What do an apple and a computer have in common? Nothing really. But through the magic of surrealism, any graphic designer can merge unrelated concepts like these into an impactful, even understated, image.

In a moment, we’ll put on our x-ray vision glasses and reveal the surrealist bone structure beneath the skin of Apple’s logo, but before we get into branding, it’s important to understand what surrealism is—beyond the melted clocks and mixed up faces. Surrealism has been affecting art lovers for nearly a century—just imagine the possibilities it can have in your own designs!

Surrealism demystified

Surrealism doesn’t necessarily have to be a Salvador Dali painting (even though Dali is probably who springs to mind when you think of surrealism). When common but unrelated things in surprising juxtapositions create something otherworldly and powerful, that’s surrealism.

In 1924, French writer/poet André Breton published his Manifesto of Surrealism which describes surrealism as bypassing conscious intention and revealing how thought functions. Think of how dreams operate: you’ll be in a place from your past, then all of a sudden a person or thing appears that totally doesn’t fit the situation. Maybe a device which hadn’t been invented yet, or a baby you know who appears as an adult, or vice versa! Surrealists access this dreamlike flow state while awake, and express it through their medium of choice.

Friendly apple, scary computer

The Son of Man painting with an Apple logo
By Tony Rubino, based on Son of Man by Rene Margritte

You might be thinking there’s nothing surreal about the apple icon, and if so you’d be right. Apple’s logo by itself is just an apple, but the concept of juxtaposing an apple with a computer is approaching the surrealist mindset. Remember, surrealism unites common—but in other respects unrelated—things in surprising juxtapositions. Consider that when Apple started in 1976 the idea of a personal computer intimidated people. But put the image of an apple up front, and poof! A cloud of fun and friendliness surrounds the menacing computer idea!

If Apple can do it, you can too. And just to prove it to you, we’re going to guide you through some inspiring designs where the surrealist approach has enhanced these brands. Come on friends, let’s dive into the unknown!

Surreal logos

Companies striving to craft something new and refreshing might want to use a surrealist technique known as the element of surprise. Customers can be caught off guard by a harshly contrasting color palette, melding unusual pairs of images into an impossible composition, typefaces that stretch the limits of how a letterform can bend. These elements can create a unique graphic language and jolt viewers outside of their mundane everyday experiences into your subjective twilight zone.

Challenging typographic forms
Art exhibition for Cranbrook Academy of Art by Elliott Earls via elliottearls.com
hand drawn vintage style surreal logo
Four Shore beer label design by Fafahrd Deustua
Ghosts as heart surreal logo
Pair of Normals logo design by Smeg!
mountain in an hourglass
Sandbox production company design by KisaDesign

Surreal web design

Desire was a major watchword for surrealists. The word came up regularly when surrealists conversed about the nature of existence. They felt that to achieve true freedom, desire was to be acknowledged and acted upon. In a surrealist context, desire doesn’t necessarily have to do with sexuality but rather is a genuine expression of the inner self.

The following web designs use surrealism to represent desire in a variety of ways. Viewers are transported to magical places, are freed from the confines of their own making, or have their heads expanded into space. For businesses who help their customers fulfill their innermost desire, represent that with a surrealist design.

Free your mind surreal web design
Lifecoach website design by Spoon Lancer
beauty and desire surreal web design
U Jewelry website design by T6S
random asymmetric surreal web design
Dada-data.net website design via Dada-Data
floating body parts
Femme Fatale Studio website design via Femme Fatale Studio

Surreal illustration

Illustration is where surrealism can really shine, considering it was a fine art movement in the first place. Your canvas can take viewers on a journey to otherworldly cities where planets hang in dreamlike proximity or twist figures into unbelievable shapes. If you’re looking to evoke a transcendent experience in your audience or just give them a unique and unforgettable image, bend your mind towards surrealism.

clashing dimensions
Surreal illustration by LazebraArt
dream-like magical cat
Surreal illustration birthday gift by CheeseProdigy
dream-like structures, parallel world
Surreal illustration by heathaze90
Astonishing and transcendent apparition
Title page of the Encyclopédie by Denis Diderot via oll.libertyfund.org

Surreal album covers

Because poetry is a huge part of music, it makes sense for musicians to use the visual poetry of dream imagery for their album covers. For artists and designers, the dream realm is as much a part of life as waking hours are. Ancient Egyptian and Greek architects and doctors used dreams to help them determine where to build or diagnose and treat a patient. Shine a light to the hidden meanings of nature by incorporating elements snatched from dreams into your design.

windows into the soul, and alternate dimensions
music art for 3merry widows by Jonathon Rosen via jrosen.org
Ethereal weeping elongated skull woman
Mountain music album cover design by Mitsuo
Floating rabbit head man with cat
Album art by Jordan Sabine

Surreal book covers

Businesses raising issues of the soul and inner journeys can utilize a staple of surrealism: the eye. This fascinating organ of sight is considered by many to be a gateway to the spirit. In many cultures, the brain’s pineal gland is thought to have spiritual abilities and considered the body’s third eye.

In surrealism, suns and moons can stand for eyes of the universe or one eye can be isolated and can be regarded as either watching the viewer or as a window to be peered through. Are you being watched, or are you watching the watcher? Or perhaps there’s a third possibility!

Eye nebula and custom typesetting
Book cover art by Beaux Arts
The eyes of big brother are watching you
or Orwell’s 1984 By Ben Jones, Polish Book Cover Contest Winner via 50watts.com
Elephant in the sky
Surreal book cover by Manuela Serra

Surreal packaging

The surrealist concept of the marvelous is an instant when the veils which obscure reality are lifted, and life’s true nature can be perceived more clearly. The marvelous can be tapped by companies wishing to evoke a perceptive, sublime, supernatural awareness in their customers. When elements fit together in the right way and your customers get that ah-ha moment, you’ve ushered them into the realm of the marvelous!

artichokes roasting marshmallows in snow
Beer label by MANTSA®
Earth tree woman
Almond Liqueur Drink label by BDV
root hands angels and oliv
Olive oil label by Yokaon
lobster beer tap design
Beer tap handle design by Omar Zerpa
Dapper ram
Moustache Wax Product Labels by CAIIIA
Clash of modern and ancient motifs
Beer label by Tristan Rossi
random image collage
Beer labels by Martis Lupus

Surreal posters

Designers seeking to emphasize the frailty and wonder of life can use the surrealist technique of dissecting the body. Humans are made of many systems combined, and infinite insights can be gleaned when separating them. The following posters use this technique by depicting a brain outside of a skull, organ-like trees in a sci-fi landscape. By doing so, they create a whole new meaning and draw attention to how specific body functions relate to the human being as a whole.

Biomechanical dimension of captured memories
Poster design by maneka
biomechanical head, chest, and hands
Poster design by Giulio Rossi
Disturbing monochromatic skull with stark color poppage
Movie poster by Roman Cieślewicz for Alfred Hitchcock via mubi.com
earth, plastic, fingers, farm
Poster design by GemmyVN
floating heads, strange world
Poster design by Mi`Enn
upside down eye, black swan
Poster design by creativesoul31

Enter the world of surrealist design

If you’re considering using the power of surrealism but are still not sure what elements to include, try the following simple exercise.

Sit down with a friend and have them say words describing your brand or business. Without thinking, blurt out the first thing that comes into your mind when you hear each word. For instance, if your friend says the word reliability, triggering you to say whale, find a picture of a whale then cut it out. Eventually, you will be able to accumulate these designs into a collage. This is a form of automatism (bypassing rationality and grabbing elements directly from the unconscious mind), and a great way to find your own surrealist expression.

Now it’s time to light a candle in the darkness of the unconscious. Dive into the ocean of your unique mind and catch the big fish which is your own surrealism design. We’ll see you in dreamland!

Looking for a surrealist design that will bend heads?
Find a designer to create one today!