The Calculated Creative

How Graphic Design Started

The evolution of writing, printing, art, and technology all contributed to graphic design developing from its origins into what it is today.

Graphic design has evolved over many centuries, going through many phases of development.

Here is an in-depth look at the history of how graphic design began and turned into the field we know today.

The Invention of Writing

The first origins of graphic design can be traced back over 5,000 years ago to the invention of writing systems like cuneiform and hieroglyphics.

These early civilizations in Mesopotamia and Egypt developed visual symbols that represented spoken language sounds or words.

This marked the beginning stages of visual communication.

For centuries, scribes produced written works by hand using rudimentary tools like chisels and brushes.

Works often contained both text and images, like illustrations or decorative elements.

The labor-intensive process of handwriting limited widespread written communication.

The Printing Press

The invention of the movable type printing press in 1440 by Johannes Gutenberg was a major turning point in graphic design history.

The printing press allowed written materials, typography, images, and graphic elements to be reproduced mechanically in mass quantities for the first time.

This increased the reach of communication exponentially.

Printers experimented with different techniques like combining movable type, ornamentations, illustrations, fonts, layouts, and manual presswork to make printed pages more visually appealing and effective for readers.

More people had access to books, maps, religious texts, and other printed works.

The Arts and Crafts Movement

In the late 19th century in England, the Arts and Crafts movement emerged in reaction to the side effects of the Industrial Revolution and mass production.

Followers valued high-quality craftsmanship and simplicity in design instead of factory-made goods.

The handcrafted work of Arts and Crafts artisans influenced early graphic designers who sought to bring beauty and harmony back into manufactured products.

Emphasis shifted to hand-drawn lettering, nature themes, and asymmetry. This handcrafted aesthetic heavily impacted developing graphic styles.

The Birth of Graphic Design as a Profession

In the early 20th century, graphic design began to be recognized as a distinct profession.

New artistic and design movements like Art Nouveau, De Stijl, Futurism, Dada, and Art Deco developed and pushed graphic design in more experimental directions in typography, color, shapes, and composition.

Notable pioneers like Peter Behrens, Lucian Bernhard, Edward Johnston, and Jan Tschichold established some of the first modern graphic design studios catering to the commercial needs of the era like branding, posters, advertisements, packaging, and publishing.

They standardized practices and processes for the growing field.

The Modern Era

From the 1950s onward, graphic design entered the prolific modern era we know today.

Technological advances, new creative directions, and professional standards drove rapid evolution and growth for graphic designers.

The availability of computers, new digital design software, photography, scanning, printing methods, and the internet transformed possibilities and tools for graphic designers.

Creative directions like minimalism and postmodernism also gained popularity.

Today, graphic design stretches across many disciplines including:
- Advertising
- Branding
- Motion graphics
- Illustration

Graphic designers shape visual culture and communication around the world across both print and digital media formats.

The Takeaway

The evolution of writing systems, printing methods, influential artistic movements, pioneers in the field, and emerging technologies all contributed to graphic design developing from its origins into the diverse profession it is today.

Graphic designers continue finding new ways to effectively combine visuals, text, and ideas to communicate impactful messages.

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