An Introduction To Graphic Design: What Is Graphic Design

Part 1: What Is Graphic Design

When you think of graphic design what come to your mind? A painting? A book? How about a cool poster? These are just a few of the most common mental images evoked by people when asked about graphic design. None of these images provide a true definition of graphic design though. Paintings, books and posters are only “outcomes” or “mediums” of graphic design. If you search for the definition of graphic design, you’ll most likely find a generic unhelpful definition. Online dictionaries define graphic design as the art or skill of combining text and pictures in advertisements, magazines, or books. This definition is true, but it doesn’t provide much context.

Graphic design is a skill, but it’s not limited to advertisements, magazines, and books. Graphic design can be physical, digital and anywhere in-between. Because of this abstractness and versatility, graphic design goes far beyond simply combining text and pictures.

Graphic design focuses on communicating a message visually. Each project a graphic designer works on will have a unique message and a desired result from that message. The message may be to provide information, invoke thought, sell a product or even stimulate meaningful conversation. Graphic design is all around you. It’s about expressing an idea in the best way using visual story telling. This may sound simple, but it requires problem solving, communication, attentiveness, patience, and most importantly a good grasp of the project’s desired result.

The popularization of social media and the advancements in technology have sparked curiosity about graphic design. The ability to easily share information is leading to an increasing number of artists looking to share their work and engage with new audiences. Technology provides opportunities for the most novice of art lovers to share their artwork. Unfortunately, the ease of sharing information has led to an over saturation of artwork throughout the design community. The over saturation of artwork makes it difficult to stand out and gain recognition; making the study of graphic design essential for success. This series will serve as an overview of graphic design and the elements of good design. The upcoming articles will cover each component of graphic design and its individual role in producing the finished product. To start, we’ll go through a few of the major historical advances and inventions leading to modern graphic design.

The History of Graphic Design

The earliest forms of graphic design were found in the cave paintings created around 15,000 BC. These paintings were created to tell stories, keep records of events and provide information. Cave paintings started as basic line figures, but expanded to detailed artwork as the years progressed. In some parts of the world many original cave painting are still visible. Cave painting were useful, but they lacked a way to transport that information to other locations. This was resolved in 105 AD when Ts’Ai Lun invented paper. This made transporting and distributing written documents and various types of artwork easier than it had ever been. It also added more variety to the types of ink, paint, and other tools that could be used to create artwork. Finally, with the creation of Movable Type by Johannes Gutenberg in 1450, we had all the key components needed for modern graphic design.

If you’d like to explore more on typography, you can read Typography: Past, Present, and Future here on Freepik.

William Addison Dwiggins pioneered modern graphic design. He was a typeface designer in the 1920’s. His most famous fonts include: Caravan Metro, Electra, Caledonia, Eldorado, and Falcon. Dwiggins continued creating and innovating in the design community until his death in 1956. Less than a decade after Dwiggins’ death, Douglas Engelbart invented the mouse. This invention of a precision pointing device paved the way for what would be the greatest innovation in design tools of this generation: the Macintosh. Apple presented the Macintosh in 1984. This was the first computer with a user friendly interface. Shortly after the invention of the 1984 Macintosh graphics applications such as Photoshop and and Illustrator were introduced to the world. Since the invention of these applications, designers have been able to create amazing works of art across a variety of mediums.

Understanding the timeline of major events contributing to graphic design is essential. Without knowledge of the past, the present and future can’t be perfected upon. The next lesson in this series would define design, discuss the building blocks of design, and explore what determines good design.

Resources – Freepik

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