Graphic design is a discipline of dubious definition. The birth of graphic design being attributed to the advent of commercial printing at the turn of the century.
It is commonly believed that the term was first invented by Professor Richard Guyatt, whilst employed as part of a team to reform the at the Royal College of Art, just after the second World War. “No one was quite sure what it meant,” he said, “but it had a purposeful ring”.
Dictionary.com defines graphic design as “the art or profession of visual communication that combines images, words, and ideas to convey information to an audience.”
But the power and importance of enhancing simple text for dramatic effect has been around since the dawn of the written word (and arguably precedes it). One only has to look at the earliest Chinese texts and Egyptian hieroglyphics to see that man has struggled to make his words a thing of beauty to attract the readers eye.
From the monks calligraphic bibles through to modern typography, man has struggled to make the written word as easily digestible as possible.
Moreover other forms of graphic design have long been in formation, through the design of shop fronts and hoardings and with the advent of printing, through posters and leaflets.
But arguably, like many inventions, it was wars that developed the disciplines. Much as we may wish to distance ourselves, the power of Kitchener’s “Your Country Needs You Poster” really defined the power of graphic design and the art of visual communication. Just as the first World War’s “What did you do in the War Dad” poster is attributed to girding the resolve for plenty of cannon fodder.
Propaganda may be an uncomfortable word, but it is never-the-less the birth place of PR. Which brings us round to the grey area of graphics. The world of work is a fast changing beast, when Prof Guyatt, coined the term, graphic designers were a specialist form of artist/artisan, surrounded by a a raft of creatives; typographers, type setters, photographers, illustrators, sign writers, copy writers, advertising executives, etchers & plate makers. Commercial communication was a vast industry on factory proportions before the advent of the humble mac and the birth of desktop publishing.
Since then the industry has been under a form of constant erosion, the development of instant printers and a raft of ready made templates in a variety of computer programmes, have removed the mystique and technical requirements that had been the pillars of this industry. Much of this has been for the good, often highlighting the difference between good and mediocre design.
It is not just that designers have had to adapt but so to have the design companies. Whilst there are s few who can still make a living from publishing books and magazines, most have had to augment their tools to include marketing skills and encroach into what was the preserve of advertising and film companies, as well as embrace the new media opportunities, looking good is no longer good enough we designers need to have brains as well!