The term graphic design can refer to a number of artistic and professional disciplines which focus on visual communication and presentation. Various methods are used to create and combine symbols, images and/or words to create a visual representation of ideas and messages. A graphic designer may use typography, visual arts and page layout techniques to produce the final result. 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 magazines, advertisements, product packaging and web design. For example, a product package might include a logo or other artwork, organized text and pure design elements such as 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.
Graphic Design spans the history of humankind from the caves of Lascaux to the dazzling neons of Ginza. In both this lengthy history and in the relatively recent explosion of visual communication 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 many of 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.
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 1892 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 in their own right 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.
Who originally coined the term "graphic design" appears to be in dispute. It has been attributed to Richard Guyatt, the British designer and academic, but another source suggests William Addison Dwiggins, an American book designer in the early 20th century
The signage in the London Underground is a classic of the modern era and used a font designed by Edward Johnston in 1916.
In the 1920s, Soviet constructivism 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. 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 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 1960s.
Design can also aid in selling a product or idea through effective visual communication. It is applied to products and elements of company identity like logos, colors, and text. Together these are defined as branding. See advertising. Branding has increasingly become important in the range of services offered by many graphic designers, alongside corporate identity, and the terms are often used interchangeably.
Textbooks are designed to present subjects such as geography, science, and math. These publications have layouts which illustrate theories and diagrams. A common example of graphics in use to educate is diagrams of human anatomy. Graphic design is also applied to layout and formatting of educational material to make the information more accessible and more readily understandable.
Graphic design is applied in the entertainment industry in decoration, scenery, and visual story telling. Other examples of design for entertainment purposes include novels, comic books, opening credits and closing credits in film, and programs and props on stage.
From scientific journals to news reporting, the presentation of opinion and facts is often improved with graphics and thoughtful compositions of visual information - known as information design. Newspapers, magazines, blogs, television and film documentaries may use graphic design to inform and entertain. With the advent of the web, information designers with experience in interactive tools such as Adobe Flash are increasingly being used to illustrate the background to news stories.
Before any graphic elements may be applied to a design, the graphic elements must be originated by means of visual art skills. These graphics are often (but not always) developed by a graphic designer. Visual arts include works which are primarily visual in nature using anything from traditional media, to photography or computer generated art. Graphic design principles may be applied to each graphic art element individually as well as to the final composition.
Typography is the art, craft and techniques of type design, modifying type glyphs, and arranging type. Type glyphs (characters) are created and modified using a variety of illustration techniques. The arrangement of type is the selection of typefaces, point size, line length, leading (line spacing) and letter spacing.
Typography is performed by typesetters, compositors, typographers, graphic artists, art directors, and clerical workers. Until the Digital Age, typography was a specialized occupation. Digitization opened up typography to new generations of visual designers and lay users.
Page layout is the part of graphic design that deals in the arrangement and style treatment of elements (content) on a page. Beginning from early illuminated pages in hand-copied books of the Middle Ages and proceeding down to intricate modern magazine and catalog layouts, proper page design has long been a consideration in printed material. With print media, elements usually consist of type (text), images (pictures), and occasionally place-holder graphics for elements that are not printed with ink such as die/laser cutting, foil stamping or blind embossing.
Printmaking is the process of making artworks by printing, normally on paper. Except in the case of monotyping, the process is capable of producing multiples of the same piece, which is called a print. Each piece is not a copy but an original since it is not a reproduction of another work of art and is technically known as an impression. Painting or drawing, on the other hand, create a unique original piece of artwork. Prints are created from a single original surface, known technically as a matrix. Common types of matrices include: plates of metal, usually copper or zinc for engraving or etching; stone, used for lithography; blocks of wood for woodcuts, linoleum for linocuts and fabric plates for screen-printing. But there are many other kinds, discussed below. Works printed from a single plate create an edition, in modern times usually each signed and numbered to form a limited edition. Prints may also be published in book form, as artist's books. A single print could be the product of one or multiple techniques.
Critical, observational, quantitative and analytic thinking are required for design layouts 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 author. The layout is produced using external traditional or digital image editing tools. Selecting the appropriate tools for each project is critical in how the project will be perceived by its audience.
In the mid 1980s, the arrival of desktop publishing and graphic art software applications introduced a generation of designers to computer image manipulation and creation that had previously been manually executed. Computer graphic design enabled designers to instantly see the effects of layout or typographic, and to simulate the effects of traditional media without requiring a lot of space. However, traditional tools such as pencils or markers are often used to develop ideas even when computers are used for finalization.
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.
New ideas can come by way of experimenting with tools and methods. Some designers explore ideas using pencil and paper to avoid creating within the limits of whatever computer fonts, clipart, stock photos, or rendering filters (e.g. Kai's Power Tools) are available on any particular configuration. Others use many different mark-making tools and resources from computers to sticks and mud as a means of inspiring creativity. One of the key features of graphic design is that it makes a tool out of appropriate image selection in order to convey meaning.
A graphic designer may use sketches to explore multiple or complex ideas quickly without the potential distractions of technical difficulties from software malfunctions or learning the software. Hand rendered comps are often used to get approval of an idea execution before investing time to produce finished visuals on a computer or in paste-up. 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 one's 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. However, this practice is less utilized since the advent of desktop publishing and its integration with most graphic design courses.
Graphic design career paths cover all ends of the creative spectrum and often overlap. The main responsibilities (not necessarily titles) include graphic designer, art director, creative director, and the entry level production artist. Depending on the industry served, the responsibilities may have different titles such as "DTP Associate" or "Graphic Artist," but the graphic design principles usually remain consistent. The responsibilities may come from or lead to specialized skills such as illustration, photography or interactive design.