Graphic Design Origins

Graphic design is such a massive part of modern life. We see it absolutely everywhere, from ads and websites, to packaging and publications. Have you ever wondered how it started? I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently – art has always been a massive part of human culture. And before we had written language, we had hieroglyphics, which were used to visually tell a story.

But it actually goes back even further than that.

Let’s take a look at where graphic design started and how it evolved through time to become what it is now.

Ancient Beginnings

Graphic design can be traced back to truly ancient civilizations. The earliest known examples of visual communication come from cave paintings, created somewhere around 30,000 BCE. These were made up of symbols and pictograms to tell stories and convey information. And that’s exactly what graphic design as we know it today is used for.

In ancient Egypt, around 3100 BCE, hieroglyphics rose as a formal writing system that combined iconographic and alphabetic elements. The influence of hieroglyphics has transcended the centuries and, as a species, humans seem to have returned to utilizing them regularly in communication. But we don’t call them hieroglyphics now – they’re emojis. Check out this post comparing Egyptian hieroglyphics to modern design principles, if you have the time.

Similarly, in Mesopotamia, the Sumerians invented cuneiform script around 3400 BCE. This is another example of ancient cultures using “graphic design” for record-keeping and storytelling.

The Influence of Typography

Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press in the 15th century was pivotal in the history of recorded information. Because of the printing press, we could create books and share them with other communities, spreading knowledge. This was the moment in time where typography became a large component of graphic design. The careful arrangement of typefaces and the development of new fonts became crucial for readability and aesthetics.

The Renaissance period further advanced graphic design, as artists and designers began to experiment with different typefaces and layout techniques. Aldus Manutius in the 16th century introduced the use of italic type, which added elegance and flexibility to the design of printed texts. Not to mention that it added emphasis to specific words to get a particular inflection while reading.

The Industrial Revolution and Modernism

The Industrial Revolution brought about significant changes to the field of graphic design. The invention of lithography and other printing technologies allowed for the mass production of posters, ads, magazines, and other printed materials. This period during the 18th and 19th centuries sparked the rise of advertising and solidified the need for visually appealing designs that would capture public attention. After all, we tend to be a visually-influenced species. Ensuring that ads were visually appealing meant that sales would be much higher than if the ads were comprised only of text.

In the early 20th century, the modernist movement emerged. It emphasized simplicity, functionality, and minimalism. I’m a big fan of the modernist movement, myself – sometimes, less is more. Designers like Paul Rand, Herbert Bayer, and El Lissitzky embraced this movement, as well, creating works that still inspire designers all around the world. The Bauhaus school played a major role in shaping modern design by intertwining art, craft, and technology together.

The Digital Revolution

Computers became a household technology in the late 1900s and the field of graphic design evolved again! God, I feel old referring to it as the 1900s, having been born in the “late 1900s.” Ugh.

Adobe was born. Softwares like Photoshop and Illustrator revolutionized the way that artists could create. We could now easily and non-destructively move elements around on a design to make sure that it looked and fit the best. Prior to these programs, we’d have to actually lay everything out by hand on tables. Hence, the utilization of “arts and crafts.”

Today, graphic design is a constantly evolving field, encompassing everything from traditional print media, to cutting-edge digital experiences. Designers continue to push boundaries and learn new technologies and tools, so that we may continue to grow with the field and create compelling visual communications.

We are Visual Storytellers

Graphic design has always been first and foremost about communicating through visuals. Countless artists, inventors, and visionaries have contributed to the growth and evolution of creative fields, as a whole. If you’d like to read more about this topic, check out this wiki page, also about the history of graphic design.

If you’re ready for your brand’s story to come to life and command the attention of everyone in your industry, reach outand let’s chat! I currently have availability for Q3 2024 and I cannot wait to get started!

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