WHAT IS GRAPHIC DESIGN?
Graphic design is the methodology of visual communication, and problem-solving through the use of type, space and image. The field is considered a subset of visual communication and communication design, but sometimes the term “graphic design” is used interchangeably with these due to overlapping skills involved.
Graphic design, also known as communication design, is the art and practice of planning and projecting ideas and experiences with visual and textual content. The form of the communication can be physical or virtual, and may include images, words, or graphic forms. The experience can take place in an instant or over a long period of time. The work can happen at any scale, from the design of a single postage stamp to a national postal signage system, or from a company’s digital avatar to the sprawling and interlinked digital and physical content of an international newspaper. It can also be for any purpose, whether commercial, educational, cultural, or political.
The design of books and magazines also has a long history. Whether physical or digital, these are objects that are meant to be enjoyed over time, during which the reader has control over the pace and sequence of the experience. In books, the content usually comes before the design, while in magazines, the design is a structure that anticipates written and visual content that hasn’t yet been created. Some commercial websites or exhibition catalogues also fit in this category, as do digital or physical museum displays that show information that doesn’t change. All have fixed content, but the user or reader determines their own path through the material.
Many designers also produce systems that are meant to be experienced over time, but aren’t confined to the making of objects. Wayfinding, which is a form of environmental graphics, refers to the branding and signage applied throughout and on buildings. While each sign or symbol in a public or private building is a work of design, they’re all part of a larger system within the building. The design of the system—the relationships between all of those parts—is where the designer brings value. Similarly, while all of the artifacts of a commercial or institutional brand, such as a business card, sign, logo, or an advertisement are individual expressions of design, how those are experienced together and over time is the design work. No part of it has been created without considering the others, or without thinking through how a target customer will encounter and then develop a relationship with that brand.
WHO BECOMES A GRAPHIC DESIGNER?
In trying to decide if a design career is right for you, it might be helpful to think about the qualities and interests that many designers share, and see if they overlap with your own. Since most high schools don’t offer design courses, it’s not easy to make the connection. Many professional designers don’t come into the field until their twenties or thirties, after they’ve received degrees and even started careers in related disciplines. Many more students attend design school and are disappointed when either the education or the practice.
So who becomes a designer? First and foremost, designers are keen observers and lovers of beautiful and useful objects, messages, and experiences. They pay attention as they move through their day, possessing a hyper awareness of the visual and textual world around them. They make connections and ask questions about how those objects and messages work, what they are, what things look like, and what they mean.
Noticing and appreciating, however, is not enough. Designers have a desire to make and customize things they haven’t seen before, and then share them. Observations lead to wondering what something that doesn’t exist yet would look like, and oftentimes the only way to know what it would be like is to make it. This curiosity is at the core of the designer, and doesn’t always make sense to everyone else.
WHAT DO GRAPHIC DESIGNERS NEED TO KNOW?
Technology, social context, and ways of working with others will change. In order to become and remain relevant in their practice, designers need to continuously learn and develop formal concepts, methods, theory, and techniques.
While designers often focus on a specific field, no one works in a vacuum, so it’s important to know and understand the histories, theories, and background of the field as a whole. Many of the first programs in graphic design, fashion design, and interior design began in urban areas in the early 20th century to give workers in the new industrial economy the chance to rise beyond their specific tasks. Without education in the field, the worker had to fight to compete with others who could do that specific task faster or cheaper. The same situation exists today: designers who can learn to do one thing and also understand the big picture stand a better chance at a design career, as opposed to a one-off design job, especially as skills and job expectations are changing all the time.