Graphic Design

Graphic design is the art of communication, stylizing, and problem-solving through the use of type, space, and image. Graphic design often refers to both the process (designing) by which the communication is created and the products (designs) which are generated.

Common uses of graphic design include identity (logos and branding), publications (magazines, newspapers and books), print advertisements, posters, billboards, website graphics and elements, signs and product packaging. For example, a product package might include a logo or other artwork, organized text and pure design elements such as images, shapes and color which unify the piece. Composition is one of the most important features of graphic design, especially when using pre-existing materials or diverse elements.

In late 20th-century Europe, especially in the United Kingdom, the first official publication of a printed design was released which marked the separation of graphic design from fine art. In 1849, Henry Cole became one of the major forces in design education in Great Britain, informing the government of the importance of design in his ‘Journal of Design and Manufactures.’ He organized the ‘Great Exhibition’ as a celebration of modern industrial technology and Victorian design.

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 public. Morris created a market for works of graphic design in their own right to create a profession for this new type of 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.

The term ‘Graphic Design’ first appeared in print in the 1922 essay ‘New Kind of Printing Calls for New Design’ by William Addison Dwiggins, an American book designer in the early 20th century. 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 and Bauhaus typographers such as Herbert Bayer and László Moholy-Nagy, and El Lissitzky have greatly influenced graphic design as we know it today. 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 Univers and Frutiger; Paul Rand, who, from the late 1930s 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 1970s era.

The growth of the professional graphic design industry has grown in parallel with the rise of consumerism. This has raised some concerns and criticisms, notably from within the graphic design community with the ‘First Things First’ manifesto. First launched by Ken Garland in 1964, it was re-published as the ‘First Things First’ 2000 manifesto in 1999 in the magazine ‘Emigre 51’ stating ‘We propose a reversal of priorities in favor of more useful, lasting and democratic forms of communication – a mindshift away from product marketing and toward the exploration and production of a new kind of meaning. The scope of debate is shrinking; it must expand. Consumerism is running uncontested; it must be challenged by other perspectives expressed, in part, through the visual languages and resources of design.’ Both editions attracted signatures from respected design practitioners and thinkers, for example; Rudy VanderLans, Erik Spiekermann, Ellen Lupton and Rick Poynor. The 2000 manifesto was also notably published in ‘Adbusters,’ known for its strong critiques of visual culture.

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