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The history of graphic design

14 December, 2010

Graphic design is a creative process of making art that is popular and practical, ancient and applied, in nature. It combines texts and graphics to produce functional art that conveys an effective message to a targeted audience. It can be in print and web form, and is widely used in advertising, publication and information.

The word, graphic design, was first coined in 1922 by William Addison Dwiggins, a type designer and calligrapher in his essay called “New Kind of Printing Calls for New Design”. However, the art of graphic design predates the Stone Age as ancient people used visual communication.

Graphic design involves the skill of various producers of form, including printers, programmers and sign makers. With this in mind, it is great to trace the history of printing, which dates back to the Tang Dynasty between the 4th and 7th century A.D. At that time, wood blocks were used to print on textiles and to create Buddhist texts and books. Printing, particularly paper printing, became widespread from Asia to other parts of the world, including Europe and America.

The separation of graphic design from fine art commenced in the United Kingdom in the late 19th century. In 1849, Henry Cole informed the British government about the value of design when he wrote the “Journal of Design and Manufactures”. Subsequently, Kelmscott Press owner William Morris made lots of money from publishing books that feature stylistic refinement and selling them to wealthy patrons. It was Morris who proved the existence of a market for graphic design, hence the beginning of its separation from production and fine art.

But during the 20th and 21st centuries during the height of visual communication, there was again relatively less distinction between advertising art, graphic design and fine art. This was because these three art forms largely share similar elements, principles, languages, theories and practices. But graphic design in its purest form is intended to provide: order to information, form to ideas, and expression to artefacts.

Nevertheless, it was during these two centuries when graphic design experienced much evolution. Production techniques and stylistic devices were pioneered, invented and applied. Modern styles emerged and were either used alone or in combination with classic styles. The boom in world economies prompted the greater need for graphic design. Likewise, it was in the 20th century when the world came to know notable design heroes like Adrian Frutiger, Paul Rand, and Josef Müller-Brockmann.

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