Graphic Design is the combination of elements that carry the majority of the overall content in both worlds—the digital world and the printed—where the words and pictures are the building blocks of graphic design. As graphic design is becoming more visible and important in our lives, the designer’s task is to combine visual and verbal elements in order to develop an effective concept. 

“Graphic design is a combined profession where writers produce words, and photographers and illustrators create images from that the designer incorporates the whole idea in an orderly format into a complete visual communication.”

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Graphic Design History Timeline_©ux design

The evolution of graphic design as a professional practice has been developed through its technological innovations and the visual imagination of the designers as per the requirements. Graphic design has been practised throughout history in various forms, such as from manuscripts to printing and book production, advances in graphic design developed over the period.

In the late 19th century, graphic design was introduced as a different profession in the West because of the new technologies and commercials introduced in the Industrial Revolution. In 1922 typographer William A. Dwiggins created the term graphic design to identify this profession.

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Graphic Design History Timeline_©onlinedesignteacher

New ways of production led to the change in the perspective of creating the design ideas. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many advertising agencies, publishers and magazines hired art directors who organized their conceptual ideas into one single harmonious idea through creating a visual expression appropriate to the content. Throughout the 20th century, technology became more advanced, and so did the artistic and commercial possibilities for design. 

By the 21st century, graphic design had become a global profession with its advanced technology, and industry spread throughout the world.

But where did the graphic design come from originally and the way has it evolved?

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Lascaux cave paintings in Southern France_©Wikipedia

The first signs of visual communication

Originally started through early cave paintings from about 38,000 BCE, Graphic design mainly featured animals, handprints, weapons, and other references, and that’s how people communicated from one generation to another.

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Sumerian written language_©Wikipedia

The beginning of a visual language

The Evolution of graphic design through language was represented through the alphabet, which mainly featured pictographs and symbols representing objects. Circa 3300 to 3000 BC, Sumerians did the invention of writing.

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The earliest example of the printed book, frontispiece of the Diamond Sutra from Tang-dynasty China 868 AD_©ux design

The invention of printing

In the early 6th century CE, China used woodblock printing to stamp designs on silk clothes rather than on paper. Later, Bi Sheng invented the world’s first technique for movable printing type in 1040. Gutenberg’s technology of design replaced wood with metal blocks embedded with each letter for printing. With Gutenberg’s technology, literature and literacy opened up to the masses, making it more affordable and accessible, and thus people no longer had to rely on lengthy scholarly reproductions of books. 

The Gutenberg press formed a path for more commercial uses of design, resulting in the evolution of advertising and graphic design.

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An early colour lithograph from 1835, orange and cyan with black ink_©Wikipedia

How the industrial revolution evolved graphic design

The industrial revolution, a period from about 1760 to 1840, introduced new technologies for increasing the efficiency and production of producing processes like lithography, which may be a method of printing that involves inking your design into a stone or metal surface and transferring it to a sheet of paper, which later eventually led to chromolithography which is just lithography but with colour.

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Wiener Werkstätte letterhead, 1914_©Smashing Magzine

The first graphic design agency

The Vienna Workshop, also known as Wiener Werkstätte, was established in 1903 by the painter Koloman Moser, the architect Hoffmann, and the patron Fritz Waerndorfer. The Workshop brought together architects, artists, and designers working in ceramics, fashion, silver, furniture, and graphic arts, where they considered a pioneer of recent design and early influence in styles like Bauhaus and the artistic movement.

Key art movements that influenced graphic design

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Art Nouveau artwork by Alphonse Mucha, used to promote printing firm F. Champenois_©ux design

Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau is also known as the New Art which is the type of design that uses organic, asymmetrical linework rather than solid, uniform shapes. It was first introduced in western Europe and the United States from the 1880s until the First World War.

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Bauhaus design poster_©ux design

Bauhaus

Bauhaus was an influential art and style movement that incorporated minimalism, geometric shapes, and straightforward typography. It began in 1919 in Weimar, Germany, where the Bauhaus schoolfounded by Gropiuslaunched a replacement way of thinking.

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Chicago World’s Fair poster by Weimer Pursell 1933_©ux design

Art Deco

Art Deco began as a celebration in Paris in 1925, which encapsulates the decadent spirit of spanning architecture, furniture, fashion, sculpture, and more. Style, elegance, and sophistication are the main elements of art deco design, using simple shapes, stylized and geometric ornamentation, and elaborate use of high-priced materials, both natural and synthetic. 

The Rockefeller Centre, Chrysler Building, and Empire State Building are examples of this style.

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Poster designs by Josef Muller Brockmann_©ux design

Swiss Design (The International Typographic Style)

This movement is all about function and universality, where designers developed a cohesive, unified Modernist movement. This design type emerged in Russia, Netherlands, and Germany within the 1920s.

Swiss design is minimal in nature, which is the concept behind branding, UI design, and packaging with logical, modular grid systems that provide a structured framework to align different elements. 

This trend is applied by companies like Apple and Google, who prioritize a clean, pared-back aesthetic above ornament and decoration.

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Pop Art

Pop Art is a British and American cultural phenomenon that gained attention in the late 1950s and 1960s was named by art critic Lawrence Alloway because of the way it transformed and elevated the popular culture and its common and unremarkable objects to iconic statuses.

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Cover for WET magazine designed by April Greiman 1979_©ux design

Postmodernism

Postmodernism was a reaction against modernism, which supported idealism and reason, where, with the value of clarity and simplicity, they also embraced complexity and denied the layers of meaning, where designers created their ideas more freely, breaking rules of design with the use of collage, distortion, vibrant colours, and abstract type.

Adobe Photoshop version 1 launched in 1990_©ux design

The digital age

The introduction of digital tools provided a replacement for the revolutionary way of creating graphic design. In 1984, Apple introduced the Macintosh computer, which used an easy, user-friendly interface that said “Hello”, inviting consumers to be a creator themselves.

Photoshop launched in 1990 as a graphics editing software anyone could use to control images and make professional designs, and also basic programs like Microsoft Paint made art accessible to the masses.

The future of visual design

As graphic design has evolved, it’s become more divided and emerged with new design titles such as web design, interactive design, UX/UI design, and product design.

Author

An Architect who believes different dimensional ways have a different impact on design, and I make a conscious effort to create spaces that are efficient and functional in every dimension of architecture.

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