What is Graphic Design?

Graphic design is defined in the dictionary as “the art or profession of using design elements such as typography and images to convey information or create an effect.” The term first came into use in the early 20th century to describe the profession of printing and creating imagery, symbols, and typography which had been around since the late period of the 19th century. People who take up the profession are often referred to as “graphic designers” or “graphic artists.”

The oldest roots of graphic design can be traced all the way to ancient civilizations, when specific characters and forms were used in writing to convey messages. Good examples of such work include the hieroglyphs found in the tombs of the pharaohs of Egypt. Each figure had a corresponding meaning in the physical plane, and a developed system of characters served as a formal and consistent method of communicating messages. Even early clothing had a form of early graphic design; bright red cloaks were meant to stir up a rage in soldiers at war, building courage. Colors themselves were given meaning and used accordingly. Practices such as tattooing also lead to what is known as the modern day art of graphic design.

With the invention of printing in China as early as the 9th century, graphic design advanced to the point where characters and symbols were accepted not just in individual locations, but across empires; due to the diversity of dialects in China for example, verbal communication was made difficult. However, a unified form of writing using symbols that were universally accepted throughout the empire allowed the government to build around this roadblock.

Centuries later, in the year 1450, Johann Gutenberg invented his own printing press, allowing written and drawn information to spread rapidly across Europe. It was this technological benchmark that led to the development of the foundations for print formats in the West.

Today, graphic design has evolved to become a part of everyday life. Road signs, hospital signs, and other signal systems are nearly unanimously understood and accepted. Billboards, posters, and other forms of advertising also fall under graphic design, where artists make use of imagery to evoke feelings of “buy this now!” or “boycott this company!” It doesn’t stop there. Graphic designers are often hired in high positions in the fashion industry, and are tasked to come up with new looks for new lines of clothing. Even the logos of most iconic businesses are the brainchildren of graphic artists hard at work.

The life of a graphic artist is not easy, however. While some discover an innate talent for the art – usually in drawing as a child – most companies require proof of skill, and/or certification by an agency that the individual is ready for a job. Many universities offer courses in graphic design for this purpose, giving testament to how far the art has come from its earliest days in ancient history.

Graphic design’s rules bend over time, adapting to the cultures and trends of the age. It can be expected that future graphic art may be unrecognizable from that which is know today. Of course, it will still follow the basic structure and foundation developed by its long history, but like all forms of art, it is never completely done; always changing and evolving.