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What is Graphic Design Anyway?

This is the question that I often get after I tell someone what I do for a living. For my fellow graphic designers it may seem like a silly question and even self explanatory. We design graphics, of course. However, for the average person who don’t design for a living, it may not be so obvious and require elaboration.

Let’s take a look at a few definitions:

  • The art or profession of visual communication that combines images, words and ideas to convey information to an audience and to produce a specific effect.
  • Merriam-Webster Dictionary: The art or profession of using design elements (such as typography and images) to convey information or create an effect.
  • The practice or profession of designing print or electronic forms of visual information, as for an advertisement, publication or website.

It may be becoming clearer to you now but I don’t entirely agree with them.

First of all, I don’t think of graphic design as art. Granted, there is a fine line between the two. Many graphic designers are artists and vice versa. Both are creative and their work may look very similar. However, art and graphic design have a different purpose. Art is produced or intended primarily for beauty rather than function. It is a personal expression or message from the artist. Graphic design on the other hand, or should I say successful graphic design, achieves communication goals, usually set out by paying clients. Therefore, graphic designers are usually communicating on behalf of their clients whether they agree with the message or not.

Secondly, graphic design is not always a profession. A profession means you get paid and unfortunately as a designer that’s not always the case. Graphic designers usually get paid for their design work but there is often pro-bono, speculative creative and personal projects that are unpaid. This means we can eliminate the profession part from the definition.

I agree with the rest of the definitions but I still find them a bit vague. With that said, I’ll combine the three definitions and take a stab at a further explanation.

Graphic Design is visual communication that uses design elements to convey print or electronic forms of information to an audience and to produce a specific effect. Visual communication occurs when any message is received through vision. Graphic designer’s are hired by clients to enhance their messages in order to achieve their communication goals. This is done by strategic arrangement of design elements such as color, images and typography. It is usually created with graphic software programs such as Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and Quark Xpress. When properly executed, graphic design will attract attention in order to inform and even persuade the audience to take action. Examples of graphic design surround us. It is most commonly used for ads, books, brochures, business cards, greeting cards, logos, newspapers, magazines, packaging, posters, signs and websites. If there wasn’t graphic design, all the visual information in the world would look very similar and uninteresting. Graphic design helps shape our society by changing how we see the world everyday.

What do you think of my explanation? Do you agree or disagree? Is there anything missing? Leave a comment to let me know!


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  11. man, that is an awesome view to have for designs, Troy. Pretty sure I musta mentioned that once or twice over the past 4+ years, whenever we worked together @ that stupid OrangePeel, but anyway, nice site.

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  12. I’m not an expert in graphic design (which is why I hired you to do my website) but your explanation has certainly given me a clearer picture of what you do. Also, I agree with Curtis Au – your website is an excellent representation of what Graphic Design is. Great!

    Joy Moyles
    Encore Events – Mississauga, Ont.

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