Graphic design is a profession, academic discipline and applied art whose activity consists in projecting visual communications intended to transmit specific messages to social groups, with specific objectives. Graphic design is an interdisciplinary branch of design and of the fine arts. Its practice involves creativity, innovation and lateral thinking using manual or digital tools, where it is usual to use text and graphics to communicate visually.
The role of the graphic designer in the communication process is that of encoder or interpreter of the message. They work on the interpretation, ordering, and presentation of visual messages. Usually, graphic design uses the aesthetics of typography and the compositional arrangement of the text, ornamentation, and imagery to convey ideas, feelings, and attitudes beyond what language alone expresses. The design work can be based on a customer's demand, a demand that ends up being established linguistically, either orally or in writing, that is, that graphic design transforms a linguistic message into a graphic manifestation.
Graphic design has, as a field of application, different areas of knowledge focused on any visual communication system. For example, it can be applied in advertising strategies, or it can also be applied in the aviation world or space exploration. In this sense, in some countries graphic design is related as only associated with the production of sketches and drawings, this is incorrect, since visual communication is a small part of a huge range of types and classes where it can be applied.
With origins in Antiquity and the Middle Ages, graphic design as applied art was initially linked to the boom of rise of printing in Europe in the 15th century and the growth of consumer culture in the Industrial Revolution. From there it emerged as a distinct profession in the West, closely associated with advertising in the 19th century and its evolution allowed its consolidation in the 20th century. Given the rapid and massive growth in information exchange today, the demand for experienced designers is greater than ever, particularly because of the development of new technologies and the need to pay attention to human factors beyond the competence of the engineers who develop them.
William Addison Dwiggins is often credited with first using the term "graphic design" in a 1922 article, although it appears in a 4 July 1908 issue (volume 9, number 27) of Organized Labor, a publication of the Labor Unions of San Francisco, in an article about technical education for printers:
An Enterprising Trades Union
… The admittedly high standard of intelligence which prevails among printers is an assurance that with the elemental principles of design at their finger ends many of them will grow in knowledge and develop into specialists in graphic design and decorating. …
A decade later, the 1917–1918 course catalog of the California School of Arts & Crafts advertised a course titled Graphic Design and Lettering, which replaced one called Advanced Design and Lettering. Both classes were taught by Frederick Meyer.
Main article: History of graphic design
In both its lengthy history and in the relatively recent explosion of visual communication in the 20th and 21st centuries, the distinction between advertising, art, graphic design and fine art has disappeared. They share many elements, theories, principles, practices, languages and sometimes the same benefactor or client. In advertising, 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 the human experience."
Main article: History of printing
In China, during the Tang dynasty (618–907) wood blocks were cut to print on textiles and later to reproduce Buddhist texts. A Buddhist scripture printed in 868 is the earliest known printed book. Beginning in the 11th century in China, longer scrolls and books were produced using movable type printing, making books widely available during the Song dynasty (960–1279).
In the mid-15th century in Mainz, Germany, Johannes Gutenberg developed a way to reproduce printed pages at a faster pace using movable type made with a new metal alloy that created a revolution in the dissemination of information.
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 was a leader in graphic design associated with the Arts and Crafts movement, creating hand-made books in medieval and Renaissance era style, in addition to wallpaper and textile designs. Morris' work, along with the rest of the Private Press movement, directly influenced Art Nouveau.
Will H. Bradley became one of the notable graphic designers in the late nineteenth-century due to creating art pieces in various Art Nouveau styles. Bradley created a number of designs as promotions for a literary magazine titled The Chap-Book.
In 1917, Frederick H. Meyer, director and instructor at the California School of Arts and Crafts, taught a class entitled "Graphic Design and Lettering". Raffe's Graphic Design, published in 1927, was the first book to use "Graphic Design" in its title. In 1936, author and graphic designer Leon Friend published his book titled "Graphic Design" and it is known to be the first piece of literature to cover the topic extensively.
The signage in the London Underground is a classic design example of the modern era. Although he lacked artistic training, Frank Pick led the Underground Group design and publicity movement. The first Underground station signs were introduced in 1908 with a design of a solid red disk with a blue bar in the center and the name of the station. The station name was in white sans-serif letters. It was in 1916 when Pick used the expertise of Edward Johnston to design a new typeface for the Underground. Johnston redesigned the Underground sign and logo to include his typeface on the blue bar in the center of a red circle.
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 fascistic, but it remained influential. Tschichold, Bauhaus typographers such as Herbert Bayer and László Moholy-Nagy and El Lissitzky greatly influenced graphic design. 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.
The professional graphic design industry grew in parallel with consumerism. This raised 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."
Graphic design can have many applications, from road signs to technical schematics and reference manuals. It is often used in branding products and elements of company identity such as logos, colors, packaging, labelling and text.
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. With the advent of the web, information designers with experience in interactive tools are increasingly used to illustrate the background to news stories. Information design can include Data and information visualization, which involves using programs to interpret and form data into a visually compelling presentation, and can be tied in with information graphics.
A graphic design project may involve the creative presentation of existing text, ornament, and images.
The "process school" is concerned with communication; it highlights the channels and media through which messages are transmitted and by which senders and receivers encode and decode these messages. The semiotic school treats a message as a construction of signs which through interaction with receivers, produces meaning; communication as an agent.
Main article: Typography
Typography includes type design, modifying type glyphs and arranging type. Type glyphs (characters) are created and modified using illustration techniques. Type arrangement is the selection of typefaces, point size, tracking (the space between all characters used), kerning (the space between two specific characters) and leading (line spacing).
Typography is performed by typesetters, compositors, typographers, graphic artists, art directors, and clerical workers. Until the digital age, typography was a specialized occupation. Certain fonts communicate or resemble stereotypical notions. For example, 1942 Report is a font which types text akin to a typewriter or a vintage report.
Further information: Grid (graphic design)
Page layout deals with the arrangement of elements (content) on a page, such as image placement, text layout and style. Page design has always been a consideration in printed material and more recently extended to displays such as web pages. Elements typically consist of type (text), images (pictures), and (with print media) occasionally place-holder graphics such as a dieline for elements that are not printed with ink such as die/laser cutting, foil stamping or blind embossing.
A grid serves as a method of arranging both space and information, allowing the reader to easily comprehend the overall project. Furthermore, a grid functions as a container for information and a means of establishing and maintaining order. Despite grids being utilized for centuries, many graphic designers associate them with Swiss design. The desire for order in the 1940s resulted in a highly systematic approach to visualizing information. However, grids were later regarded as tedious and uninteresting, earning the label of "designersaur." Today, grids are once again considered crucial tools for professionals, whether they are novices or veterans.
In the mid-1980s desktop publishing and graphic art software applications introduced computer image manipulation and creation capabilities that had previously been manually executed. Computers enabled designers to instantly see the effects of layout or typographic changes, and to simulate the effects of traditional media. Traditional tools such as pencils can be useful even when computers are used for finalization; a designer or art director may sketch numerous concepts as part of the creative process. Styluses can be used with tablet computers to capture hand drawings digitally.
Designers disagree whether computers enhance the creative process. Some designers argue that computers allow them to explore multiple ideas quickly and in more detail than can be achieved by hand-rendering or paste-up. While other designers find the limitless choices from digital design can lead to paralysis or endless iterations with no clear outcome.
Most designers use a hybrid process that combines traditional and computer-based technologies. First, hand-rendered layouts are used to get approval to execute an idea, then the polished visual product is produced on a computer.
Graphic designers are expected to be proficient in software programs for image-making, typography and layout. Nearly all of the popular and "industry standard" software programs used by graphic designers since the early 1990s are products of Adobe Inc. Adobe Photoshop (a raster-based program for photo editing) and Adobe Illustrator (a vector-based program for drawing) are often used in the final stage. CorelDraw, a vector graphics editing software developed and marketed by Corel Corporation, is also used worldwide. Designers often use pre-designed raster images and vector graphics in their work from online design databases. Raster images may be edited in Adobe Photoshop, vector logos and illustrations in Adobe Illustrator and CorelDraw, and the final product assembled in one of the major page layout programs, such as Adobe InDesign, Serif PagePlus and QuarkXPress.
Many free and open-source programs are also used by both professionals and casual graphic designers. Inkscape uses Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) as its primary file format and allows importing and exporting other formats. Other open-source programs used include GIMP for photo-editing and image manipulation, Krita for digital painting, and Scribus for page layout.
Main article: User interface design
Since the advent of personal computers, many graphic designers have become involved in interface design, in an environment commonly referred to as a Graphical user interface (GUI). This has included web design and software design when end user-interactivity is a design consideration of the layout or interface. Combining visual communication skills with an understanding of user interaction and online branding, graphic designers often work with software developers and web developers to create the look and feel of a web site or software application. An important aspect of interface design is icon design.
Main article: User experience design
User experience design (UX) is the study, analysis, and development of creating products that provide meaningful and relevant experiences to users. This involves the creation of the entire process of acquiring and integrating the product, including aspects of branding, design, usability, and function. UX design involves creating the interface and interactions for a website or application, and is considered both an act and an art. This profession requires a combination of skills, including visual design, social psychology, development, project management, and most importantly, empathy towards the end-users.
Experiential graphic design is the application of communication skills to the built environment. This area of graphic design requires practitioners to understand physical installations that have to be manufactured and withstand the same environmental conditions as buildings. As such, it is a cross-disciplinary collaborative process involving designers, fabricators, city planners, architects, manufacturers and construction teams.
Experiential graphic designers try to solve problems that people encounter while interacting with buildings and space (also called environmental graphic design). Examples of practice areas for environmental graphic designers are wayfinding, placemaking, branded environments, exhibitions and museum displays, public installations and digital environments.
Main article: Graphic design occupations
Graphic design career paths cover all parts of the creative spectrum and often overlap. Workers perform specialized tasks, such as design services, publishing, advertising and public relations. As of 2023, median pay was $50,710 per year. The main job titles within the industry are often country specific. They can include graphic designer, art director, creative director, animator and entry level production artist. Depending on the industry served, the responsibilities may have different titles such as "DTP associate" or "Graphic Artist". The responsibilities may involve specialized skills such as illustration, photography, animation, visual effects or interactive design.
Employment in design of online projects was expected to increase by 35% by 2026, while employment in traditional media, such as newspaper and book design, expect to go down by 22%. Graphic designers will be expected to constantly learn new techniques, programs, and methods.
Graphic designers can work within companies devoted specifically to the industry, such as design consultancies or branding agencies, others may work within publishing, marketing or other communications companies. Especially since the introduction of personal computers, many graphic designers work as in-house designers in non-design oriented organizations. Graphic designers may also work freelance, working on their own terms, prices, ideas, etc.
A graphic designer typically reports to the art director, creative director or senior media creative. As a designer becomes more senior, they spend less time designing and more time leading and directing other designers on broader creative activities, such as brand development and corporate identity development. They are often expected to interact more directly with clients, for example taking and interpreting briefs.
Main article: Crowdsourcing creative work
Jeff Howe of Wired Magazine first used the term "crowdsourcing" in his 2006 article, "The Rise of Crowdsourcing." It spans such creative domains as graphic design, architecture, apparel design, writing, illustration, and others. Tasks may be assigned to individuals or a group and may be categorized as convergent or divergent. An example of a divergent task is generating alternative designs for a poster. An example of a convergent task is selecting one poster design. Companies, startups, small businesses and entrepreneurs have all benefitted from design crowdsourcing since it helps them source great graphic designs at a fraction of the budget they used to spend before. Getting a logo design through crowdsourcing being one of the most common. Major companies that operate in the design crowdsourcing space are generally referred to as design contest sites.]
Graphic design plays a critical role in advertising, branding, and marketing, and has a significant impact on consumer behavior. Effective graphic design can help companies to create strong and recognizable brands, communicate their message clearly, and influence consumer perceptions and behaviors.
One way that graphic design influences consumer behavior is through the use of visual elements, such as color, typography, and imagery. Studies have shown that certain colors can evoke specific emotions and behaviors in consumers, and that typography can influence how information is perceived and remembered. For example, serif fonts are often associated with tradition and elegance, while sans-serif fonts are seen as modern and minimalistic. These factors can all impact the way consumers perceive a brand and its messaging.
Another way that graphic design impacts consumer behavior is through its ability to communicate complex information in a clear and accessible way. For example, infographics and data visualizations can help to distill complex information into a format that is easy to understand and engaging for consumers. This can help to build trust and credibility with consumers, and encourage them to take action.
Ethics are an important consideration in graphic design, particularly when it comes to accurately representing information and avoiding harmful stereotypes. Graphic designers have a responsibility to ensure that their work is truthful, accurate, and free from any misleading or deceptive elements. This requires a commitment to honesty, integrity, and transparency in all aspects of the design process.
One of the key ethical considerations in graphic design is the responsibility to accurately represent information. This means ensuring that any claims or statements made in advertising or marketing materials are true and supported by evidence. For example, a company should not use misleading statistics to promote their product or service, or make false claims about its benefits. Graphic designers must take care to accurately represent information in all visual elements, such as graphs, charts, and images, and avoid distorting or misrepresenting data.
Another important ethical consideration in graphic design is the need to avoid harmful stereotypes. This means avoiding any images or messaging that perpetuate negative or harmful stereotypes based on race, gender, religion, or other characteristics. Graphic designers should strive to create designs that are inclusive and respectful of all individuals and communities, and avoid reinforcing negative attitudes or biases.
The future of graphic design is likely to be heavily influenced by emerging technologies and social trends. Advancements in areas such as artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, and automation are likely to transform the way that graphic designers work and create designs. Social trends, such as a greater focus on sustainability and inclusivity, are also likely to impact the future of graphic design.
One area where emerging technologies are likely to have a significant impact on graphic design is in the automation of certain tasks. Machine learning algorithms, for example, can analyze large datasets and create designs based on patterns and trends, freeing up designers to focus on more complex and creative tasks. Virtual and augmented reality technologies may also allow designers to create immersive and interactive experiences for users, blurring the lines between the digital and physical worlds.
Social trends are also likely to shape the future of graphic design. As consumers become more conscious of environmental issues, for example, there may be a greater demand for designs that prioritize sustainability and minimize waste. Similarly, there is likely to be a growing focus on inclusivity and diversity in design, with designers seeking to create designs that are accessible and representative of a wide range of individuals and communities.