What is Graphic Design?

What-is-graphic-design

What is Graphic Design?

Design is a word that can be thrown around a lot, more so now than ever before. But what is graphic design? Many definitions exist, and every designer seems to have a slightly different answer. There’s even fierce debate on where design ends and art begins

The first definition that appears in the Oxford English Dictionary says that design is ‘A plan or drawing produced to show the look and function or workings of a building, garment, or other object before it is made.’ There are several other definitions of design as well. Such a wide-open word can cause an entire world of confusion. It’s a bit like attempts to define art.

Another subject of debate that has occupied many a designer (or design student in the pub) is what actually constitutes good design. That is a fairly open ended question, one that will occupy different schools of thought until the end of time, but there are things that graphic designers will generally agree on. It is certainly not about making things look pretty, though aesthetics are an important part of it.

“Design can be art. Design can be aesthetics. Design is so simple, that’s why it is so complicated.” ― Paul Rand

Braun-t3-and-ipodThe legendary Dieter Rams, who headed up design for Braun in the mid twentieth century, and whose work has inspired many of the products we see now today (especially those from Apple) came up with his 10 Principles of Great Design which make a good case for rationalism and functionalism, but many would say that’s a limiting definition.

Design for the layman

Your average person on the street would probably cite Steve Jobs as a leading figure in the design world. His definition of design was this: ‘In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating…Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.’

Phew. Designer talk can seem rather inaccessible at times.

I’ve always thought that good design requires a laboured process of viewing a problem, identifying the needs of the user and catering to them, making something functional and efficient and I believe that applies brilliantly to design in both tangible and intangible realms.

The Internet has led to the democratisation of design. When anyone can get their hands on some level of design software like Photoshop, is there still a place for formal design education and professional designers? Of course there is. Especially when the world of digital design is growing at such an immense rate.

It might be easier than ever to design a logo, an app, a website etc. but it’s still difficult to make things that are designed well. Design may be around in abundance but good design still has the power to elevate a brand or a company above it’s competition, especially if it just works. As Jared Spool said, “Good design, when it’s done well, becomes invisible. It’s only when it’s done poorly that we notice it.” – Jared Spool It’s precisely this that makes UI and UX design so crucial these days.

Paul Sullivan
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