A Brief History of Graphic Design

Graphic design can be said to have begun from the moment early humans began etching on the cave walls. With the evolution of human civilization, graphic design was used to decorate utensils, buildings, textiles that had a religious or cultural significance.

The term graphic design and the profession that it indicated, however, did not come into being in all earnest till the dawn of mediums like photography, typing, prints, videography etc. in the early 20th Century, William Addison Dwiggins coined the term “graphic design” to describe people working in general print design and book design industry. Here is a quick guide to the evolution of graphic design in the modern era.

The Precursors of Graphic Design

From the very beginning of human civilization, humans have been particularly attracted to graphic design and have used it for decoration as well as to symbolize power. From murals to geometric design on buildings to handmade illustrations, graphic design has been a part of human expression for ages. Flags and coins with the faces of emperors were perhaps the first examples of logos and branding.

The Gutenberg Press and the Publishing Boom

The Gutenberg Press
Source : Wikipedia

German metal-worker Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg inadvertently paved the way for the industrialization of graphic design when he invented the printing press in 1436. This press was created to mechanize the block print trend that had already been in practice in Asia and Europe at the time.

The effects of Gutenberg’s press were quickly felt throughout Europe. Just a few years after Gutenberg printed his first Bible, printing presses were set up all over Europe. Source : Springfield Library

In the 19th century, British publisher William Morris gave the graphic design industry a much-needed boost by commercializing graphic design and publishing books with stylized printings and illustrations. The Arts movement in Britain also boosted this evolution by creating a distinction between fine art and applied art.

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Typography Related Innovation

Typography became very popular in the first two decades of the 1900s where typography techniques, stamps, logos and fonts were being designed and claimed by various graphic designers. In 1928, Jan Tschichold released a book called New Typography, first published  in Germany that presented a collection of commonly used fonts style of the time and discuss the difference between the old and new typography. It is available for reading from Princeton University if you are interested.

The New Typography

This book certainly presents a glance typography from a historical perspective  some of which might not be applicable in this modern age. The general font typography that we use even today had its origins in the 1920s. Most typography techniques used back then had a huge influence on the advertising industries in the decades that followed.

The history of typeface cannot be completed without Morris Fuller Benton who was an influential American typeface designer. He was the chief type designer from 1900 to 1937 for American Type Founders (ATF). Benton has create 221 typefaces, ranging from revivals of historical models like ATF Bodoni, to adding new weights to existing faces such as Goudy Old Style and Cheltenham, and to designing original designs such as Hobo, Bank Gothic, and Broadway.

Few fonts designed by Morris Fuller Benton
Source: Myfonts.com

The Mass Media Revolution

As mass media began to connect the world closer together, graphic design became widely used in print, packaging and advertising. Graphic designers were scooped up by the entertainment world, corporations and print shops that catered to newspapers, magazines, movies, books and advertising agencies. From use in books to newspapers to marketing materials, print shops saw the need to dedicated graphic designers everywhere. Corporations and even the average business owner also employed graphic designers to create unique and attractive signs, logos, advertisements, newsletters, brochures etc. Film and television producers too used graphic designers to make their products more appealing to the public.

Coke Vintage Sign
Source : Antiquehelper

In response to the increased demand for graphic designers who specialized in print materials and artistic layout of ads, Bauhaus, the very first graphic design school in the world was opened in Germany, in 1919. Many others followed suit around the world.

Propaganda Posters of the 1950s
Source: Vintage AD Browser

By the time the Second World War was over and the 1950s filled the western world with a renewed vigor for consumerism, the trend for branding through logos gained popularity. Many logos developed in that era are still in use today. The most popular example of this would be famed IBM logo.

Moving to Digital

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Computers first became commonplace in the graphic design industry in the late 1980s where effects like shading and coloring could be achieved in a single click. Many typological fonts were pre-installed in computers that made the graphic designers’ work easier. It also led to the graphic design industry as a whole booming around the world. As word and photo processing software evolved in the last three decades, graphic designers got the luxury of adding more and more spectacular effects to their designs. Today, we are so accustomed to recognizing brands and idea through logos and graphic design that we can recognize almost every popular logo even when it’s presented to us in an incomplete manner.

The future for graphic design looks bright and hopeful. Since the technology is moving faster than we can imagine by embracing tablets, smartphone apps, digital signage, ebooks, more and more people learning about graphic design. If you have any important facts about graphic design share with us in the comment section.

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