History of Graphic Design

All art has to do with communication, but this is uniquely true of graphic design. Graphic design has as its goal the communication of some specific message to a group of people, and the success of a design is measured by how well that message is conveyed.

Graphic design is as old as civilization itself. The development of written languages, for example, entailed a lengthy process of graphic design, as scribes gradually agreed that certain symbols would represent specific words or sounds. Over the centuries, these symbols were refined, clarified, simplified, and standardized--generation after generation of anonymous design work. The field as we know it today, however, has its roots in two more recent developments: the invention of the printing press in the 15th century and the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Anyone can write up a notice to be posted on a door. The printing press made it possible to devise a notice that could be reproduced hundreds of times and distributed wisely. Someone, however, had to decide exactly how the notice would look; they had to design it. How would the words be placed on the page? Which words should be in larger type, which smaller? Should there be a border around them? An image to accompany them?

The Industrial Revolution, for its part, dramatically increased the commercial applications of graphic design. Before the Industrial Revolution, most products were grown or produced locally to serve a local population. A person who wanted a new pair of shoes, say, could walk down the road to the village cobbler; or perhaps wait for the monthly fair at which several cobblers from neighboring towns might appear.

With the advent of machines, huge quantities of goods were produced in centralized factories for wide distribution. For manufacturers to succeed in this newly competitive and anonymous environment, they had to market both themselves and their wares through advertising, distinctive packaging, and other graphic means.

At the same time, the invention of faster presses, automated typesetting, lithography, and photography expanded designers' capabilities, and the growth of newspapers and magazines expanded their reach. Today, international commerce, communications, and travel continue to feed the need for graphic design; and technological developments, most notably the computer, continue to broaden its possibilities.

A professional designer's role is to enhance living by applying a developed sense of aesthetics and utility to the design of the human-made world. Design both shapes and expresses our cultural values. Some designers see themselves as artists, while others prefer to think of themselves as creative problem-solvers. Design concepts and principles provide a basis for understanding how designers apply their skills to design issues as they work to enhance the visual, informational, and mechanical qualities of our material environment.

The word design is both a verb and a noun. Thus design is both a process and a product. To design something, the process, is to organize the various aspects of a work--line, space, light and color, texture, pattern, time and motion--into a totality, a unified whole. One is able to see in that totality something one calls its 'design'--that is, the product. One can recognize in the finished product the process of its organization and composition.

Of all the arts, graphic design comes closest to meeting us in our contemporary daily life. We interact with graphic design on an almost constant basis, and most designers have chosen it as their profession because they relish that close interaction with people in all situations. Many of our encounters with graphic design are even unintentional; we do not often seek out graphic design the way we might seek to view other art forms in a gallery or museum. This fact gives graphic designers an unequalled opportunity to inform, persuade, delight, bore, offend, or repel us.

The term graphic design refers to the process of working with words and pictures to create solutions to problems of visual communication. Much of graphic design involves designing materials to be printed, including books, magazines, brochures, packages, posters, and imagery for electronic media. Such design ranges in scale and complexity from postage stamps and trademarks to billboards, film, video, and web pages.

Graphic design is a creative process employing art and technology to communicate ideas. With control of symbols, type, color, and illustrations, the graphic designer produces visual compositions meant to attract, inform, and persuade a given audience. Under the skilled guidance of a graphic designer, a message becomes visual, transcending words alone.

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