Designers shape our culture, but only for a moment.

Graphic design is one of the most trend-adherent forces in our society. The worlds of advertising, product design, fashion, and architecture each tend to share a common visual vernacular that evolves, in-sync, over time.

Take the humble can of Pepsi. When the aluminum vessel for this well-known soda was first introduced in 1948, it was adorned with an illustration of a bottle cap with the words "Pepsi-Cola" emblazoned upon its face.

Soda cans

The design evolved over the decades that followed, as Pepsi adjusted the appearance of their aluminum canvas to appeal to the ever-changing tastes and whims of the youth demographic. It went from an illustrative design with ad copy promoting the benefits of the product ("Genuine!" and "Fills two glasses!"), to the minimalistic aesthetic of the can sold in stores today.

Now let's look at Pepsi's penultimate rival in sugar water, Coca-Cola. Compared side-by-side, we can see how the development of each respective design changed over time, with broad similarities over the decades.

Soda cans over time
Coke's early designs featured line-based illustrations and bold graphics, much like the cans of its eternal foe, Pepsi. The appearance of these two cans was particularly similar in the 1990s, when each featured textured backgrounds and a drop-shadow behind the lettering in their respective logos. The congruencies continue to the present day, with a design that's bold but minimal, with lowercase copy ("pepsi" and "classic," respectively).

Since design trends are always evolving, what's new today is old-fashioned next week, and obsolete next month.

To most designers, this is a fact of life. It's never questioned, if it's ever noticed at all. The constant chase of the latest new thing is how they make a living, after all. But some designers are uncomfortable with the environmental and cultural implications of an always-old world. They reject the idea that graphic design has to be disposable, and celebrate their role as creators of culture.

Allan Espiritu is one of those designers.

Allan Espiritu
Espiritu is a professor at Rutgers University and prominent member of the Philadelphia graphic design community. His work pushes against the ephemeral nature of graphic design.
"I'm in an industry that's disposable," Espiritu explains. "That's always been a problem for me as a graphic designer. I hate that the thing that I make is disposable. So I try to resist that."
Espiritu's approach to graphic design is the antithesis of those whose sole goal is to get their work to go viral. His focus is on making connections with his audience, and changing their expectations of the visual world at the same time. That's how he pushes back against the disposable nature of design.

From his studio in the Crane Arts building in Northern Liberties, Espiritu's GDLOFT produces work that he hopes you'll be compelled to keep.

Crane Arts Building

Next, let's see how he does it.

Read about Espiritu's work for the Mural Arts Program.

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