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Suppose you want to announce or sell something, amuse or
persuade someone, explain a complicated system or demonstrate a
process. In other words, you have a message you want to
communicate. How do you “send” it? You could tell people one by one
or broadcast by radio or loudspeaker. That's verbal communication.
But if you use any visual medium at all-if you make a poster; type
a letter; create a business logo, a magazine ad, or an album cover;
even make a computer printout-you are using a form of visual
communication called graphic design.
Graphic designers work with drawn, painted, photographed, or
computer-generated images (pictures), but they also design the
letterforms that make up various typefaces found in movie credits
and TV ads; in books, magazines, and menus; and even on computer
screens. Designers create, choose, and organize these
elements-typography, images, and the so-called “white space” around
them-to communicate a message. Graphic design is a part of your
daily life. From humble things like gum wrappers to huge things
like billboards to the T-shirt you’re wearing, graphic design
informs, persuades, organizes, stimulates, locates, identifies,
attracts attention and provides pleasure.
Graphic design is a creative process that combines art and
technology to communicate ideas. The designer works with a variety
of communication tools in order to convey a message from a client
to a particular audience. The main tools are image and
Designers develop images to represent the ideas their clients want
to communicate. Images can be incredibly powerful and compelling
tools of communication, conveying not only information but also
moods and emotions. People respond to images instinctively based on
their personalities, associations, and previous experience. For
example, you know that a chili pepper is hot, and this knowledge in
combination with the image creates a visual pun.
In the case of image-based design, the images must carry the
entire message; there are few if any words to help. These images
may be photographic, painted, drawn, or graphically rendered in
many different ways. Image-based design is employed when the
designer determines that, in a particular case, a picture is indeed
worth a thousand words.
In some cases, designers rely on words to convey a message, but
they use words differently from the ways writers do. To designers,
what the words look like is as important as their meaning. The
visual forms, whether typography (communication designed by means
of the printed word) or handmade lettering, perform many
communication functions. They can arrest your attention on a
poster, identify the product name on a package or a truck, and
present running text as the typography in a book does. Designers
are experts at presenting information in a visual form in print or
on film, packaging, or signs.
When you look at an “ordinary” printed page of running text,
what is involved in designing such a seemingly simple page? Think
about what you would do if you were asked to redesign the page.
Would you change the typeface or type size? Would you divide the
text into two narrower columns? What about the margins and the
spacing between the paragraphs and lines? Would you indent the
paragraphs or begin them with decorative lettering? What other
kinds of treatment might you give the page number? Would you change
the boldface terms, perhaps using italic or underlining? What other
changes might you consider, and how would they affect the way the
reader reacts to the content? Designers evaluate the message and
the audience for type-based design in order to make these kinds of
Designers often combine images and typography to communicate a
client's message to an audience. They explore the creative
possibilities presented by words (typography) and images
(photography, illustration, and fine art). It is up to the designer
not only to find or create appropriate letterforms and images but
also to establish the best balance between them.
Designers are the link between the client and the audience. On
the one hand, a client is often too close to the message to
understand various ways in which it can be presented. The audience,
on the other hand, is often too broad to have any direct impact on
how a communication is presented. What's more, it is usually
difficult to make the audience a part of the creative process.
Unlike client and audience, graphic designers learn how to
construct a message and how to present it successfully. They work
with the client to understand the content and the purpose of the
message. They often collaborate with market researchers and other
specialists to understand the nature of the audience. Once a design
concept is chosen, the designers work with illustrators and
photographers as well as with typesetters and printers or other
production specialists to create the final design product.
Symbols and logos are special, highly condensed information forms
or identifiers. Symbols are abstract representation of a particular
idea or identity. The CBS “eye” and the active “television” are
symbolic forms, which we learn to recognize as representing a
particular concept or company. Logotypes are corporate
identifications based on a special typographical word treatment.
Some identifiers are hybrid, or combinations of symbol and
logotype. In order to create these identifiers, the designer must
have a clear vision of the corporation or idea to be represented
and of the audience to which the message is directed.
Graphic Design: A Career Guide and Education Directory
Edited by Sharon Helmer Poggenpohl
The American Institute of Graphic Arts
Designers need to master a wide variety of skills and concepts.
Section: Tools and Resources -
What do professional designers really do? This question needs to
be asked in order to answer why you need a design education and
what you need to study.
There are probably as many kinds of designers as there are kinds of
design, so how do you know whether a career in design might be
right for you?
The Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (SNAAP) is an annual online survey and data-management system designed to improve arts-school education through tracking the training, careers and lives of arts graduates.
Section: Tools and Resources -
job search, professional development, accreditation, college, graduate, education
Copyright law provides protection to designers, but like most trips to a new place, it requires you learn a few local customs and words of a new language to get the most from it.
Section: Tools and Resources -
ethics, copyright, legal issues
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