"Get a real job" — People who don't know what graphic design is
Why Graphic Design Is Important
As a graphic design major, I dealt with many comments about being an “art student” and not having a “real major”. Add to the fact that I was co-valedictorian of my high school, and everyone from my peers to my school counselors to relatives rolled their eyes when I declared I wasn’t going to become a doctor or a lawyer or something more “substantial”. I have to admit there were a lot of times when I felt guilty about my choice in career and felt like I wasn’t using my “smarts” to their greatest potential.
Today, however, I know that graphic design is where I’m meant to be. It tugs at my perfectionist qualities, blends together my loves of art, technology, writing, and strategy, and never, ever gets boring. Graphic design is a constantly shifting and changing field that keeps you on your toes and forces you to look deeper at why visual material is so important to society and why its lasting impact on history is evident in everyday life.
What is graphic design exactly? Google defines it as “the art or skill of combining text and pictures in advertisements, magazines, or books” but I say that definition is pretty “eh”. Wikipedia gets a little bit closer: “the process of visual communication and problem-solving through the use of typography, photography, and illustration.” Bingo. I don’t like Google’s definition becomes it seems so limiting. “Advertisements, magazines, or books”? Where’s the websites, mobile applications, movies, logos, motion graphics, signs, labels, and packaging? Graphic design is utilized whenever someone combines two or more visuals to send a message, across any sort of media. Wikipedia’s definition is great because it focuses on three key words: communication, visual, and problem-solving.
Most graphic design is used when a message must be communicated to a group of people. Since almost all of life’s many processes and procedures depend on communication, it can be said that graphic design is pretty important. Let’s take business exchanges, for example. A baker bakes 100 loaves of bread. He can’t eat all of them, so he decides to sell some for a profit so that he can fund his lifestyle. However, he needs to find a way to tell 100 people that he has bread for sale. Of course, this example focuses more on the discipline of advertising design, but every graphic design solution follows the same formula: Person A needs to tell something to Person B, and they need a way to communicate their message. So, why wouldn’t humans just rely solely on sound (talking, radio, etc.) and remove all visuals?
Because humans just don’t work that way. 90% of the information transmitted to the brain is visual. We perceive and interpret information much faster and much easier when it is presented to us in visuals — the photography, typography, and illustrations that Wikipedia mentions in their definition of graphic design. This use of photography, typography, and illustration goes back for thousands and thousands of years. In fact, the very first use of graphic design was not when the Mac was first developed and Photoshop was released, but when the very first hominid discovered that berry juice and clay can make marks on a stone wall. Yep, cave drawings were the first instance of graphic design. Think about it: Cave Person 1 sees a mammoth and needs to tell Cave Person 2 what they looked like. So Cave Person 1 draws a picture of a mammoth. Cave Person 2 sees the picture and now knows that when they go outside and see a woolly, tusked giant animal with a long trunk that it was the same creature Cave Person 1 saw. Person A, Person B, communicate, visual. Boom. Graphic design.
“So what about painting and fine art? Is that graphic design?” Yes and no. Here’s where Wikipedia’s use of the word “problem-solving” comes in. Art can be created for no reason simply because it’s pretty, and the artist wanted to make something. Design solves a specific communication problem, no matter how simple or complicated. Repeat it. Art can be created for no reason. Design solves a problem. In our cave person metaphor, the problem is very simple, but is still clear. Cave Person A had to communicate to Cave Person B what they saw. The solution to that problem is a drawing of a mammoth. Because there is such a fine line between art and design, most artists consider themselves designers and vice versa. However, it is important to recognize that design embraces the message, or the problem it’s solving, first, and aesthetics, second.
To wrap up, there is a whole lot of information in this world that must be communicated from one group of people to the next. This information is most efficiently communicated visually, but a lot of problems arise when discovering the best way to present this information. Graphic design solves these communication problems. It can be a risky business; if information isn’t communicated properly, workflows can be lengthened, directions can be confused, and, ultimately, time and money can be lost — things that no individual wants to waste. Good graphic design allows the messages you want to send to be easily received by others in a way that naturally makes sense to them — and be visually pleasing as a plus! Every business, industry, even individual in this world relies on good graphic design to make their voice be heard and understood, from the text messages you send to the movies you watch. So if you’re a designer, quit putting yourself down, and if you’re not a designer, quit putting designers down. We’re much more important than you think we are.