What is a Graphic Designer?

As a visual species, humans are possessed of increasingly complex technology, and the graphic designer performs a variety of important tasks ranging from artistic to commercial. They may work with physical media, such as magazines, books, and pamphlets or they may engage in content creation of a virtual nature. The article below explores some of the finer points of what these skilled artisans and professionals do, and elaborates on their importance in today’s global culture.

Ubiquity Is Not Clarity

Over the past few decades, the title of graphic artist or designer has become increasingly visible in the professional landscape. Yet, few outside of the skill have a strong grasp of what the title entails. These designers are also sometimes called communication designers, because of their important work in crafting the visual and textual media through which meaning is conveyed, according to the AIGA. Perhaps most surprising to individuals not engaged in the field is that graphic designers have been working with print and image for well over a century.

The arrangement of print and imagery for the purposes of advertisement, political message or creative endeavor is a need that many cultures sought to fill since the invention of Guttenberg’s printing press. However, designers came into their forte during the late 18th and 19th centuries—an era of pamphlets, broadside posters, and increased literacy among the populace.

Perhaps the most celebrated need for designers of lexical and graphic media were in the instant-consumption contexts—stamps, pamphlets, and posters. These images, often with accompanying text that needed to be displayed and convey a message, were intended to be absorbed by all passers, not just those who actively sought them. In this fashion, the work of graphic artists remains largely unchanged.

In So Many Unexpected Ways

The modern roles of these designers are, in some ways, infinitely more elaborate and broadly complex. They are often called upon to perform the traditional roles of book or magazine design schemas, but they also engage in a number of new media applications. This includes the fluid inclusion of multi-media aspects of online articles or discussion pieces—which necessitates at least some ease with computer coding practices. In more detailed computer applications, graphic designers may be required to code programs to create a digital structure for content or may function within a team of computer personnel.

Yet, they also engage in designing Way Finding systems. These are systems of symbols that exist within physical contexts—such as building complexes—as well as appearing on maps in a topological application. It also refers to the interaction between elements within the system, whether that is a collection of signage within or on a building or the branded logos and images associated with a particular company or entity, from business cards to publicly visible building signage. Designers are tasked with interpolating how these collections will be perceived individually, as a whole, and over a span of time.

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In fact, you’re reading the product of design labor at this very moment. Since the invention of the printing press, designers have existed in some form, and they have exerted creative influence over even the smallest details of communicated material. They subtle information conveyed by the shape of letters, the emotional impact of printed language, and the overall impression created by a dynamic collection of words are concerns that shape how we consume data. Fonts or typefaces are one of the most often overlooked contributions of graphic designers, and yet, perhaps they are one of the most telling, too.