Maxwell 1Samantha MaxwellMrs. CorbettAP Literature18 November 2011 The History of Graphic Design Though not entirely evident, everybody in the modern world is exposed to graphic designon a daily basis. The world is almost constantly bombarded with seemingly simple images thatwere in fact carefully crafted to serve a very specific purpose. Graphic design as we know ittoday has lived a short life compared to other art forms. However, its predecessors and itsvarious components have existed since prehistoric times. Therefore, the vast history of certainother art forms has directly impacted the way that pictorial information is created and construedtoday. The first art created by humans was from the Cro-Magnons around 40,000 years ago(“Rocks and Caves” 1). These early peoples were adept in sculpture, body ornamentation,painting, and engraving. The cave paintings now considered primitive and sloppy were theessential first step in the creation of graphic design. Not only was it the first art form, it was alsothe introduction of applied art. Applied art is defined as, “art that [is] used for a purpose such asconveying a message, advertising, and other graphic design purposes” (Brian 1). According tothis definition, cave paintings created in prehistoric times were, in fact, graphic design. It is awidely accepted belief among most experts that these cave paintings were created by Shamans orother respected leaders in hunter-gatherer groups in order to tell stories and to keep apictographic history of the group. However, cave paintings were not the extent of the Cro-
Maxwell 2Magnon’s contribution to design. Petroglyphs are “images incised in rock, usually by prehistoric,especially Neolithic, peoples” (“Rocks and Caves” 5). These too are believed to have contributedto graphic design history because they were most likely used for rituals and ceremonies, whichimplies that they too fall into the category of applied art. Though these art forms are obviouslyvery different than the graphic design recognized today, they were crucial to the development ofall types of art and how art and design can be used in everyday life not only to entertain, butmore importantly to inform viewers and express ideas in the simplest way possible. The next easily recognizable phase in graphic design history came with the advent ofwritten language. The English language is unusual in the fact that it does not use pictograms,which are “images that represent objects” (“History of Graphic Design” 1). Most languages usepictograms instead of phonetics, the idea of which was essential to the development of graphicdesign and typography alike. Written Chinese was the most influential of these languagesbecause it “is composed entirely of pictograms” (“History of Graphic Design” 2). The Chineselanguage is composed of over 80,000 (though only 3,500 are regularly used) characters, all thatpictorially represent an object, action, or idea. However, it is not only the Chinese language thathas impacted graphic design history. Every written alphabet ever created has helped develop theidea of graphic design because it is the idea of using pictures (even though letters are not usuallythought to represent pictures) to get a message across. In fact, many analysts agree that graphicdesign was “directly inspired by [the alphabet’s] design” (“The Alphabet” 1). This early idea ofseeing typography, letters, and symbols as art has had a profound effect on every type of art anddesign. After the creation of written language, there seemed to be a long period of graphic designinactivity. In such a simplistic time, artistic communication was not extremely important to
Maxwell 3average people. However, visual arts in this time period became more refined as artists learnedhow to make new mediums and learned to work with new tools to create more realistic art, whichprovided humans with the skills they need today to produce effective designs. The next leapforward in the history of design, however, did not come until the Middle Ages. At this time,trade guilds all over Europe began “using marks to identify the origin and content of theirproducts” (“History of Graphic Design” 4). This use of symbols to represent a company wasreally the first form of logos. Though they were simply symbols, they were designed so thatconsumers would see the symbol and would know where their product came from. From thistime period came the term “hallmark,” which was the “identification marks that metal artisansstamped into metal when exhibiting wares in the guild hall in London” (“History of GraphicDesign” 4). These too show the conception of the idea of a logo used to identify a certain artist,brand, or company. This time period also made the distinction between logos and logotypes.While these terms were not used at the time, the difference between logos and logotypes stillinfluence the choices that graphic designers make when creating advertisements for a newcompany or brand. While a logo is simply a symbol used to represent a company or brand, alogotype is defined as “a symbol comprised entirely of typography” (“History of GraphicDesign” 2). Though the previous steps were all very important to the advent of graphic design,perhaps the most significant event in history was the invention of the printing press. Accordingto Brian Scott, “graphic design got its real beginning with the invention of the printing press” (1).Before the printing press, art and typography had to be hand copied if they were to bedistributed, which took significant amounts of time and manpower and resulted in art andliterature that was different in every book or poster. However, once the printing press came
Maxwell 4along, artists could easily make copies of their work to be widely distributed, creating the firstform of mass media that the public was ever exposed to. Obviously the idea of printing copies ofart is still essential in the field of graphic design today. This idea of moveable type and mechanicprint created by Johann Gütenberg forever changed the way that books and other materials wereprinted before being introduced the general public (“A Brief History of Graphic Design” 1). In the world of graphic design, Johann Gütenberg is not known only for his invention ofthe printing press, however. The first design principles and rules can also be attributed to him.When analyzed by artists, the pages printed by Gütenberg were made aesthetically pleasing tothe viewer by using what designers now call the “golden canon of page construction” (“ThePrinting Press” 3). This particular page construction dealt with width of margins and size of textto make the piece easier to consume by the reader. The fact that Gütenberg did, in fact, use acompass and ruler definitely points to the conclusion that this page alignment was not simply alucky mistake but the conclusion of plenty of hard work and thought to determine the bestgridding patterns. In order to make the type set uniform, Gütenberg also had to adhere to a gridsystem, which is, according to experts, “another novelty in design” (“The Printing Press” 4).Gridding is especially important in graphic design today, as designers use “picas,” which aresixth of an inch squares set into a page to adequately measure and determine spacing in theirprojects. The invention of the printing press was also important in the development of whitespace as a graphic design principle. When books were hand copied, the entire page was filledwith text and symbols. However, with the development of moveable type, there wasalready “amove towards whiter, lighter pages” which makes the type easier to read for the consumers(“The Printing Press” 4). As the use of the printing press became more widespread, more and more entrepreneurs
Maxwell 5entered into the printing business. One of the most significant of these to the history of graphicdesign was English author and artist William Morris who in 1890 introduced the KelmscottPress. His medieval designs featured ornaments, flowers, and plants. The work of Morris andthose after him influenced an artistic movement referred to as Art Nouveau, which was in turn“indirectly responsible for developments in early twentieth century graphic design” (“A BriefHistory of Graphic Design” 2). From this point on, the developments in graphic design came at a much more rapid pace.As individuals started gaining wealth, the need for advertisement and entertainment grewsignificantly, which undoubtedly spurred the viewpoint of graphic design as not only a true fineart, but also one that was highly necessary to carry out the day to day needs of importantcompanies and the population as a whole. The Modernist movement of the early twentiethcentury was the beginning of the need for “clear, easily recognizable and memorable visualsymbols” in order to help people remember not only names and brands but also landmarksaround cities such as subways, bathrooms, and water fountains (“The Modernists” 3). TheRussian Revolution also played a big role in the development of design. After violent uprisingsand riots known as Bloody Sunday, the political culture in Russia changed significantly. Thisevent “also marked an important watershed for Russian graphic artists” (“Russian Graphic Artand the Revolution of 1905” 1). With the censorship of the overbearing government now inruins, over 300 satirical and libelous magazines were published, opening up a huge outlet todesigners who had been repressed for so long. In fact, more graphic art was produced in Russiaduring the Revolution than had been published during the nineteenth century. In 1919, an art andarchitecture school called Bauhaus was founded in Germany by Walter Gropius. The school wascreated in order to bring together art, crafts, and architecture. The school did not last long, as it
Maxwell 6was under severe pressure from the Nazi Army to shut down. However, the school did move toAmerica and survived one year under its original name until it became, simply, the School ofDesign. The Bauhaus was important to several artistic movements and also “introduced manyinnovative ideas regarding graphic design” (“The Bauhaus” 1). In 1930, an even more important idea came onto the graphic design scene. A Germantypographer known as Jan Tschichold “created a new style by introducing the use ofphotography in his designs,” which was obviously essential to design, as both photography andtypography are used in almost all designs (“A Brief History of Graphic Design” 6). In the 1960s,artist and pop culture icon Andy Warhol became famous and was partially responsible for the“collapse of boundaries between high and low culture,” which made the graphic arts moreaccessible to the general population (“Andy Warhol Biography” 1). Warhol’s silk screen worksare still highly inspirational for many designers. The final stage in the history of graphic design was the invention of the computer anddigital photography, which has taken design to a completely new level. According to Brian Scott,“the history of graphic design is closely tied with the history of computers, computer software,computer imaging software, computer scanners, computer printers, and digital photography” (3).This technology boom has made graphic design what it is today—a field of art that is consumedby the masses, perhaps more than any other art form. With such rapid technology growth,graphic design gets significantly more advanced every day. While it seems that graphic design is a brand new form of visual art, it becomes obviouswhen studying the history of other art forms that it has been an important form of art sinceprehistoric times. The need for mass communication through easily comprehensible pictures,symbols, and typography has always existed and will continue to grow as the world develops.
Maxwell 7 Works Cited“The Alphabet.”The History of Visual Communication.N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2011. <http://citrinitas.com/history_of_viscom/alphabet.html>.“Andy Warhol Biography.”Andy Warhol Biography.The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, 2011.Web. 12 Nov. 2011. <http://www.warholfoundation.org/legacy/ biography.html>.“The Bauhaus.”Design Help Center.N.p., 2006. Web. 12 Nov. 2011. <http://www.designhelpcenter.com/the-bauhaus.aspx>.“A Brief History of Graphic Design.”Design Help Center.N.p., 2006. Web. 12 Nov. 2011. <http://www.designhelpcenter.com/history-of-graphic-design.aspx>.“History of Graphic Design.”An Introduction to the History of Graphic Design.N.p., 2011. Web. 12 Nov. 2011. <http://www.designhistory.org/>.“The Modernists.”The History of Visual Communication.N.p., 2006. Web. 12 Nov. 2011. <http://citrinitas.com/history_of_viscom/modernists.html>.“The Printing Press.”The History of Visual Communication.N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2011. <http://citrinitas.com/history_of_viscom/press.html>.“Rocks and Caves.”The History of Visual Communication.N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2011. <http://citrinitas.com/history_of_viscom/rockandcaves.html>.“Russian Graphic Art and the Revolution oF 1905.”Bienecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.Yale University, n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2011.Scott, Brian. “The History and Beginning of Graphic Design.”11eb. CyberChimps, 8 Apr. 2011. Web. 12 Nov. 2011. <http://www.11eb.com/html/58.html>.