Unit 1, Entry 1: Graphic Design Definition

Defining graphic design is not as easy as one would think. While it is tempting to try to define it simply as ‘any type of visual communication,’ the definition is too vague and does not provide any real boundaries to understand its reach or influence. On the other hand, trying to define it more specifically than that quickly reveals gaps and shortcomings in covering countless possibilities of what the term could mean.So, for the sake of putting a stake in the ground, let’s say that:

graphic design is a vocational discipline in which a designer visually informs and/or persuades a viewer, often in relation to specific communication efforts (marketing-related or otherwise).

It’s a decent start, but it lacks depth in exploring some of the obvious influences of art, linguistics, anthropology, sociology and psychology in its practice. Likewise, it fails to recognize the expressiveness and emotion of said communication, or its informative and quantifiable message which often result from the proper applications of line, shape, form, rhythm, balance, texture, etc. It does, however, narrow its scope to a form of visual communication (though, again it fails to exclude types of visual communication that may not fit well, like sign language, for example).

So maybe a better (if not simpler) way to define graphic design may be to steal from those who have tried to define it for us already. While there are countless attempts at solving this very riddle, perhaps the one that resonates most with me is Saul Bass’ simple, yet accurate, assertion that “design is thinking made visual.” And so it is.

2 thoughts on “Unit 1, Entry 1: Graphic Design Definition

  1. Joel

    Hello David,

    I understand what you are getting at when you state that “Visual Communication” is too vague of an answer for defining what is graphic design. It’s a little like asking a doctor to define what a doctor is or an engineer what engineering is. You are correct is stating that it lacks depth, and that there are many different areas and disciplines within graphic design that would help create a stronger definition. It seems to be that question that will never get a solid answer. I think it may come down to graphic designers being artists, it all depends on who you ask and what it means to them. “What color blue is the sky?” 🙂


  2. Kasey Snider

    I thought this was a hard term to define. Graphic Design can be so many things as you mentioned it is hard to narrow it to one focus. But I agree in most circumstances the term is considered a way to market, persuade or communicate.

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