What is Graphic Design?

When thinking about Graphic Design, everyone has a different idea about what it is. Some think it’s the means of making something pretty. Some think it’s art, while others think it’s logos, posters, banners, etc.

The first thing to clear out here is that Graphic Design and in fact, any form of Design is not art. Although artists and designers borrow principles and processes from each other and the lines get blurred sometimes. In simple terms, Art is an expression by the artist. It bends to the artists’ will and is a medium to express whatever the artist wants. Design, on the other hand, is not just for the Designer. Design is for people. Designers usually work with a client and a problem. Design always has a function.

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Design communicates, dictates, sells, guides and identifies. Design also has the power to express and comment. Here Design takes a slightly different path and steers away from the traditional notion of Design having purely a commercial motive.

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What Graphic Design is essentially is a discipline. Like any other discipline such as law, medicine or marketing. It is a profession that has evolved over the years and continues to do so. There is the point that makes it a ‘discipline’. You have never learned enough about Graphic Design. It is constantly changing, adapting and so does the Designer.

So what exactly is Graphic Design? The formal definition is as such, ‘Graphic design is the process of visual communication and problem-solving through the use of typography, photography, and illustration.’

What that essentially means is that Graphic Design is the process of solving problems, primarily visual communication problems. Like any other field of design, its primary function remains the same. To solve a problem.

For example, a newly built university campus needs to let all its students and staff know where the room is and how to get there. That is the problem. Designing signage and messaging that solves that problem is Graphic Design. Here’s another problem. A new bank just opened in your city and people need to be able to identify it. That’s the problem. Designing a logo that enables people to effectively identify the bank is Graphic Design.

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These are of course simplified scenarios. In practice, the problems are much more complicated in nature and solving them requires a variety of skills and knowledge that a designer possesses. Like any other discipline, Graphic Design is based on theories, principles and processes.

The role of the modern Graphic Designer is ever-changing. Traditionally Graphic Designers’ primary role was to improve the visual appearance and function of messages and information. They worked primarily in publishing and advertising. Due to the hands-on nature of their work and their primary function being artistic in nature, they were dubbed as ‘Commercial Artists’. The term Graphic Design became widely used much later. Modern Graphic Designers are more specialized and their skills aren’t limited to the mere improvement of visuals and messaging. Designer’s work across various fields including branding, experience, advertising, motion, film and interaction. With the advent of the digital age, an increasing number of Designers have diverged into interface and experience design for the digital screen and products. Designers are also often at the forefront of political and social commentary through their work.

It is therefore clear that as the role of the Graphic Designer changed over time, so did the skills and knowledge required to be a Graphic Designer. To communicate to an audience dependent on technology, to innovate and to design experiences it takes more than pure aesthetic sense. It requires the study of people’s motives, expectations and behaviors.

It requires the ability to design for people, rather than designing for design’s sake.