What is graphic design?

Posted by:
Kaitlyn Wells

I spent a few hours the other night trying to figure out what my next blog would be about. I read other blogs, I pulled about six different books off my shelf, I took my dog for a walk, I even asked my dog what I should write about (yes I talk to my dog – she’s a great listener).

Finally, I came across a competition, which happened a couple of years ago, that involved finishing the sentence “design is…”. Some came up with very creative, humorous answers, and others were more technical, but all of them were unique definitions and unique designs. You can check out the submissions here: Veerle’s Blog & Flickr.

So, What is graphic design?

There are many different ways to answer this one, and I’ll share a few with you in a moment. My answer: Graphic design is the visual communication of a message, created by the use of imagery, typography, colors and most importantly – strategy. Here’s what a few others had to say:

“Graphic design is a popular art and a practical art, an applied art and an ancient art. Simply put, it is the art of visualizing ideas.” – Jessica Helfand, AIGA

“Graphic design is a creative process – most often involving a client and a designer and usually completed in conjunction with producers of form (i.e., printers, programmers, signmakers, etc.) – undertaken in order to convey a specific message (or messages) to a targeted audience.” – Wikipedia

“Since prehistoric times, people have searched for ways to give visual form to ideas and concepts, to store knowledge in graphic form, and to bring order and clarity to information. Over the course of history, these needs have been filled by various people including scribes, printers, and artists. It was not until 1922, when the outstanding book designer William Addison Dwiggins coined the term ‘graphic design’ to describe his activities as an individual who brought structural order and visual form to printed communications, that an emerging profession received an appropriate name.” – Philip Meggs, History of Graphic Design

Graphic design is the most universal of all the arts. It is all around us, explaining, decorating, identifying; imposing meaning on the world… Without graphic design’s process and ingredients – structure and organization, word and image, differentiation – we would have to receive all our information by the spoken word. We would enter another Dark Ages, a thousand years of ignorance, prejudice, superstition and very short lifespans. – Quentin Newark, What is Graphic Design?

In short, that’s what graphic design is. But what is design?

Design is everything. Design is everywhere. The web page you’re looking at right now, that’s design, and the one you’ll click to next, that’s design too. Twitter, Facebook, the book next to your bed, that bag of chips you had with lunch yesterday (admit it), every single product and product packaging you have ever laid your eyes on, that’s design. The clothes you’re wearing, the chair you’re sitting in and even the building you’re inside, all of it has been designed by someone. Everywhere you look, everything you touch, design has had an impact. Massimo Vignelli says it well:

“design is a profession that takes care of everything around us (…) Everything that is around us, this table, this chair, this lamp, this pen has been designed. All of these things, everything has been designed by somebody (…) So what is design all about? It is to decrease the amount of vulgarity in the world. It is to make the world a better place to be. But everything is relative. There is a certain amount of latitude between what is good, what is elegant, and what is refined that can take many, many manifestations. It doesn’t have to be one style. We’re not talking about style, we’re talking about quality. Style is tangible, quality is intangible. I am talking about giving to everything that surrounds us a level of quality.” – Massimo Vignelli, Vignelli Associates via The Design Observer.

To me, design is communication. It’s visual thinking, It’s strategy. It’s beauty. Design is change. It’s challenge and growth. Design is what you make of it. It’s art. It’s artful. It’s getting to the point. Design is representation. It’s clarity. It’s telling a story. It’s emotion. Design is our future. Design is my voice.

I leave you with two things today. My own poster on “Design is..” and the question: What is design to you?


About stokefire

A Washington DC-area branding & advertising agency, designs strategic identities - names, taglines & logos - and effective marketing campaigns.

One Response to “What is graphic design?”

  1. WebDesigner says:

    Cool, a very interesting post!…

    Today I was reading this amazing blog post and I wanted to link to it.

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