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.