Graphic design is the process of visual communication and problem-solving through the use of typography, photography, and illustration. The field is considered a subset of visual communication and communication design, but sometimes the term “graphic design” is used synonymously. Graphic designers create and combine symbols, images and text to form visual representations of ideas and messages. They use typography, visual arts, and page layout techniques to create visual compositions. Common uses of graphic design include corporate design (logos and branding), editorial design (magazines, newspapers and books), wayfinding or environmental design, advertising, web design, communication design, product packaging, and signage.
A graphic design project may involve the stylization and presentation of existing text and either preexisting imagery or images developed by the graphic designer. Elements can be incorporated in both traditional and digital form, which involves the use of visual arts, typography, and page layout techniques. Graphic designers organize pages and optionally add graphic elements. Graphic designers can commission photographers or illustrators to create original pieces. Designers use digital tools, often referred to as interactive design, or multimedia design. Designers need communication skills to convince an audience and sell their designs.
The “process school” is concerned with communication; it highlights the channels and media through which messages are transmitted and by which senders and receivers encode and decode these messages. The semiotic school treats a message as a construction of signs which through interaction with receivers, produces meaning; communication as an agent.
Main article: Typography
Typography includes type design, modifying type glyphs and arranging type. Type glyphs (characters) are created and modified using illustration techniques. Type arrangement is the selection of typefaces, point size, tracking (the space between all characters used), kerning (the space between two specific characters) and leading (line spacing).
Typography is performed by typesetters, compositors, typographers, graphic artists, art directors, and clerical workers. Until the digital age, typography was a specialized occupation. Certain fonts communicate or resemble stereotypical notions. For example, 1942 Report is a font which types text akin to a typewriter or a vintage report.
Main article: Page layout
Golden section in book design
Page layout deals with the arrangement of elements (content) on a page, such as image placement, text layout and style. Page design has always been a consideration in printed material and more recently extended to displays such as web pages. Elements typically consist of type (text), images (pictures), and (with print media) occasionally place-holder graphics such as a dieline for elements that are not printed with ink such as die/laser cutting, foil stamping or blind embossing.
Main article: Printmaking
Printmaking is the process of making artworks by printing on paper and other materials or surfaces. The process is capable of producing multiples of the same work, each called a print. Each print is an original, technically known as an impression. Prints are created from a single original surface, technically a matrix. Common types of matrices include: plates of metal, usually copper or zinc for engraving or etching; stone, used for lithography; blocks of wood for woodcuts, linoleum for linocuts and fabric plates for screen-printing. Works printed from a single plate create an edition, in modern times usually each signed and numbered to form a limited edition. Prints may be published in book form, as artist’s books. A single print could be the product of one or multiple techniques.
The pencil is one of the most basic graphic design tools.
Aside from technology, graphic design requires judgment and creativity. Critical, observational, quantitative and analytic thinking are required for design layouts and rendering. If the executor is merely following a solution (e.g. sketch, script or instructions) provided by another designer (such as an art director), then the executor is not usually considered the designer.
Strategy is becoming more and more essential to effective graphic design. The main distinction between graphic design and art is that graphic design solves a problem as well as being aesthetically pleasing. This balance is where strategy comes in. It is important for a graphic designer to understand their clients’ needs, as well as the needs of the people who will be interacting with the design. It is the designer’s job to combine business and creative objectives to elevate the design beyond purely aesthetic means.
Computers and software
Designers disagree whether computers enhance the creative process. Some designers argue that computers allow them to explore multiple ideas quickly and in more detail than can be achieved by hand-rendering or paste-up. While other designers find the limitless choices from digital design can lead to paralysis or endless iterations with no clear outcome.
Most designers use a hybrid process that combines traditional and computer-based technologies. First, hand-rendered layouts are used to get approval to execute an idea, then the polished visual product is produced on a computer.
Graphic designers are expected to be proficient in software programs for image-making, typography and layout. Nearly all of the popular and “industry standard” software programs used by graphic designers since the early 1990s are products of Adobe Systems Incorporated. Adobe Photoshop (a raster-based program for photo editing) and Adobe Illustrator (a vector-based program for drawing) are often used in the final stage. Designers often use pre-designed raster images and vector graphics in their work from online design databases. Raster images may be edited in Adobe Photoshop, logos and illustrations in Adobe Illustrator, and the final product assembled in one of the major page layout programs, such as Adobe InDesign, Serif PagePlus and QuarkXpress. Powerful open-source programs (which are free) are also used by both professionals and casual users for graphic design, these include Inkscape (for vector graphics), GIMP (for photo-editing and image manipulation), Krita (for painting), Corel Graphic Suite (for design) and Scribus (for page layout).
Related design fields
Main article: User interface design
Since the advent of personal computers, many graphic designers have become involved in interface design, in an environment commonly referred to as a Graphical User Interface (GUI). This has included web design and software design, when end user interactivity is a design consideration of the layout or interface. Combining visual communication skills with an understanding of user interaction and online branding, graphic designers often work with software developers and web developers to create the look and feel of a web site or software application. An important aspect of interface design is icon design.
User experience design
Main article: User experience design
User experience design is the study, analysis, and development of a person’s interaction with a company or its products.
Experiential graphic design
Main article: Environmental Graphic Design
Experiential graphic design is the application of communication skills to the built environment. This area of graphic design requires practitioners to understand physical installations that have to be manufactured and withstand the same environmental conditions as buildings. As such, it is a cross-disciplinary collaborative process involving designers, fabricators, city planners, architects, manufacturers and construction teams.
Experiential graphic designers try to solve problems that people encounter while interacting with buildings and space. Examples of practice areas for environmental graphic designers are wayfinding, placemaking, branded environments, exhibitions and museum displays, public installations and digital environments.