Graphic Design Through the Decades: The ’90s

Compiling graphic design for the 1950s, the ’60s, the ’70s and the ’80s was easy. Just mention any of those decades, and iconic images pop into your head: cartoon-style housewives, bell bottoms, blocky, disco typography and neon lettering. But when it came to coming up with graphic design representative of the 1990’s, I was at a loss – nothing came to mind.

It took a few friends to remind me of grunge music, whose flannel, Seattle style influenced everything from fashion to design that is still popular today. Though one blog, while reviewing an exhibition of rave flyers, dubbed it one of the “least subtle eras in graphic design history,” the ’90s, I think, have now had time to settle in as a comforting time of experimentation with design. After all, 1990 saw the birth of Photoshop 1.0, exclusively for Macintosh. Thus, graphic design was never the same again.

Could any magazine have been more important to graphic designers than Ray Gun, founded by art director David Carson?


Flannel, long hair, grunge music, Seattle – the 1992 film “Singles” covered it all.


Rave flyer from 1995.


The Starbucks mermaid grew modest in 1992, covering her breasts and navel.


Ray-Ban ad from the ’90s. Vampires were big even then, when I was catching up with Anne Rice.


Nirvana’s “Nevermind” exploded onto the grunge scene in 1991. I remember controversy over the underwater baby in Robert Fisher’s album design.


Colors magazine, funded by Benetton of Italy, debuted in 1991.


Google evolved quickly, cycling through three logos during 1998 and ’99.


Who knew that abtastic rapper Marky Mark would grow up to be actor Mark Wahlberg?


Director Quentin Tarantino has never been shy about paying homage – the poster for his 1994 movie “Pulp Fiction” does just that.


Grunge emerged in the ’90s with bands such as Mudhoney, Tad and L7 on the Sub Pop label.


Love or hate “Forrest Gump” (I fall in the latter), you can’t deny the poster is iconic.


Dr. Dre’s 1992 album, “The Chronic,” pays homage to Zig-Zag rolling papers packaging.


The “Friends” TV show logo had the same scroll-y, handwritten font style that was big in the ’90s.


A commenter on my ’80s post said I should have included Peter Saville’s “brilliant” designs. “Shame the ’90s saw him ending up designing the awful cover for Suede’s ‘Coming Up’ album.”


“In Living Color” first aired in 1990. According to Wikipedia, the logo was derivative of the Memphis Movement art style.


Everything about the poster for 1999’s “The Matrix” was so cool. I like the subtle, vertically scrolling numbers in the background.


The opening title sequence of “The X-Files,” which premiered in 1993, remained unchanged the first seven seasons.


The Shell logo has undergone many redesigns – some major, some subtle. This is the version unveiled in 1995.


The whimsical font for the movie poster for 1995’s “Clueless” is girlie yet classic, which pays homage to the fact that the film is based on Jane Austen’s “Emma,” published in 1815.


I like the blend of amusement park style with ancient feel in the poster for 1993’s “Jurassic Park.”


The Magic Eye series, first released in the early ’90s, features autostereograms, which lets people see 3-D images by focusing on 2-D patterns.


The greatest show ever made, “Twin Peaks” debuted in 1990, with its neon logo and iconic theme song.


This current MasterCard logo has been used on credit cards since 1990.


The British TV show “Absolutely Fabulous” premiered in 1992, and the jumble of serif letters is reminiscent of the crazy characters on the show.


Sonic the Hedgehog 2 videogame cover.


Upon releasing the new iMac in 1998, Apple began using a monochromatic logo that had the same contours as the rainbow silhouette logo of 1976.


Poster by Keiji Itoh for “Life” exhibition in 1994.