Graphic design is the applied art of using graphic elements and text to communicate an idea or concept. It is used for creative purposes in many types of media, such as printing, motion pictures, digital media, product decoration, packaging and basically in any domain that requires visual elements.
In the context of Web site design, graphic design involves the creation of all the visual elements of a site, including page layout, content layout, background imagery, colour scheme, navigation buttons, logo design, banners etc.
Regarding the history of graphic design, it can be considered as existing since the appearance of the written word. However, as a separate entity it can be traced back to the late 19th century.
There are several fundamental principles of graphic design that apply not only to the printed materials but also to Web-based visual elements and which include: light, colour, space, layout, visual hierarchy, balance, pattern, contrast, proportion and unity.
The first graphic design proof is represented probably by the Paleolithic cave paintings in Lascaux, caves that exists in southwestern France. More certain proofs started with the birth of the written language, somewhere in the 3rd or 4th millennium BC, when the evolution of Western alphabets began. These represent significant parts in the evolution of graphic design, as they can be considered the milestones of its creation.
The Diamond Sutra is the oldest complete printed book and a good example of graphic design that could be acceptable even in our days. It dates back to 868 A.D. and according to the The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen it is:
"An independent part of the Prajnaparamita Sutra, which attained great importance, particularly in East Asia. It shows that all phenomenal appearances are not ultimate reality but rather illusions, projections of one's own mind ... The work is called Diamond Sutra because it is 'sharp like a diamond that cuts away all unnecessary conceptualizations and brings one to the further shore of enlightenment.'"
Johann Gutenberg, the German printer who was the first in Europe to print using movable type and the first to use a press (1400-1468), made books widely available. The books produced by the press and other books before 1500 (books published before 1500 A.D. are called Incunabula) became the reference for the design of later books. Graphic design before 1500 A.D. is called Old Style or Humanist and lasted until Renaissance.
Graphic design acknowledged a significant change after the 19th century when a firm separation between fine and applied arts was made.
Another influential person in the development of graphic design was William Morris (1834 - 1896), a poet and novelist, best remembered today though for his graphic design work. He founded the Kelmscott Press that produced books of great stylistic refinement and also he founded William Morris Co. producing fabrics, tapestries and household objects - some of the most significant of the graphic design products of the Arts and Crafts movement.
Morris 's life-long interest in the Middle Ages is clearly reflected in his design work and by the association with great artists such as Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. He founded the Press in 1891 and the work is characterized by its decadence and by its obsession with historical styles, work that directly influenced Art Nouveau and is indirectly responsible for developments in early twentieth century graphic design in general.
He emphasized type design (he created his own typefaces, Golden, Troy and Chaucer), illustration and decoration (Morris designed all the Kelmscott borders and initials) and hand production. Fifty-three books were published at this press, including a few which had been in process at the time of Morris 's death.
Modern graphic 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. Modern typography was characterized by the use of the sans-serif and serif typeface, fonts used in our days too because serif type is easier to read for its property of "drawing your eye" from character to character.
Inspired from the latter 19th century graphic design tendencies, new typographers started developing new typefaces and writing inspiring graphic design books, bringing this way a "new look" into graphic design. One of them, Edward Johnston - type designer, calligrapher, author, teacher - wrote a book in 1906 called "Writing and Illuminating and Lettering" causing something of a "renaissance" for calligraphy. It is considered one of the most influential books on calligraphy ever written. He also created several font types still in use today: Hamlet-Type (1912-27), Imprint-Antiqua (with G. Meynell and J. H. Mason, 1913), Johnston Sans Serif (1916).
Another inspiring figure of that time, Eric Gill - sculptor, graphic artist, type designer - produced impressive stone sculptures (for the BBC building in London, for the stations of the cross in Westminster Cathedral in London), worked for several presses creating initials, illustrations and text types, wrote several books regarding graphic design ("Essay on Typography", "Autobiography") and was the subject for other ones and also designed several font types: Gill SansT (1927-30), Golden Cockerell Roman (1929), Perpetua (1929-30), Solus (1929), Joanna (1930-31), Aries (1932), Floriated CapitalsT (1932), Bunyan, Pilgrim (1934), Jubilee (1934). He also founded his own hand-press and worked on printing luxury bibliophile editions. He also designed a postage stamp which was in use for 15 years.
Jan Tschichold - typographer, calligrapher, author and teacher - codified the principles of modern typography in his 1928 book, "Die neue Typographie" and even if he said afterwards that his book had a fascistic influence, it remained highly influential. He wrote several other books too, received important awards for his modern graphic design work and created some typefaces: Transit (1931), Saskia (1931), Zeus (1931), SabonT (1967).
In 1919 Bauhaus was founded in Weimar (Germany) and in the next 2 years typographers such as Herbert Bayer, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and El Lissitzky joined it and contributed a lot to graphic design as we know it today. They used for the first time production techniques and stylistic devices that were used throughout the twentieth century. Their approach to design is more relevant than ever; their work contains dynamism, specific things like typeface choice and strict, orthogonal composition. Other important figures include Herbert Bayer, Marcel Breuer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Laszio Moholy-Nagy and Wilhelm Wagenfeld.
Among the notable names in mid-century modern design is Adrian Frutiger, the designer of the typefaces Univers and Frutiger. His words describe well the change that appeared in graphic design and also explains how he had some of its creative ideas regarding new typefaces: "the task of adapting the typefaces of the old masters from relief type to flat film was my best school. When we came to the "Grotesk" style of san serif, however, I had my own ideas which led to the UniversT family. Technological progress was rapid. Electronic transfer of images brought the stepping, followed by my feelings for form. But today, with curve programs and laser exposure, it seems to me that the way through the desert has been completed."
Josef Müller-Brockmann, another notable figure of the mid-century, started his design work in Zurich, where he opened a studio and specialized in exhibition design, commercial art and photography. His work in designing posters and books was greatly acknowledged and was an inspiration for many others; he also was named "Pioneer of Swiss Graphic Design".
The humanist movement of the 1950s can be seen as the beginning of post-modern typography. A notable figure of this group is Hermann Zapf who designed two typefaces which remain extremely popular even today - Palatino (1948) and Optima (1952). His fonts already had a modern touch even if they contained a mixture between serif and sans-serif. He is also the creator of many other typefaces: AldusT (1954), AureliaT (1983), EdisonT (1978), KompaktT (1954), MarconiT (1976), Medici ScriptT (1971), MeliorT (1952), Noris ScriptT (1976), OptimaT (1958), OptimaT nova (2002), OrionT (1974), PalatinoT (1950), SaphirT (1953), SistinaT (1950), VarioT (1982), VentureT (1969), Linotype Zapf EssentialsT (2002), ZapfinoT (1998), Zapfino ExtraT (2003), ITC Zapf Chancery® (1979) ITC Zapf International® (1976), ITC Zapf Book® (1976), Zapf Renaissance AntiquaT (1984-1987), ITC Zapf Dingbats® (1978).
The next important point in the course of graphic design is the year 1964, when the First things first Manifesto was published. This was a call to a different form of graphic design criticizing the non-value design. "We, the undersigned, are graphic designers, photographers and students who have been brought up in a world in which the techniques and apparatus of advertising have persistently been presented to us as the most lucrative, effective and desirable means of using our talents. We have been bombarded with publications devoted to this belief, applauding the work of those who have flogged their skill and imagination to sell such things as cat food, stomach powders, detergent, hair restorer, striped toothpaste, aftershave lotion, before shave lotion, slimming diets, fattening diets, deodorants, fizzy water, cigarettes, roll-ons, pull-ons and slip-ons. We are proposing a reversal of priorities in favour of the more useful and more lasting forms of communication. We hope that our society will tire of gimmick merchants, status salesmen and hidden persuaders, and that the prior call on our skills will be for worthwhile purposes. With this in mind we propose to share our experience and opinions, and to make them available to colleagues, students and others who may be interested."
This influenced a new generation of graphic designers and contributed to the founding of several publications such as Emigré magazine.
Another notable designer of the latter 20th century is Milton Glaser. Over the course of his long career, his creations have tended to change from hard-edged Pop and psychedelic designs to a softer, more expressionistic or naturalistic style. Glaser's work includes the creation of many posters, notably the iconic Bob Dylan silhouette (1966); book and record covers; book illustrations; type; corporate logos; interiors; and architectural projects. One of his most famous designs is the 1976 "I Love New York " logo.
In the last decade of the 20th century, technology played an important role, but this time it was the computer, and at first it was largely a step backwards. Zuzana Licko worked very early using computers for layout, in the days when computer memory was measured in kilobytes and typefaces were created using dots rather than lines. Together with her husband Rudy VanderLans they founded the pioneering Emigré magazine and the Emigré type foundry. They played with the extraordinary limitations of computers as something which, in itself, could provide creative freedom. Emigré magazine became the bible for digital design as the technology rapidly advanced to the point where the advantages outweighed the disadvantages.
David Carson is, in a sense, the culmination of the movement against the restrictiveness of modern design - some of his designs for Raygun magazine are intentionally illegible, designed to be visual rather than literary experiences. He began his career working with paste-ups in the traditional manner, but moved to computers quickly when he saw what they had become capable of.
Modern graphic design has evolved into a profession that is conducted almost entirely on computers. Using modern hardware systems and powerful software the graphic design of the 21th century has virtually no limit. Powerful tools include Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, and PageMaker, QuarkXPress, Macromedia Freehand and Fireworks, Paint Shop Pro, CorelDraw; powerful 3d design tools like 3ds Max, Maya Unlimited and many other software programmes lead to the creation of new astonishing designs.
However, this doesn't mean that everyone who uses such a programme becomes suddenly a designer or creates quality designs. There are a lot of people that rely more on the skills provided by the software rather than on their own creativity and talent. To be a good designer you have to have certain artistic skills, as well as a knowledge of the tools to transform your ideas into facts. To be a good designer you have to be talented, you have to have that "artistic seed" planted in your head that will allow you to have the vision needed for such a profession.
Whether you're marketing your product, promoting your brand, or pursuing any other business matters, a professional design is crucial to the effective presentation of your message.
History of Graphic Design