China, with their only real Western influence coming indirectly from Japan – until the Japanese annexation of Korea in 1910. Korea then endured 35 long years of Japanese imperial rule. They “ruled with an iron fist and attempted to root out all elements of Korean culture from society. People were forced to adopt Japanese names, convert to the Shinto (native Japanese) religion, and were forbidden to use Korean language in schools and business. The Independence Movement on March 1, 1919, was brutally repressed, resulting in the killing of thousands, the maiming and imprisoning of tens of thousands, and destroying of hundreds of churches, temples, schools, and private homes. During World War II, Japan siphoned off more and more of Korea’s resources, including its people, to fee its Imperial war machine.” (Life in Korea, n.d.).

Koreans finally got their country back with the Japanese surrender after World War II in 1945, but it was a divided country. No longer under Imperial rule, “the USSR occupied Korea north of the 38th parallel, while the U.S. occupied the southern section.” (Life in Korea, n.d.). Rising tensions between the two eventually led to the Northern invasion of the South and the bloody, three-year Korean War from 1950-1953. Following the Korean War, the people were without much food and left starving in the 1950s and 60s. Two military coups – one by General Park Chung Hee in 1961, and one by General Chun Doo Hwan in 1980 – established military governments, but adopted many infrastructure enhancements and “helped elevate Korea into and [sic] industrializing nation.” (History). The first democratic presidential elections were held in 1988, and it was also in 1988 that Seoul hosted the Summer Olympic Games.

A Single Trace of Art Deco in Korea: Years After the Fact

Interestingly enough, I did find a single Art Deco design in Korea – the poster for the Seoul Summer Olympics of 19882. This was a time when the U.S. was experiencing a second resurgence of Art Deco design – after that of the 1960s, when the “mood was one of optimism and hopefulness.” (Life in Korea, n.d.). The 1980s in America “were all about excess, luxury and status… The culture of the 1980s was reminiscent of the 1920s in that luxury, leisure and technology were front and centre [sic].” (Life in Korea, n.d.). And considering the hardships that Korea had faced, the trials they’d come through, their hope for the future, a rapid industrialization and growth, and the influence of the U.S., is it any wonder that finally, after more than 60 years after the fact, Art Deco arrived in Korea?

Further Difficulties and Final Poster Design

However, Korea’s lack of history – it was covered by other countries for so long, and then tattered by war – made designing this poster very difficult. Art Deco was largely influenced by architecture, and Korea has none. Not a single building in Korea reflects Art Deco style, all of is very modern – sleek, organic, and glassy. Although I did find two new architectural masterpieces that will be built in Seoul – one of which will actually house the G20 Summit, the Floating Islands on the Han River – neither of them were very conducive to Art Deco design. Additionally, as they are currently in development, none of the images I found were either true photos or a decent size for a poster. Each image I found, and that I wanted to use on this poster was a computer representation of what the future buildings would look like, shrunk down to a size that would make for quick loading of a web page. Additionally, no amount of Photoshop filters, Illustrator’s Live Trace, or my own painstaking hand tracing with the pen tool yielded an image that closely resembled either the simple geometric and 2D shapes of Art Deco, or the airbrushed look of Streamline Moderne. Therefore, I finally settled on the Photoshop effect “Posterization” as passable in giving the poster a non-photographic look.

I closely modeled this poster after the 1933-1934 Chicago World’s Fair poster1, but many of the elements are reversed. The men in my poster – Korean President Lee MyungBak and G20 Chairman Il SaKong3 – take the place of the statues in the original, and I could find no suitable image (or combination of images) for the center of the poster, so I settled on writing out the names of each of the member countries in the G20, with the host country’s name in brown. I also used 2D airplane vector images and ray bands in the sky to mimic Art Deco’s style and emphasis on modern technology.

All in all, though the poster may not be a quintessential representation of either an Art Deco or Streamline Moderne design, given the historical circumstances, I designed the closest approximation I could. Though the style originated in the 1920s, I can see how it can still be used and appreciated today. As the Inviting Home website says, “Its range of characteristics makes it an extremely versatile style, and an enjoyable on e to work with, since Art Deco is easily integrated into a wide variety of personal styles. This makes Art Deco admired by many and a favorite among collectors.” (Art Deco History, 2009).


  1. Mokyr, Joel. (1998, August). The Second Industrial Revolution, 1870-1914. Retrieved May 21, 2010 from http://faculty.wcas.northwestern.edu/~jmokyr/castronovo.pdf
  2. The Science Museum. (2004). Retrieved May 21, 2010 from http://www.makingthemodernworld.org.uk/stories/the_second_industrial_revolution/05.ST.01/?scene=3
  3. WGBH Educational Foundation. (1996-2009).  On the PBS website. Retrieved May 21, 2010 from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/telephone/timeline/timeline_text.html
  4. Greenhalgh, Paul. (2000). A New Style for a New Age. [Text for the Introduction to Art Nouveau: Victoria and Albert Museum, London]. On the National Gallery of Art website. Retrieved May 21, 2010 from http://www.nga.gov/feature/nouveau/exhibit_intro.shtm
  5. Tiffany. (2010). An Intro to Streamline Moderne. [Author ID: lucyinthesky]. On the Savvica, Inc. website. Retrieved May 21, 2010 from http://art.nuvvo.com/lesson/5937-an-intro-to-streamline-moderne
  6. Beardsley, Frank. (2006, May 3). America Turns Inward After World War One. On the VOANews.com website. Retrieved May 21, 2010 from http://www1.voanews.com/learningenglish/home/a-23-2006-05-03-voa5-83130287.html
  7. A Brief History of the Poster. (2009). On the International Poster Gallery website. Retrieved May 21, 2010 from http://www.internationalposter.com/about-poster-art/a-brief-history-of.aspx
  8. Kenney, Kim. (2009, Jan 15). Art Deco: Style Influenced by Geometry, Native Americans, and Egypt. On the Suite101 website. Retrieved May 21, 2010 from http://americanhistory.suite101.com/article.cfm/art_deco
  9. Brynmawr. (n.d.). History of American Art Deco. On the Brynmawr.edu website. Retrieved May 21, 2010 from http://www.brynmawr.edu/cities/archx/05-600/proj/p2/npk/historydeco.htm
  10. Art Deco Style. (2009). Art Deco History – Art Deco Fusion – The Legacy. On the InvitingHome.com website. Retrieved May 21, 2010 from http://www.invitinghome.com/art-deco/art-deco-style.htm#1
  11. Young, Paul (webmaster). (2009, May 18). Art Deco. On the Parkland College website. Retrieved May 21, 2010 from http://gds.parkland.edu/gds/!lectures/history/1925/artdeco.html
  12. Juster, Randy. (n.d.). Introduction. On the Decopix.com website. Retrieved May 21, 2010 from http://www.decopix.com/New%20Site/Pages/Directory%20Pages/Intro.html
  13. Art Deco Resurgence. (2009). On the Art-Deco-Style.com website. Retrieved May 21, 2010 from http://www.art-deco-style.com/art-deco-resurgence.html
  14. Art Deco Definition. (2009). On the Art-Deco-Style.com website. Retrieved May 21, 2010 from http://www.art-deco-style.com/art-deco-definition.html
  15. Art Deco History. (2009). On the Art-Deco-Style.com website. Retrieved May 21, 2010 from http://www.art-deco-style.com/art-deco-history.html
  16. Life In Korea. (n.d.) History – 20th Century. On the Life In Korea website. Retrieved May 21, 2010 from http://www.lifeinkorea.com/information/history2.cfm


  1. Chicago World’s Fair Poster. Retrieved May 21, 2010 from http://afrocityblog.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/1933-worlds-fair-chicago-poster.jpg
  2. 1988 Seoul Olympics Poster. Retrieved May 21, 2010 from http://www.olympic.org/Global/Images/Games/GamesCollectionPosters_540/summer/1988_seoul_poster.jpg
  3. Seoul G20 Summit Brochure. Retrieved May 21, 2010 from http://seoulsummit.kr/board/news/news_01/brochure(english).pdf

Here is a side-by-side comparison of my poster and the World’s Fair poster I modeled this after.

What do you think?

One thought

  1. I have 16 of the 1988 Seoul Korea Olympics posters…some of them signed…wondering if there is any value to them…please advise. I can send pics if necessary.

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