Graphic design is … Communication. As far back as the Lascaux cave paintings, people were communicating the events of the day in a 2-dimensional form. Graphic designers communicate through words and images to convey a message, any message their client wants. Comic strips communicate a joke or cute story; editorial cartoons communicate a political or contemporary issue in an easy-to-understand image. Magazines and newspapers communicate current topics to eager readers. Ads, billboards, flyers, mailers, they all communicate a business’ message to promote and sell. The graphic designer’s job is to make that message clear, concise and easy to understand. Web sites communicate new ideas, concepts, beliefs, products, services, political stances, anything that one person or company wants to tell another. Graphic design is often called communication arts, which also happens to be the name of a trade magazine.
Graphic design is … Typography. Type shapes everything from the words of an article to the specific font of a logo. Words and letters are pushed and pulled and stretched to attract attention to the idea being communicated. An article about Verizon offering the Apple iPhone had the two columns of type set in the shape of the Apple logo with the Verizon check mark replacing the apple’s leaf. The Fed Ex logo has an arrow in the negative space between the “e” and “x”. Words need to be in a consistent and acceptable format, lines of copy, for us to read and understand their message. Graphic designers are aware of and use the limitations and complexity of typography to communicate in a pleasing, understandable manner.
Graphic design is … Color. Designers use color to attract attention, entice readers to explore, brighten your day, and sometimes to make you cringe. Op art would place complementary colors next to each other to create images that danced and jiggled and fought with each other visually. Colors become identifiable with companies. The FedEx purple and orange is almost as recognizable as the bold logo. Coca Cola’s red and white logos, Pepsi’s red and blue colors, BP’s yellow and green, all become as important as the shape of the logos. Green is the color of recycling, red is the color to make you stop, yellow is light and joyful. Political ads are almost always red, white, and blue. Colors can express emotions, attitudes, purity, ruthlessness. In our culture brides wear white, bad guys wear black, and green is the color of money.
Graphic design is, well, design. From the shapes of logos to the layout of pages and magazines, graphic designs are in our line of vision every day. The TV guide logo always appears in a round cornered rectangle. CBS is always followed by an iconic eye graphic. NBC has the peacock feathers of primary and secondary colors. Newspaper pages are consistently several running columns of type; articles are boxed in such a way, we know where one column carries over to the next. Traffic sign shapes define their message: information signs are rectangular, railroad signs are round, yield signs are inverted triangles.
This would be a very boring world indeed if every piece of information was set in running lines of type with no interesting spaces, shapes, colors, photographs or illustrations to break them up. Instead we have and will always need graphic designers to shape our stories into interesting visual images that are just as fascinating to see as they are to read.