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Design Trend Report: Dadaism

The effects of Dadaism were long-lasting, as its design principles would go on to shape the aesthetics of other design trends like Surrealism and Pop Art. Explore its unique visual styles in this trend report.

Marc Schenker September 2, 2021 · 13 min read
Call it Dadaism or Dada, but it put avant-garde design and abstraction on the map in a big way. Emerging from the ashes of World War I, this movement was as anti-establishment as you could get for the times. The curious element of this way of looking at art was its revolutionary worldview that rejected the norms, both in design and society, of the culture around it. Dadaism held massive influence across a broad range of disciplines: art, design, theater, dance, poetry, music, and even politics. In conjunction with this widespread influence, this design ideal sprang up all around the world, from New York and Paris to Switzerland. This cross-Atlantic development made Dada very efficient at spreading its artistic ideas and winning acceptance for them. The effects of Dadaism would be long-lasting, as its design principles would go on to shape the aesthetics of other design trends like Surrealism and pop art.

The Origins of Dada

The Dadaist movement has its roots firmly in the pre-World War I idea of anti-art. As the name implies, anti-art is an ideology that not only questions art but defies the conventions of what we call art —doing so from the standpoint of art. This contradiction, though, is what exists at the essence of avant-garde movements like Dadaism: the unorthodox. As a word, anti-art was coined in 1913 by Marcel Duchamp, who was one of the big names associated with Cubism. However, by the time World War I was raging, Dada was growing in influence and reach, a reaction to the perceived nationalist, capitalist and colonialist causes that were thought to be contributing factors to the war’s outbreak. Applying this radical, far-left ideology to art, Dadaists defied the conventions in art at the time since they believed that societal and cultural conformity were also to blame for the war. Thanks to this political outlook, the artists of this movement were motivated to produce some of the most memorable and thought-provoking designs that the 20th century had seen. As a design movement, it was an informal network at best, without much intentional coordination. Nonetheless, that this ideal was active on both sides of the Atlantic during and after the war suggests that it enjoyed popular appeal. Early centers of growth for the Dadaists included:
  • New York in 1915
  • Switzerland in 1916
  • Paris in 1920 and beyond
The actual founding moment of Dadaism is somewhat intriguing because historians credit the design’s “official” founding at Zurich, Switzerland’s Cabaret Voltaire, a hush-hush, short-lived nightclub Hugo Ball (deemed the founder of the movement) and his girlfriend, Emmy Hennings, ran. There, they held events that celebrated the avant-garde culture in all its glory, such as music, dance, sound poetry, spoken word, and so on. In accordance with this, they invited the founders or luminaries of some of the various rebellious trends in Europe to perform: These vivid, chaotic performances—with one incident involving the actual rushing of the stage by the audience—planted the seeds of what continued to grow into Dadaism all throughout Europe. However, across the Atlantic in New York, one year earlier, something quite organic and independent known as New York Dada was taking root, too, but how could this be? There was no official coordination between the European Dadaists and those in New York, yet New York became the capital of this movement in America. In fact, those in Switzerland had no idea that New York Dadaism was even a thing until a few years later. The answer lies in this movement’s philosophy and design principles. In New York in 1915, the same brand of radical, far-left, art-based ideology was developing that rejected nationalism and capitalism, while condemning the conventions of everything the art world had to offer at the time. The techniques they utilized—everything from collage to variations of Cubism—also closely tied them into what was happening in Zurich. Here’s a selection of design assets from our marketplace to help you get a better idea of what Dadaism was all about:
Because of the chaos of World War I, it turns out that two, independent locations developed the same Dadaist style, philosophy, and methods as a way of reacting to the world events around them. By the time World War I was over, Dadaism was active in the following locales:
  • Germany
  • New York
  • Switzerland
  • France
  • Georgia
  • The Netherlands
  • Japan
  • Italy
  • Russia
  • Yugoslavia
In spite of all this momentum, the thing with the Dadaist movement was that it ended up being short-lived. By 1924, many of the Dada artists had converted to Surrealism, and, by the outbreak of World War II, many of the European Dadaists had actually moved to America. Due to its short-lived, though impactful, tenure, some experts believe that Dadaism really symbolized the start of postmodern design. In any event, the legacy of this design trend is clear: It opened up the world to the avant-garde approach to art, which helped to usher in memorable movements like Surrealism, pop art, and postmodernism. It should also be noted that, at the time of its popularity, the early 20th century, it was common for many design trends to come and go relatively quickly. Some examples of fleeting, though equally impactful trends include:

The Design Characteristics of Dadaism

Because the Dadaists were active at a time when there were so many design trends popping up—as well as the tumult of worldwide war—their design principles tended to be highly eclectic. Put that together with the fact that they rejected design conventions, and you have the perfect recipe for a philosophy that was brutally unique and something to behold. You should keep in mind first and foremost that it borrowed heavily from aesthetics like:
  • Constructivism
  • Expressionism
  • Cubism
  • Futurism
The common bond among these four design trends is that they’re also considered avant-garde.
The primary goal of practitioners in this movement was to offend, not just shock, the audience. This was handily achieved by way of how they presented the graphic design, artwork, poetry, visual art, paintings and other output they created. Much of this generated offense was provoked by purposely opposing everything that art, up to that point, had stood for. Since art and design appealed to the senses, Dadaism rejected aesthetics to get its protest message and general contempt of society across. This flouting of the well-accepted rules of composition can be best seen in the techniques the Dadaists used in their artworks.

Regular Collage

The basis of many artworks in Dadaism was the collage. Borrowing heavily from Cubism in order to recreate new pieces from disassembled, existing concepts, collage allowed them to be as defiant and anti-establishment as they wanted, as far as design was concerned. A collage’s objective of making something new from something old was the perfect technique to symbolize their displeasure with and aggression against much of the design and art standards of their day. Dadaists would take the concept of collage further than had been known in the early 20th century. Instead of just sticking to newspapers, they would use a slew of everyday objects like:
  • Plastic wrappers
  • Maps
  • Transit or travel tickets
  • Postcards
The reason for this expansion into everyday objects was to actively represent objects of mundane life, as opposed to only objects seen as still life.

Cut-up Method

Another unique and unorthodox technique from the Dadaists, the cut-up method is a play on collage by extending the concept to the written word, exclusively. With this technique, the artists worked with cut-up words from print articles they cut out. The process involved artists cutting out each word of a newspaper article, putting the contents into a bag, shaking said bag, and then removing each word individually. They would create a new “poem” from the words in the order in which they were removed from the bag.


The photomontage is a technique characterized by the use of actual or recreated photographs taken from media materials like newspapers and magazines. Dadaism emphasized basic tools like glues and scissors to assemble these photomontages. A spin on the collage method of artwork, the photomontage was a blatant rejection of the conventional paintbrush and canvas to communicate the artist’s views of modern life.


Marcel Duchamp single-handedly pioneered this technique in the Dadaist arsenal. Born out of his philosophy that the manmade objects of his artworks were actually objects of art, these so-called readymades were a direct rebuke to what we commonly associate with visual art. By readymades, Duchamp meant everyday, manmade objects that he modified. These objects were selected by him—and then once modified—were elevated to art status. Called found objects, this philosophy was based on the French idea of the “objet trouve,” which referred to everyday objects that had non-art functions, but were modified to become artworks. This technique produced some of the more head-scratching, though memorable, designs in Dadaism.


Another take on the collage, the assemblage was a three-dimensional version of collage. Think of this technique as the assembly of mundane objects that had non-art functions to create meaningful artworks. The Dadaists would screw, nail or otherwise put together these artworks in various forms. An assemblage could either be freestanding or hung on the wall.

Dadaism in Graphic Design

Though this design trend was a flash in the pan in the early part of the 20th century, its legacy lives on today through the impact of graphic design. Here are our choices of some of the best examples of Dadaist-influenced graphic design.

Abstract Photo Collage War

The beautiful disorder of Dada is captured in this digital asset that’s ideal for use on your next project. Boasting 210 core photo effects, this collection exponentially boosts the sheer amount of effects you can create by you simply toggling on or off the numerous color and layer combinations within this collection.
Use these assets for the following types of projects:
  • Collages
  • Photography displays
  • Prints
  • Websites
  • Posters
All told, this set comes with:
  • 21 PSD files
  • 3 light leaks
  • 8 color tones
  • 4 color splashes
  • 10 layer compositions
You’ll be fashioning your Dada-inspired collages in no time.

Abstract Collage Patterns

Straight from the influence of Dadaism comes this group of avant-garde collage patterns. With these designs, you can infuse the backgrounds of your various projects with the sort of Dada sensibilities that artists like Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst to everyone in between was using in the early 20th century.
Use these collage patterns for a multitude of design projects like:
  • Branding
  • Logo design
  • Packaging design
  • Web images
  • Prints
  • Poster design
Featuring a modern color palette, these vector graphics make it a cinch to switch up the arrangements and colors for any project. Here, you get:
  • Textured patterns (splatter, gray paint, pink paint, stripe, scribble)
  • Unique papers (vellum, cut, smooth, torn)
  • Distinct paints (spray paint, textured gray, pink)
Make your digital artwork stand out from the rest of your competitors.

Collage and Cutout Elements Bundle

Look no farther than this comprehensive set to help you create all the Dada-inspired digital collages you could want.
This mega bundle features a whopping 500+ graphic elements that span a broad range of influences. Choose from assets like:
  • Hand-drawn crayon elements
  • Doodle sketch elements
  • Gold doodles
  • Glitter doodles
  • Tape bits
  • Paper tears
  • Brushstrokes
  • Stamps
  • Cutout alphabet letters
  • Magazine rips
  • Paper shapes
  • Ink patterns
Use these elements to craft your digital collages in everything from greeting cards, newsletters, and posters to social-media quotes and magazine layouts.

Dadaism in Web Design

There are quite a few homages to this design trend alive and well on the web today, in spite of the fact that it’s been 100 years since the Dadaists were active. A testament to its longevity and ability to influence, Dada’s best websites include the following.

Dada Data

A website intended to celebrate the last 100 years of the movement, Dada Data is a fusion of Dada principles with web design that’s stunning to see on any device. Looking like a free-floating collage or assemblage of different pictures and illustrations, the homepage alone feels like you’re looking at Dada paintings in a gallery.
Image Credit: Dada Data
The website’s smooth user experience and easy-to-use interface mean you can quickly navigate from one technique or example of Dada to the next. Learn all about Duchamp’s readymades in a dedicated section of the website, or have your fill of the 21st-century’s digital version of the Dada Manifesto on another webpage.

DADA Agency

Proof that you can also transfer the philosophy of this design style over to digital marketing, here’s an example of an agency’s website that specializes in incorporating Dada elements into their brand messaging. The end result is a memorable, eye-popping website, which powerfully illustrates how well Dada design principles can work on the web.
Image Credit: DADA Agency
For starters, the website’s color scheme jumps out at you with vibrant purples that balance the monochromatic, neutral colors in the design. Oh, yeah: And your cursor’s a yellow banana instead of the boring, usual arrow, which epitomizes the way the web design here rejects the traditional “best practices”—just like Dada rejected the conventions of the early 20th-century art world. The way the purple, swirling effect traces the path of your cursor is also a neat design touch.

DADA – Video Production

This DADA is a digital media company that offers its clients a slew of services. What’s more interesting is the use of Dadaism in its long-scrolling, one-page design. The skillful web design becomes more apparent as you scroll down the long page because the company has expertly woven a collage aesthetic into its presentation.
Image Credit: Dada – Video Production
Each section of the page—whether it’s the services, team or work section—looks as if it was thrown together from a different element, thereby creating that unmistakable Dadaist feel to the entire website. The use of various geometric shapes, sometimes at odd angles to the backgrounds, further contributes to this great Dada aesthetic and demonstrates how the web designer understands Dadaism well. The website’s use of vibrant, multi-colored backgrounds in this parallax-scrolling presentation also adds beautiful color contrast to the overall web design.

Defiance of Accepted Design Conventions

Dadaism is rebellion, simply put. Of course, for our purposes in the 21st century, its flouting of convention seems relatively tame now, by comparison. Back then, the Dadaists created a massive uproar, impact and even outrage, with some art critics branding them as destructive and sick. Clearly, the Dadaists attempt to turn the design and art world on its head proved to be successful. It has to be mentioned, however, that, in the annals of art history, it was quite common for the prevailing elites of their day (read: critics) to lambast a new design trend as somehow corrupt, whether destructive or just stupid. The same thing happened with the Impressionists, although they were more ridiculed during their heyday in the late 19th century, rather than feared, as with this trend. History now looks at Dadaism as a highly impactful design trend. When you consider how briefly it lasted, between World Wars I and II, that makes its achievement even more remarkable.
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Marc Schenker

Marc is a copywriter and marketer who runs The Glorious Company, a marketing agency. An expert in business and marketing, he helps businesses and companies of all sizes get the most bang for their ad bucks.

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