The Historical Origins of all-Things Graphic Design

It goes without saying that Graphic Design is… you guessed it… the art of designing graphics. In a more professional sense, however, it is the professional process of creating visual content to communicate messages. Although the term “Graphic Designer” was coined in 1922, we believe that its origins can be traced back to the start of human existence.

The earliest signs of art

Artistic formations from the BC era are certainly nowhere close to what art (and Graphic Design) is in its current form. However, such discoveries and inventions undoubtedly formed the perfect springboard for jolting Graphic Design (and creativity in its entirety) into what it is today.

To begin with, the first known visual communication can be traced back to 15 000 BC, where pictographs and symbols appear in the Lascaux caves in southern France. The Blau Monuments, which are believed to originate from Iraq in 3 600 BC, are the oldest known artifacts to combine words and pictures.

The invention of paper, printing and moveable type

In 105 AD, paper was invented by Chinese inventor Cai Lun, where he crafted cloth sheets to record drawings and writings. Cai Lun went on to write, “Intimes, writings and inscriptions were generally traced upon pieces of bamboo, or upon strips of silk… silk being costly and bamboo heavy, these two materials could not be used conveniently.” Cai Lun subsequently conceived the idea of making paper from various materials such as the bark of trees, hemp waste, old rags and fish nets.

Moving on to the printing press, Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in +/- 1436 AD, introducing mass communication to Western culture. This essentially created the path for using design commercially, leading to a historical mark in advertising and graphic design.

In 1045 AD, nearly a millennium after the invention of paper, moveable type was invented by Bi Sheng. According to the History of Information, “Bi Sheng composed texts by placing the types side by side on an iron plate coated with a mixture of resin, wax, and paper ash.”

The first type foundry

Many years of printing went by before French type designer, Claude Garamond, opened the very first type foundry in 1530 where he created and sold fonts to printers. Garamond’s attention to detail was never-before-seen, as he had a keen eye for ensuring harmony between capital letters, lowercase letters and italics. According to Meggs and Purvis, the opening of his foundry was also the first move away from the traditional all-in-one “scholar-publisher-typefounder-printer-bookseller” model.

The industrial revolution

During the period of 1760 – 1840, new technologies emerged at a rapid rate, including lithography, which is a method of printing that involves inking a design into a stone or metal surface and transferring it to a sheet of paper. Invented by Alois Senefelder in 1796, his discovery was entirely accidental. Whilst working, Senefelder unknowingly figured out that he could duplicate his scripts by using a greasy crayon to write on slabs of limestone, and thereafter print them with rolled-on ink.

The first graphic design agency

In 1903, The Wiener Werkstätte, the first ever graphic design agency was opened by architect Josef Hoffmann, graphic designer and painter Koloman Moser, and modern-minded patron Fritz Waerndorfer. Located in Vienna, the Company was made up of visual artists including painters and architects, setting the stage for all other graphic design agencies to follow.

Coining the term “Graphic Designer”

American type designer, calligrapher, and book designer, William Addison Dwiggins, coined the term “graphic designer” in 1922, to describe his personal activities of bringing structural order and visual form to printed communications.

The introduction of digital design software

As more and more companies began to recognize the need for graphic design, its use exploded in the 1900’s, sparking the introduction of design software. In 1973, Xerox PARC employee Richard Shoup developed the first image editing programme, SuperPaint. Thereafter, the trend had a ripple effect with the development of PageMaker (1985), Illustrator (1987), FreeHand (1988), CorelDRAW (1989) and Photoshop (1990) to name a few.

So, there you have it folks, a brief but concise history of how and why the Dream Team, AKA GM Design, exists today. We are super excited to share this blog with you, and hope you enjoyed reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it.

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