Modernism - Breaking Traditions

BDES 1201 — Week 7 — Modernism

Founded in 1919, the Bauhaus school was home to some of histories most influencial designers. (

In this week’s reading, author Jonathan M. Woodham explores the Modernist Movement and its relation to the evolution of design and culture. The author writes that the Modernist Movement was of great debate throughout the early twentieth-century, and that it was a liberation from the traditions and designs seen in the nineteenth-century.

The author suggests that modernists believe that they are innovators of the “machine age”. They believed in providing new explorations of materials and forms that could support the demand of the transition to mass-production in the industrialized world. He writes that the Modernist movement shifted the world’s perception of designers, celebrating the individual, and their theories and practices (107). Influential organizations emerged to promote modern design, most notably the German Bauhaus school and their influence on design manufacture and consumption.

Woodham writes about the Modernist’s involvement in designing with social anthropology in mind; allowing for the opportunity to raise social awareness through design and its messaging, such as important feminist issues relevant to design at the time, as well as patterns of design consumption and use (107, 125). “At its heart modernism was committed to a social and cultural agenda which was not constrained by national boundaries” says Woodham (112).

Installation view of the Machine Art exhibition, MOMA, New York, 1934 (Picture taken from text, page 110).

A recurring idea in Woodham’s text suggests that through exposure in galleries and exhibitions, people were provided with a subconscious conditioning that has shifted the perception of the Modernist Movement’s place in the world. The modernist creed was also captured and globally spread throughout the writing and publications of avant-garde manifestos, books and magazines during the early twentieth century (110).

The author explains that the Modernist Movement did not proceed without criticism or resistance; its most outspoken opposers were in close relations with repressive regimes who were in favour of traditional design and culture. The movement also had to face political pressure and economic tension, which reverted consumers back to ideas of tradition and nationalism. Modernest practices lived on through text and the implications of its educational practices in progressive designers and architects (112).

The Modernist idea of ‘form follows function’ was also controversial at this time. Opposers suggested that this mindset was restricting the creative potential of the designer (113). The author writes that in the early twentieth-century, within the avant-garde design circles, the idea of ornamental embellishments were outdated and were in fact examples of bad design (111).

“Trash is always abundantly decorated; the luxury object is well-made, neat and clean, pure and healthy, and its bareness reveals the quality of its manufacture” says Le Corbusier (111).

Screen grab taken of google (dated 2021–02–24 at 10:16 PM)

I believe that the Modernist principles of human advancement through clean and usable design are still prevalent in the ideologies of today’s digital experience designers. Take the simplicity of Google’s home page for example, the ornamental embellishments are muted and the white space beautifully frames the logo and search bar for an effective, efficient and enjoyable user experience. Since the birth of Google in 1997, and the innovation of their algorithm, the popular search engine has since become almost a necessary resource in today’s day and age, forever changing the way we search for information (Castro).

“No technology company is arguably more responsible for shaping the modern internet, and modern life, than Google” (Castro).

Word count: 542


  1. How would the world of design look today without social and political factors acting as obstacles in the Modernist Movement?
  2. Today, would sustainable designing and designing with social anthropology in mind, be considered and extension of Modernism?


  1. Staff, Verge. “Google’s 20th Anniversary: How the World’s Best Search Engine Ate the World.” The Verge, 5 Sept. 2018,
  2. Woodham, Jonathan M. Twentieth Century Design. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1997, Chapter 2.

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