Graphic Design Has Made a Major Impact on History
From Tokens to Hyperreality
Even though the concept of contemporary graphic design is strongly related to industry, advertising, arts and communication, its history dates back to the time that man started to express himself with the aid of tools and, specifically, with the intent to produce a visual and permanent representation of those values. The core of graphic design relies on the development of this practice: the drawing became the design, the hand became a pen, a printer, a computer software, the image becomes a micro-universe with its own idiosyncrasy.
The Crafting of Visual
This visual expression of ideas, thoughts and emotions starts with the first dated drawings made during the prehistorical period, around 30,000 B.C. in the caves of the south of France and goes until the development of written numbers.
Around 4,000 B.C. numbers were crafted as clay tokens, carved with proper shape and style to represent a counting process. It is believed so far to be the embryo of writing, though there are recent discoveries of written tablets, such as the Tărtăria tablets dated to around 6000BC. The invention of writing is also extremely related to the evolution of graphic design.
Languages, Art, Printing
Everything in between the invention of drawing, language and the first Industrial Revolution is a period of maturation of the modern values of graphic design. The expression and the crafting of cultures and its consequent visual record would strongly influence what would happen with the industrialization of societies. The concepts of art, the calligraphy, pictograms, ideograms and all sort of symbols are part of this history.
For a long time, historically speaking, the path of fine arts and graphic design was blurry, mixed and often essentially merged. But it is the invention of printing that strongly separates and settles the individuality of graphic design.
The concept of printing was popularized by Gutenberg during the mid-ages, but the printer concept is believed to be forged by the dutch inventor Laurens Coster, who created the first typo. From this time on several concepts of graphic design are born such as, typography, printing, page layout, logos and symbols.
From Industrial Revolution to Modernism
This period is extremely rich for the establishment of modern concepts of graphic design and revolves around a strong collision of values of the new settled mass production and the singularity of craftsmanship.
During the 19th century, several movements would influence the modern shape of graphic design. Arts & Crafts, Private Press and Art Nouveau are the most relevant and fundamental ones. In fact, they influenced each other in many ideals of visual production. Arts & Crafts were essentially anti-industrial, related to decoration and style production in which the manual work, traditional and classic methods and graphics values are conceived as superior to the serial industrialization. Art Nouveau would be an expression of this kind of ideals in all sorts of design expression, like architecture, furniture, arts in general, jewelry and much more. Also, Art Nouveau was strongly proclaiming a return to natural concepts and a harmony of men and nature.
These ideas would influence the Private Press movement, where the book is not only considered a functional container of information, its shape, materials, typography, colors, are all the information, the message, the container and the media. This movement was a strong basis for graphic design, the book was turned into a collection item though the essence of this philosophy turns it into also a piece of art. William Morris is the main mentor of the Private Press (and the Arts & Crafts movement).
The 20th Century and Reconciliation with Industry
The Industrial Revolution would never retreat and was already in its second stage during the early 20th Century. As it became more refined, the design was more shaped with industrial and technological values.
The first time that graphic design was mentioned happened in 1922 in the essay “New Kind of Printing Calls for New Design” written by William Addison Dwiggins. The press activities were influencing the modernization of many tools and methods of printing and visual communication.
The idea of ISOTYPE showed up around 1925 when a model of charts and symbols were invented with didactic purposes. Symbols are revisited and suddenly industrialized: street marks, logotypes, rebus, watermarks and much more are conceived.
This appropriation of industry will happen in radical ways with the Bauhaus art school. In fact, it swallows Arts & Crafts appropriations of classic values and uniqueness but throw it into the industrial serialization, spitting out the conservative idea of handcrafting. The unique concepts will be multiplied. Mass production is the law and technology a tool.
Bauhaus was also a blend of many different design methods, including architecture, handcrafting, arts and much more, incorporating also the idea of “state of art” in production.
Computers and World Wide Web
From the Post-WWII, the advertisement became a strong market, the invention of computers would start to push even further the aspect of serialization of graphic design as well as its complexity.
Today we have comprehensive concepts of interface design and the visual creation itself reaches a level of uniqueness sociologists would verify under the concept of Hyperreality. Graphic design creation can be so singular, especially on an advertisement, where the viewer/customer would like buy based on the sensation they derive from the art.