Dadaism and Layout – We are so Dada

ABCD Self-portrait (deliberately random assemblage of newspaper clips and cutout letters), Raoul Hausmann, 1923

Making a beautiful collage layout was a hard job before the invention of the digital printer; however, technology was not the only factor that impacted layout design. Layout design displays the opinions of the time it was created in. Reacting to the World War I period, a group of artists disposed of the decorative Art Nouveau, to look for a better format of communication. Dadaism was created to provide these designers a resource for innovated expression. Do you like freestyle layout designs? It may be surprising how “Dada” we are today when looking at historical Dada pieces.

From left to right
Fountain, Marcel Duchamp, 1917
L.H.O.O.Q. Marcel Duchamp, 1919
ABCD Self-portrait (deliberately random assemblage of newspaper clips and cutout letters), Raoul Hausmann, 1923

Forming loosely by a group of anti-war artists during World War I in Europe, Dadaism has been regarded as an anti-art movement rather than an art discipline. The word “Dada” means “hobby horse” in French, but many people believe it’s just a fun mimicking of baby talk. It’s hard to bullet point the characteristics of Dadaism; however, we can summarize its general idea with the first Dadaism manifesto by Hugo Ball in 1916:

1. Dada is international in perspective and seeks to bridge differences
2. Dada is antagonistic toward an established society in the modern
3. Dada is a new tendency in art that seeks to change conventional attitudes and practices in aesthetics, society, and morality

Dadaists question the meaning of art and life. Artists distance themselves from societal ideologies, especially the rich Bourgeois culture, of the day. Most of the Dadaist artworks show a twisted meaning of objects and leads audiences to think more about the nature of the establishment.

Dadaism Layout and Typographic

Most layout designers followed the rigid patterns in the late 19th century; however, they quickly found new ways to make a page speak.

Left: 391 periods, Francis Picabia. It first appeared in January 1917
Right: Grosz, No. 1, 1919, Raoul Hausmann, John Heartfield, and George, 1919-1920
Left: Helmut Herzfeld, John Heartfield, 18191-1968
Right: History Dutch Graphic Design, Piet Zwart 1930

Under the influence of Montage, Dadaists made use of the collage technique when designing layouts. Typeface was a means for a text to speak as more than words. Typeface and the layout frame were decided based on the importance of words or sentences. Massive shapes and images were jumbled in between texts, creating an unprecedented visual surprise to the reader. Sensation and inspiration became the core messages rather than textual meaning. Text boxes and images were placed on pages without a unified format. The composition of a page often came with a sense of rhythm and life.

This innovative, dynamic, and playful layout style is gaining greater popularity today. Thanks to the technology, no more scissors and glue are required to create these collages. Instead of using traditional software like inDesign, there are many mobile apps that can help you create superior collages on your mobile device. If you like the Dada attitude, here are some tips for you to build your own Dada-style documents:

1. Non-linear layout
2. Different typefaces on the same page
3. The use of white space in the layout
4. Photo collaging and photo manipulation
5. Jumbling text and images together

William Wordsworth, A Night Thought
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Quote from: Charles Jagongo Ogola, Rain, Rain, Rain
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