If you have a creative eye and think you might enjoy working in art, a job in graphic design may be the best route for you. Learn everything you need to know, from the history of the industry to graphic design basics and design principles. We’ll show you how you can become a graphic designer and explain the types so you can find the right career path for you.
Graphic design is a profession in visual art that uses words, images, and ideas to communicate with an audience. In this role, you may create billboards, logos, video games, magazines, raster graphics, and vector graphics. Designers arrange various elements, like an image, symbol, or typography, to convey something to the viewer. It’s common in multiple technology and advertising industries.
Before you can design these visuals, however, you must learn the elements of art such as color psychology or typography and various principles in basic design practices. The people in these roles communicate huge messages with visuals and solve problems. They commonly work in one of three settings:
In a typical workday, a graphic designer will gather materials or information to plan and create a concept. This design uses essential elements of art in a layout that matches up with the intended use of what’s being designed, like a website, video game, or book cover. They create by hand and use computer software to design ideas that communicate and inspire consumers or create design layouts for other mediums like magazines.
Most graphic designers work for people in advertising and promotion, as well as marketing and public relations positions. However, they will also specialize in a type of graphic design work or what kind of clients they take on. Some designers, for example, create and work with retail products such as the packaging and graphics used for the product like a book jacket.
Although graphic design as a profession didn’t begin until more recent years, it has been practiced since ancient history in Greece, Rome, Egypt, and China. The graphic designs they created were more of an early manuscript to illustrate text and image to convey an idea or a moment in time.
The Book of the Dead, for example, is an ancient Egyptian text that was created to help the dead find their way during the afterlife. It’s full of hieroglyphic narratives on papyrus paper, telling the story as penned by scribes in colorful illustrations. The words and pictures blend to tell a cohesive story while expressing the elements into a horizontal, repetitive structure. Together, they communicate.
Cave paintings created by the first humans thousands of years ago feature art to tell a story in the same way ancient hieroglyphs do. Subjects often involve animals, and the early depictions date back to prehistoric times. They’re found around the world, mainly in Australia, France, Spain, Argentina, and Indonesia, and they tell stories about history.
In the Middle Ages, early manuscripts and books were considered sacred. The writing and illustrations were on sheets of animal skin that were treated and named parchment. Sewn together, the sheets of parchment created the first contemporary books. The people who designed these books were often European monks, which were the scholars of the past. They were written in Greek or Latin, and scribes (the first typographers) trained to design perfect letters while scholars spearheaded the production.
Once printmaking hit the stage, books, and other manuscripts were more widely available because the addition of moveable type made the processes more accessible than ever. Although China has shown evidence of developing printmaking processes during the 6th-century, much earlier than any other civilization, printmaking became mainstream in the 14th and 15thcenturies.
This time is when dictionaries and things like grammar and vocabulary became more needed, as books were made faster and more widely available. More people learned to read, and typographic books used woodblock decorative borders to stand out. Typeface designs begin to surface as well, such as the popular style we now call Old Style types, which were inspired by the capital letter in ancient Greece and Rome’s manuscripts. From here, printers start to commission their own types.
William A. Dwiggins, a typographer, came up with the term “graphic design” in 1922. Fifteenth-century graphic design mainly involved producing books in print, and the profession developed over time into designing the pages of a book and setting the type, often working alongside compositors and typesetters.
During the 19th-century, the trade evolved yet again into the profession we now know and love in the West. Most of the jobs began and still take place in the United States with the emergence of the internet and vital other technologies that make graphic design possible. The Industrial Revolution also brought on new commercial opportunities, making America the place for this profession to kick off.
Throughout the 19th and 20th-centuries, book publishers, magazines, and advertising agencies hired a considerable number of art directors who had experience in each visual element used in communication and used them to create impressive brand content. With the combination of these new technologies and a vast commercial sector primed with possibilities, graphic design as a profession widely expanded.
Today’s designers create everything from packaging, signs, trademarks, stamps, and posters to book jackets, magazine pages, websites, advertisements, tv programs, and motion pictures. The profession now takes place around the world and uses advanced technology to allow designers to work anywhere.