To dominate an industry like graphic design is a difficult task because it requires constant adaptation to changing circumstances. New tools and skills are constantly developing to adapt and control this complex process. Strangely, some legacy terms and some concepts are refusing to change. With these shifts happening, I believe that graphic design in the traditional sense no longer matters as much as it once did.
While the practice of visual communication through pictures and symbols has existed since the beginning of time, the term graphic design is a 20th-century invention. It is widely assumed that William Addison Dwiggins coined the phrase when describing his approach to book design. The term also came about when, alongside advertising, the Futurist and Dada art movements exploded onto the scene. Ultimately, as much as these movements were about acceptance of technology and industrialization, the phrase describes a person who uses type, illustration, and photography, structured in some form, for primarily commercial purposes.
Graphic design is becoming more and more prevalent in all aspects of our lives. It is on our screens, buildings, streets, media, entertainment. It pervades every environment and experience we come into contact with throughout the day. It’s common to assume that this is a new phenomenon — as technology replaces software, screens will multiply, and the need for graphic designers to help us organize it will multiply as well. This has always been the case in modern society—graphic design has always pervaded all aspects of culture.
What is new is how and where graphic design is spreading. The work of a graphic designer no longer exists only on the page, limited by the edges. Now it can also exist on the screen, responsive to its size to provide the best experience, regardless of the device. It exists in our software and anyone can interact with and manipulate it. Page edges and printer constraints no longer have to keep designers in check. Graphic design is no longer the last word but rather the first in what could be an endless dialogue. This can be paralyzing but also exciting. It may even allow the “graphic” designer to detach from a label that is becoming progressively archaic and suffocating.
Restraints of Label
All in all, it looks like we’re in for a little update. Designers exchange emotions—it’s always the case. The most effective designers make use of every tool at their disposal. Type and images are basic requirements. The toolkit has grown in size. Designers are constantly being challenged to go beyond simple 2D executions of communication techniques. To make a difference, they must learn to utilize more and more experienced tactics. Sound, movement, AR, VR are now all part of the designer’s toolkit. The designer’s job is to find a way for all of these elements to coexist so that the desired response or emotion can be evoked. It doesn’t end there, because what works in one channel or outlet may or may not work in another. Worse, message overload can and will undermine even the most effective executions over time. That’s a large task that seems to defy the restraints imposed by the term “graphic.”