Graphic Design

There are varying degrees of graphic design. Graphic designer involvement may range from verbally communicated ideas, to visual rough drafts, to final production. In commercial art, client edits, technical preparation and mass production are usually required, but usually not considered to be within the scope of graphic design unless the client is also a graphic designer.

Design elements are the basic tools in every design discipline. The elements (including shape, form, texture, line, value, and color) compose the basic vocabulary of visual design. Design principles, such as balance, rhythm, emphasis, and unity, constitute the broader structural aspects of the composition.

Graphic design theory

According to the classic theory of design, or graphic design, visual design, art, the visual excitement of a project is the result of how the composition elements create feel, style, message, and a look.

There is research and planning that is needed for most design work:

  • The design process, which encompasses the step-by-step and often complex path that a designer takes toward a design solution through research, exploration, re-evaluation, and revision of a design problem. This process starts with the client and ends with the finished design product.
  • The use of a grid to help improve or speed up the layout of images and text. Like the steel internal frame of building, the grid helps the 2D designer place information on paper or screen in a way that improves the design visually and its usability.
  • Graphic designers are usually first to adopt and incorporate new technology in solutions or concepts when possible. This experimentation is not always to the benefit of the design or the user.

The classic theory of design continues to be the first one introduced to starting students and amateurs, with details such as the number of principles varying from book to book and instructor to instructor. However, the classic theory of design is limited in scope as it only considers the decorative aspects of design. More comprehensive theories and treatments include or emphasize aspects of visual communication and usability, sometimes referring to sociology and linguistics.

The principles of graphic design, in classic design theory, are traditionally related mainly to functionalism and formalism. But with recent developments in digital media and theories of information design, graphic designers have been more in tune with the problems of information and structure.

Graphic Design History

Although the term 'graphic designer' was first coined in the 20th century, the story of graphic design spans the history of humankind from the magic of the caves of Lascaux to the dazzling neons of Ginza. In both this lengthy history and in the relatively recent explosion of imaging in the 20th and 21st centuries, there is sometimes a blurring distinction and over-lapping of advertising art, graphic design and fine art. After all, they share the same elements, theories, principles, practices and languages, and sometimes the same benefactor or client. In advertising art the ultimate objective is the sale of goods and services. In graphic design, "the essence is to give order to information, form to ideas, expression and feeling to artifacts that document human experience." Fine art refers to arts that are 'concerned with beauty'

The paintings in the caves of Lascaux around 14,000 BC and the birth of written language in the third or fourth millennium BC are both significant milestones in the history of graphic design and other fields which hold roots to graphic design.

The Book of Kells is a very beautiful and very early example of graphic design. The Book is a lavishly decorated hand-written copy of the Gospels of the Christian Bible created by Celtic monks around 800AD.

Johann Gutenberg's introduction of movable type in Europe made books widely available. The earliest books produced by Gutenberg's press and others of the era are known as Incunabula. The Venetian printer and publisher Aldus Manutius developed a design style and structure for the book that remains largely intact to the present day. Graphic design of this era is sometimes called either Old Style (after the Gothic and handwriting-based typefaces which the earliest typographers used), or Humanist, after the new typefaces imitating the lettering in Roman carved inscriptions. These were introduced as part of the revival of classical learning, and still form the basis of the most commonly used Western typefaces.

Graphic design after Gutenberg saw a gradual evolution rather than any significant change. In the late 19th century, especially in the United Kingdom, an effort was made to create a firm division between the fine arts and the applied arts.

From 1891 to 1896 William Morris' Kelmscott Press published books that are some of the most significant of the graphic design products of the Arts and Crafts movement, and made a very lucrative business of creating books of great stylistic refinement and selling them to the wealthy for a premium. Morris proved that a market existed for works of graphic design and helped pioneer the separation of design from production and from fine art. The work of the Kelmscott Press is characterized by its obsession with historical styles. This historicism was, however, important as it amounted to the first significant reaction to the stale state of nineteenth-century graphic design. Morris' work, along with the rest of the Private Press movement, directly influenced Art Nouveau and is indirectly responsible for developments in early twentieth century graphic design in general.

Piet Mondrian, born in 1872, was a painter whose work was influential in modern graphic design. Although he was not a graphic designer his use of grids inspired the basic structure of the modern advertising layout known also as the grid system, used commonly today by graphic designers.


Modern design of the early 20th century, much like the fine art of the same period, was a reaction against the decadence of typography and design of the late 19th century. The hallmark of early modern typography is the sans-serif typeface. Early Modern, not to be confused with the modern era of the 18th and 19th centuries, typographers such as Edward Johnston and Eric Gill after him were inspired by vernacular and industrial typography of the latter nineteenth century. The signage in the London Underground is a classic of this era and used a font designed by Edward Johnston in 1916.

In the 1920s, Soviet Constructivism (art) applied 'intellectual production' in different spheres of production. The movement saw individualistic art as useless in revolutionary Russia and thus moved towards creating objects for utilitarian purposes. They designed buildings, theater sets, posters, fabrics, clothing, furniture, logos, menus etc.

Jan Tschichold codified the principles of modern typography in his 1928 book, New Typography. He later repudiated the philosophy he espoused in this book as being fascistic, but it remained very influential. Tschichold, Bauhaus typographers such as Herbert Bayer and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, and El Lissitzky are the fathers of graphic design as we know it today. They pioneered production techniques and stylistic devices used throughout the twentieth century. Although the computer has altered production forever, the experimental approach to design they pioneered has become more relevant than ever.

The following years saw graphic design in the modern style gain widespread acceptance and application. A booming post-World War II American economy established a greater need for graphic design, mainly advertising and packaging. The emigration of the German Bauhaus school of design to Chicago in 1937 brought a "mass-produced" minimalism to America; sparking a wild fire of "modern" architecture and design. Notable names in mid-century modern design include Adrian Frutiger, designer of the typefaces Universe and Frutiger; Paul Rand, who, from the late 1930's until his death in 1996, took the principles of the Bauhaus and applied them to popular advertising and logo design, helping to create a uniquely American approach to European minimalism while becoming one of the principal pioneers of the subset of graphic design known as corporate identity; and Josef Müller-Brockmann, who designed posters in a severe yet accessible manner typical of the 1950s and 1960s.

The reaction to the increasing severity of graphic design was slow but inexorable. The origins of postmodern typography can be traced back as far as the humanist movement of the 1950s. Notable among this group is Hermann Zapf who designed two typefaces that remain ubiquitous — Palatino (1948) and Optima (1952). By blurring the line between serif and sans-serif typefaces and re-introducing organic lines into typography these designs did more to ratify modernism than they did to rebel.

An important point was reached in graphic design with the publishing of the First things first 1964 Manifesto which was a call to a more radical form of graphic design and criticized the ideas of value-free and purely commercial design. This was massively influential on a generation of new graphic designers and contributed to the founding of publications such as Emigre magazine.

Saul Bass designed many motion picture title sequences which feature new and innovative methods of production and startling graphic design to attempt to tell some of the story in the first few minutes. He may be best known for his work for Otto Preminger's The Man with the Golden Arm (1955).

Milton Glaser designed the unmistakable I Love NY ad campaign (1973) and a famous Bob Dylan poster (1968). Glaser took stylistic hints from popular culture from the 1960s and 1970s.

David Carson has gone against the restrictiveness of modern designs. Some of his designs for Raygun magazine are intentionally illegible, featuring typography designed to be visual rather than literary experiences.

Graphic Design Tools

Graphic designers use the mind, eye, hand, traditional tools, and computers to create. A creative concept is not usually considered a design unless it is given a tangible or visual form. However, since the design consists of ideas, the most important and only tool that is required in the design process is the mind. Critical, observational, quantitative and analytic thinking are also required for page layout and rendering. If the executor is merely following a sketch, script or instructions (as may be supplied by an art director) they are not usually considered the designer. The eye and the hand are often augmented with the use of external traditional tools or digital image editing features. The selection of the appropriate one to the communication problem at hand is also a key skill in graphic design work, and a defining factor of the rendering style.

In the mid 1980s, the arrival of desktop publishing and the introduction of software applications introduced a generation of designers to computer image manipulation and 3D image creation that had previously been laborious. Computer graphic design enabled designers to instantly see the effects of layout or typographic changes without using any ink in the process, and to simulate the effects of traditional media without requiring a lot of space.

Computers are generally considered to be an indispensable tool used in the graphic design industry. Computers and software applications are generally seen, by creative professionals, as more effective production tools than traditional methods. However, some designers continue to use manual and traditional tools for production, such as Milton Glaser.

There is some debate whether computers enhance the creative process of graphic design. Rapid production from the computer allows many designers to explore multiple ideas quickly with more detail than what could be achieved by traditional hand-rendering or paste-up on paper, moving the designer through the creative process more quickly. However, being faced with limitless choices does not help isolate the best design solution and can lead to designers endlessly iterating without a clear design outcome.

New ideas often come by way of experimenting with tools and methods, be it traditional or digital media. Some professional designers explore ideas using pencil on paper to avoid creating within the limits of a computer, enabling them to think outside the box. Some creative graphic design ideas are initiated and developed to near completion in the mind, before either traditional methods or the computer is used; while others may augment visualization by utilizing complex and rapid rendering capabilities that computers can provide during the design process.

A graphic designer may also use sketches to explore multiple or complex ideas quickly without the potential distractions of technical difficulties from software malfunctions or software learning. Hand rendered comps are often used to get approval of a graphic design idea before investing what would be too much time to produce finished visuals on a computer or in paste-up if rejected. The same thumbnail sketches or rough drafts on paper may be used to rapidly refine and produce the idea on the computer in a hybrid process. This hybrid process is especially useful in logo design where a software learning curve may detract from a creative thought process. The traditional-design/computer-production hybrid process may be used for freeing ones creativity in page layout or image development as well. Traditional graphic designers may employ computer-savvy production artists to produce their ideas from sketches, without needing to learn the computer skills themselves.

The use of computers in other design fields is often referred to as CAD (computer aided design), the same abbreviation of computer aided drafting and a homophone of the acronym computer aided design & drafting (CADD) used by engineers. The acronym "CAD" makes no distinction between graphic design and technical drawing. Due to this common misunderstanding, CAD is rarely used to describe computer use in graphic design. The more common term used to describe computer use in graphic design is DTP (desktop publishing). However, DTP is often oversimplified to the narrower scope of graphic design known as page layout and publishing technology.

Reference: Wikipedia
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