The History Of Graphic Arts/Design Essay

Chris Hayes ([emailprotected]
Graphic design or graphic arts often comes in many forms, from the writing on this paper to the annoying television commercials millions of people view everyday. Despite the very popular usage of graphic design, many people, perhaps the majority of people do not understand or realize when they are experiencing the work of a graphic designer. The work of a graphic artist can be seen anywhere a person looks in any room, in any household. Graphic design with all of its unknown, yet profound affects on people’s lives has always and will always be at the center of our lives whether we realize it or not.

Graphic design is essentially any type of visual communication; it is the art of translating ideas and concepts into some sort of structural order and visual form. (Griggs, History of Graphic Design) Believe it or not even in prehistoric times, the concept of visualizing information to better understand it was around. The cavemen who we consider barbaric were the some of the first “graphic designers” ever known. They attempted to visually translate their ideas onto the dirt or on the walls of their caves. This was the beginning of our modern day graphic design.

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The visual communication of ideas and information has since the earliest times involved various forms of pictograms. (Roberson, 22) Early examples of these pictograms can been seen in Chinese, Mayan and Egyptian hieroglyphics. Those pictograms or pictures that contained the ideas of those who drew them eventually evolved into alphabets. The alphabet we use today is derived from the first alphabet developed by the Phoenicians during the second millenium B.C.; this alphabet was the first graphic representation of any language. From this first alphabet came a string of other alphabets, many of which are still used today such as they Arabic, Greek, Russian and Roman alphabets.

The fact that the origin of most alphabets traces back to graphic design serves as a strong link between graphic design, reading, and therefore education. As the use of written forms of spreading information became more popular, there was a need for a way to effectively organize the information on paper; this was a call for a standard design for all documents. This design, now termed the “grid” was a way of organizing words either in columns and in lines as in this research paper. This grid was used as a way to divide the paper and more accurately communicate information to the reader.

During this same period in history learning, which is closely related to reading and therefore graphic design was restricted to a select few. After the Roman empire fell with its original alphabet, came the Dark Ages, which was an era during fourth, fifth and sixth centuries when reading, writing and learning was brought to an abrupt standstill. The advancement of learning as well as writing was set aside and therefore the graphic design would not further develop for a number of years.

Charlamagne, who was crowned Emperor in 800 AD nurtured a revival of learning in the arts. He required what he called a “crowd of scribes” to write several hundred copies of important religious text among other things. With several copies of books now available and being distributed, the standardization of page layout, writing styles and the alphabet was reformed. Not too much after Charlamagne came the Romanesque era, which was a period of revival in religious realms. (Laing, XVI) During this era books pertaining to religion such as the Bible, Gospels and Psalm books were produced at higher rates than any other form of book.

During the 1200’s as the popularity of university’s created a huge demand for books, literacy among professionals was on the rise and they were active in helping meet this growing demand for books. (Laing, 1027) In the 1300’s a quicker way of producing books was introduced by the Europeans. This system of printing books was called block printing; scribes and other literate people cut of letters from blocks and put them onto to pages to create a book or pamphlet. Around this same time, lower case letters were found to be more convenient than writing our capitals with a pen. Although still far from the more popular uses for graphic design today, the beginnings of the art are found within the origins of the first books and alphabets.

Graphic design as we know it today is a direct product of technological advances, which were soon to come. A major turning point came in the 1400’s with the creation of typography or type-printing; this invention helped meet the overwhelming demand for books during this time. Also in the 1400’s the Gutenburg printing press was invented, which was the first movable type.

On the more graphic side of graphic design, in the 1600’s merchants who previously traveled were replaced by shop signboards or what we called billboards. The signs were marks of identification for various businesses. They began as simple pictures of services such as a knife for a butcher. (Hill, PI) But with time businesses naturally became more competitive and the use of better imagery was more important. By 1609 Germany had an everyday newspaper as well as in Britain; the Gutenburg invention helped perfect the method of moveable type and became one the best ways of transferring information on to paper during this time.

In 1799 the first paper-making machine was made which aided the progress of graphic design. Soon after the production of the paper making machine the first steam powered press was invented; this helped with the mass circulation of papers and books.

The Industrial Revolution, which began in 1800, totally changed the world of typography and graphic design. Designers of the time began creating new forms and images. Letters appeared with different faces; in 1816 the first sans serif fonts were created and were the early versions of many fonts we used today. Later on in the revolution, around 1884, the linotype machine was invented which mechanically set the type for newspapers and therefore people no longer manually had to set the type. Soon after this the offset lithographic printer was invented which enabled printing onto virtually any flat surface from metals, to cans, wood, plastic and of course paper. (Griggs, History of Graphic Design)
At the beginning of the 1900’s the first practical type-writer was constructed and further advanced the world of graphic design. In 1922 a book designer named, William Dwiggens coined the term “graphic designer” to describe his activities as a person who brought structured order and visual form to printed communications. Because of him an up and coming profession received its appropriate name. (Roberson, 113) The 1900’s were the beginning of a new profession for those who loved to graphically design things. The new graphic designers wanted to break the mold, they wanted to get away from using straight lines and right angles and begin using more natural movement when creating their art. Some of these designers included Arthur Mackmurdo, Aubrey Beardsley and Charles Ricketts who all contributed greatly to the profession. (Roberson, 12) These designers and as well as others designed their own fonts, page borders as well as page layouts. Much of their work is still seen today in such fonts as Tempus sans and Arial.

Typography a major part of graphic design gained a new lease on new life early in the twentieth century when Dutch designers were inspired and developed new styles. During the 1950’s and 1960’s the world moved towards photo compositions that used machines with unpredictable changes. Technological advances started in 1961 by IBM opening the door to the type of graphic design we know today. IBM created a machine that had the capability of changing its characters to different faces and sizes. In 1960 the introduction of “dry” transfer lettering, which was a clean non-messy lettering system appealed to many graphic designers and paved the way for the desktop publishing systems of today. (Laing,5 )
The quick success of dry transfer lettering led to a sense of fun in type face design; people could now create special effects through distortion and trickery, by cutting or tearing type to produce stylish special effects. The rules of type established in previous years were being challenged. The use of the “grid” was becoming outdated; the acceptance of only using certain kinds of images or typefaces was being forgotten. New design techniques were being promoted through movies such as the classic James Bond movies. The “underground” culture of the 1960’s such as Rock and Grunge even created their own graphic designs. They created “grunge” type font faces that were used to advertise their albums and concerts. (Griggs, History of Graphic Design)
The 1960’s was also the first time artistic experiments with computers took place and further slid the door open for the graphic designers of today. Although the earliest digital computers were in operation around the 1940’s; computerized graphic technology was developed in the early 1950’s, but was not really artwork because it was used mainly for computer aided design and to manufacture such things as flight simulators. However in the 1960’s much of the artwork was done by scientists, not artists, which led graphic design to be more technical than artsy. (Roberson, 103) Also in the 1960’s computers began to have an impact on graphic design by offering programs to assist with justification of setting, and using the computer’s memory to view the images created on a screen for reference. The problem with the use of computers for graphic design is that operators were unable to control spacing and word size as they could with previous methods of type setting. Never the less the use of older methods of design were put to rest because the use of computers were less expensive.

In the 1970’s a technological revolution was bursting onto the typographic scene in the form of the computer. The computer was affecting everyone, from designers from to type manufacturers. (Laing, 105) None of the early computers handled graphics very well and each separate machine had its own font formats. The advancement of technology in the 1970’s in a way filled in the blanks for many graphic designers especially in the realm of 3-D effects. (Griggs, History of Graphic Design) In fact by the 1980’s many full length movies contained computer animated characters. By the late 1980’s the development of graphic desktop publishing changed the face of graphic design and the printing industry world wide. At the same time inventions like the Macintosh LaserWriter printer had the ability to handle graphics well. Macintosh computers truly began the computer age of graphic design with the what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG) display and Adobe PageMaker, the first desktop publishing program was the ground work for the current trend of computer-based typesetting. The digital computer technology changed the face of graphic design forever. (Hill, PI)
The production of other programs such as Freehand, Illustrator, and PhotoShop, were developed specifically for graphic design, and expanded the world of graphics and type design from very few graphic and type possibilities to a never ending number of new digital font graphic designers.

Basically computers have had the most recent and profound effect on graphic design. They have simplified what used to be time consuming methods of transferring information from our brains into visual forms. Computers have done this by making page layouts an easy task, as well as inserting columns, and headings. Digital forms of graphic design have also given designers the ability to choose from hundreds of different typefaces. With the availability of computers cheap, reliable desktop publishing is now a very real option.

Advertising and corporate images now plan an important role in graphic design, and today, in what is being called the electronic age, computer graphics is deeply entwined with both media and system design. Graphic design is really a product of the twentieth century and has heavily been influenced by advances in photography, color reproduction and computer aided designs. The future of graphic design is guaranteed to be challenging, exciting and completely open ended. In years to come the full potential of graphic design might possibly be met and more people will come to understand and better appreciate it.

Today graphic design is much less a part of education and literature than it once was. The primary goal of a graphic designer today is to design something that appeals to the human eye. Graphic designers all know our language is organized using words that form paragraphs; the current trend among designers is to do totally the opposite. Designers attempt to create images that break the mold and stand out, the most typical way to do this is by combining words and pictures to create one unique image that will attract even the most “casual observer”. (Hill, PI)
With graphic design now an established profession, many people have a genuine interest in the field. As with any career getting an education is important to becoming a competitive graphic designer. Some people have also entered the field without an education due to their natural talent. A person who wishes to be a successful graphic designer must be creative and able to operate high tech computers. Careers in graphic design range from employment at local schools, news stations or advertising agencies. Graphic designers can even seek jobs working for campaigns doing things such as creating the candidate’s image to creating and distributing their business cards. If a person has ambitions of becoming rich, they should probably reconsider entering the graphic design field. Often times designers enter the field doing odd jobs for their employers and slowly work their way up as their talent is recognized. The more education, creativity and contacts a person has the better of they will be in the field of graphic design. (Hill, PI)
While completing my physical project I will completely submerge myself in the graphic design field. I will not only work with graphic design programs, but I will choose a variety of typefaces and media to keep the attention of my audience. In creating a slide show I hope to visually communicate my feelings about the past four years at this school. After completing my project I hope to better understand the importance of graphic design even more so than I do after completing this research paper. Graphic design is truly at the center of our lives, the impact it has had on our language is truly something that will remain on this earth for eternity. From my understaning, the purpose of the senior project is to learn as much as possible. I thought it would be interesting to note that in writing this paper I have already learned enough to begin thinking about a different career choice. I also realized that graphic arts is not anything what I thought it was.


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