Did We Learn Nada from Dada?

The job of a graphic designer is that of a global communicator — a practitioner whose duty is to spread a particular message for a client, typically in the fashion of an advertisement, website or even a logo, to as many consumers as possible. Throughout graphic design’s history, expectations and guidelines have been established to guide the craft. And that’s the problem. Of course, this history should not be obliterated. Instead we should keep an open mind in our approaches and take a page from Dada.

The Dada movement, which emerged in the early 20th century, was a direct reaction to the implications of World War I (Meggs). Dadaist used the atrocities of war as the driving force in breaking the gyves of traditional design in favor of anti-art and the “meaningless” (Motherwell). Prior to this movement, design was rigid, with predetermined expectations and standards that Dada sought to break.

Figure 1. Stephen Hislop, I-phone with Its Code Broken. 2010. Digital Image. Created by changing the file format of a .jpg to .txt, Hilsop then edits the code to manipulate the photo randomly.

Our discipline should follow in Dadaists’ footsteps and not only cast the conventional methods, but also current trends and homogenous characteristics aside. This will ultimately enhance the creative field by encouraging a unique and adventurous approach to all that we create.

Dada was a brand new perspective on the way artists and the public approached design. Even though it was self-proclaimed anti-art, in a way it helped promote a new kind of art, and more importantly, a new way of thinking. Stephen Hislop, a freelance graphic designer from England, was inspired by Dadism to create cracked JPG images (see fig. 1).

Hislop doesn’t rely on Photoshop or similar photo manipulation software;; instead,he uses an unorthodox process to create his anti-jpg art. Hislop changes the file type of the photograph so that he can access the coding that creates the image;; from there, he manipulates the coding to the desired effect. There is no real step-by-step to create each — instead Hislop simply makes changes until the desired effect is reached. Hislop’s approach is akin to Dada’s Photomontage into which artists were referred to as “‘monteurs’ (mechanics) rather than artists” (“DADA — Techniques-photomontage”).

I-phone with Its Code Broken which started as a normal photo of an iPhone, whose technology and name has become ubiquitous in our culture, has become almost unrecognizable after being corrupted by Hislop. This distortion reflects the culture of technology and the disconnection from humanity that came as a result.

Dadaist encouraged the world to set aside conventional methods in order to fully embrace an unexpected, and unconventional, mindset that allowed complete freedom when creating art. Dadaists even continued to proclaim that they “recognize no theory” which served to perpetuate the position in which Dadaists held (Motherwell). Sean Dack, a Brooklyn artist, also creates photo manipulations in-line with that of the Dadaist Photomontage. Dack, similarly to the Dadaist, doesn’t create the art to “resolve the questions” — his intention is to create art “in which the image would tell in a new way” (Dack; Ades 13–18). Design and art are usually created to share a message or capture a moment in time, respectively — which was then shared with a small percentage of consumers. Dadaist created design and art with no message intertwined — just the symbolism of emotion and freedom — thus changing the frame of mind when viewing the work. Dack’s main goal with his artwork is to challenge the way we think about situations (see fig. 2). Dack is able to experiment without having an end result dictate which direction his work progresses.

Figure 2. Sean Dack, Helicopter. 2008. Digital Image. Sean Dack’s work captures the technology driven society by focusing on the process and creation of his digital art instead of an “end result.”

Graphic Design is typically seen as a result driven medium, with the intention to sell merchandise or promote ideas, but by infusing a Dadaist approach, it can be transformed. If the Dada movement never existed, how stagnant would the industry have been and would we have been prepared for our ever-changing environment? Dada helped inspire something different, intriguing and memorable and that is what we, as designers, need to continue to strive towards. With this in mind, design can continue to break boundaries and refrain from being stagnant.


Dack, Sean. “///ABOUT.” SEAN DACK. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2016. <http://www.seandack.net/about.html>.

Meggs, Philip B., Alston W. Purvis, and Philip B. Meggs. Meggs’ History of Graphic Design. Hoboken, NJ: J. Wiley & Sons, 2006. Print.

Motherwell, Robert. The Dada Painters and Poets. N.Y.: Wittenborn, Schultz, 1951. Print.


Dack, Sean. Los Angeles Helicopter. Digital image. Sean Dack. N.p., 2008. Web. <http://www.seandack.net/2008.html>.

Hislop, Stephen. I-phone with Its Code Broken. Digital image. STEPHEN HISLOP. N.p., 11 Dec. 2010. Web. 15 Mar. 2016. <http://www.stephenhislop.co.uk/post/2174371138/i-phone-with-its-code-broken>