What is Graphic Design?

Graphic design will save the world right after rock and roll does. David Carson


Graphic design is almost as difficult to pinpoint as it is to execute:

‘A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.’ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Graphic Design can serve as a medium for ordering and presenting information which communicates in ways second to none:

‘You can have an art experience in front of a Rembrandt… or in front of a piece of graphic design.’ Stefan Sagmeister

The graphic designer is sensitive to their audience, their materials and care

equally about what is not seen (negative space) as what is immediately recognized.

‘White space is to be regarded as an active element, not a passive background.’Jan Tschichold

Graphic designers use grids,and they break grids, they can be subtle in their design choices and simultaneously blatant; They contrast and fuse in ways not dissimilar to a jazz player’s composition — without ever losing sight of their message:

‘Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.’ Jeffrey Zeldman

This focus on the purpose of the design and constant iteration and refinement ‘is my design good design?’, as illustrated in Dieter Rams design principles, keeps Graphic Design an active and evolving practice.


The need for people to organize and present information dates back to primitive visuals on cave drawings and progressing to recording information with ‘cuneiform marks’ in clay tablets thousands of years ago.

The introduction of geometry can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians whilst the ancient Greeks introduced proportion and classical style. This need to order and communicate information visually has never stopped. These skills and methods have continually developed and are still an integral part of design today, now running parallel with the rapid development of technology.


The term graphic design doesn’t seem to be widespread prior the Second World War. Some key movements are worth highlighting, as they are closely intertwined with what we now associate with the term graphic design:

  • The Renaissance(rebirth of classical concepts of art and beauty in 14th-16th century)
  • The Art and crafts movement(rejection of heavily ornamented interiors,instead focus on simplicity)
  • Art Nouveau(1894–1914‘the new art’ richly ornamented decorative style features curves,leaves and flowers)
  • The Bauhaus(art and design school fresh functional approach to design after First World War)
  • Art Deco(early 20th Century celebrating advance of technology, features geometric designs and strong lines)
  • The Rise of Modernism(1890–1940 shaped by urbanization of western society and expressed through cubist,surrealist and Dadaist movements)
  • International style(‘Swiss style’ based on revolutionary principles)


Graphic design first emerged as a discipline in the 1950’s. It emerged from what was known as ‘commercial art’ and incorporates a lot of terminology from other disciplines including art, literature, photography, and psychology. Graphic design was a useful tool and a catalyst for building brands and encouraging people to consumer products.


Graphic design is widely used today and is integrated into our everyday visual lives. It can be consumed through the use of printed pages, posters, building facades and film and motion. Its application is as diverse and varied as its abundance:

‘The public is more familiar with bad design than good design. It is, in effect, conditioned to prefer bad design, because that is what it lives with. The new becomes threatening, the old reassuring.’Paul Rand

Behind these familiar forms of graphic design are key principles, such as colour, shape, balance and space. They guide the sensitive, bold, designer towards layout of images,objects and text in execution of graphic design, in a similar way as tuned instruments, rhythm, gaps and timing would a music composition.


‘The life of a designer is a life of fight. Fight against the ugliness. Just like a doctor fights against disease. For us, the visual disease is what we have around, and what we try to do is cure it somehow with design.’ Massimo Vignelli

Designers are fusing classic design principles alongside new and emerging technologies, to produce and solve visual design problems in new and exciting ways. This is the realm of graphic design that excites me, creating order with visual graphics and connecting with an audience that may get that ‘wow’ from its viewer.

‘There are three responses to a piece of design — yes, no, and WOW! Wow is the one to aim for.’ Milton Glaser
One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.