When someone mentions graphic design, what is your first association? TV advertisements? Business logos? Website graphics? Magazine covers?
If you thought of any of these examples, you're right — they all fall under graphic design, but there are many more. Website layouts, software interfaces, mobile apps, infographics, posters, book covers, product labels, business cards and signs are created thanks to graphic design elements, principles and tools.
Listing all the examples gives us a picture of different art forms graphic design can produce, but what is graphic design precisely and how does it work? Why is it important for your brand?
This graphic design guide will introduce you to the basics of this complex field.
Let’s dig in!
What Is Graphic Design?
According to the American Institute of Graphic Arts’s graphic design definition, “the art and practice of planning and projecting ideas and experiences with visual and textual content” are considered graphic design.
Simpler put, graphic design is a way of visual communication — it transmits ideas and messages using different visual elements, helping brands connect with their clients.
Graphic design is more present than you think — in fact, it's all around us. Take a look at your child's school book, spaghetti package or the layout of the website you're reading this article on. All visual content is created using graphic design methodology.
Considering the human brain processes visual content 60.000 times faster than textual, it is understandable that graphic design is used for commercial, educational and artistic purposes. Businesses use it to promote and advertise their products, brands to develop a unique brand image and websites to convey complex messages.
Brief History of Graphic Design
The beginnings of graphic design intertwine with the history of art.
We find the first evidence of graphic design in 15,000 years BC, in the caves of southern France, where archeologists found traces of visual communication.
Between 3100 and 2700 BC, the Blau Monument was created in Mesopotamia. This monument is the first known artifact than combines words and images. Although it differs in many ways from today's graphic design, this cultural legacy is the forerunner of visual art.
The invention of paper in 105 AD in China contributed to the development of printing. Chinese discovered a movable type of printing almost a thousand years later, in 1045 AD, and it came to Europe in 1276 AD. The art of printing was perfected in 1450; the first images appeared in printed books in 1460.
The Industrial Revolution (1760–1800) was a time of significant change. The invention of the typewriter in 1800 led a more efficient and effective spread of the written word, in addition to lithography and other techniques that enhanced printing.
The use of graphic design exploded in 1900. With the printing of visual information to attract customers' interest and logos to help corporations establish their brands, the advertising sector grew. In the late 1900s, computer technology also advanced, transforming the graphic design industry with applications like Photoshop.
Today, graphic design prioritizes the use of digital technologies, although in some cases, designers still use drawings and paintings to create logos, covers, layouts and much more.
Graphic Design Elements
Visual elements that graphic designers use to create appealing impactful designs are also called graphic design elements. They include the following:
- Color attracts the consumer's attention to specific design elements and arouses the appropriate mood or emotion — that's why designers use them wisely and selectively.
- Line is one of the fundamental design elements that assist the artist in clarifying to the audience what they are expected to notice or take in.
- Shape makes images recognizable and strong. They have a significant role in interpreting symbols in the world around us.
- Size adds dynamics to the design, highlighting the dominating features that draw users’ attention.
- Space inspires imagination and establishes a visual hierarchy among the elements, making it easier for users to understand the information importance.
- Texture creates a tactile experience, drawing the viewer's attention to your visuals. It can also help convey a particular message and emotions to your target audience.
Graphic Design Principles
Graphic design principles help align the abovementioned elements in an aesthetically attractive design. They include:
- Balance fits the visual weight of details on both design sides to provide the feeling of coherence, completeness and satisfaction to the viewer.
- Contrast adds visual interest to your design and draws users' attention to emphasize important parts.
- Movement guides viewers through graphic design composition and controls how they interact with the piece.
- Repetition is self-explanatory - an element repeats numerous times, helping to create depth or texture in a design.
- Proportion communicates the importance of design elements - larger shapes are more important, while smaller ones are inferior.
- Emphasis draws viewers' attention to the focal point of the design, where the most important message of your graphic artwork is presented.
- Rhythm improves design aesthetics, highlighting certain elements and conveying desired messages. Rhythm also affects how viewers' eyes move through a page and absorb information.
Stages of Graphic Design Process
Although every designer has a different working routine, generally speaking, the graphic design process takes place through the following steps:
1. Creating Project Brief
Writing a project brief, which serves as the basis for the graphic design project, is the first step of the graphic design process. The designer asks the client about the problem that the design is supposed to solve, its requests and expectations. A project brief ensures that the client and the graphic designer are on the same page about the project.
2. Researching the Project
During the research phase, the graphic designer introduces the characteristics of the product. They identify competition, their strengths and weaknesses, spots potential problems and decide how to enhance them. Performing research also enables designers to choose the best design strategy and find inspiration for a particular project.
3. Brainstorming Ideas and Creating Wireframe
After research, the graphic designers brainstorm possible project solutions and begin constructing the basic structure for the finished product. This stage may also be referred to as a wireframe or mockup. The wireframe is simple and serves as a preview of the finished design, which is presented to the client to confirm that it fulfills their request.
4. Creating Actual Design
After the wireframe is approved, the designer will produce the actual design. The designer begins incorporating design elements into the sketch or prototype, such as color, line, shape, size, space or texture. Graphic designers frequently provide multiple iterations of the final design so the client can select the one that best suits their requirements.
5. Getting Clients' Feedback
After submitting the design, the designer gets feedback from the client. Gathering feedback is important because it confirms (or denies) that the design is aligned with clients' expectations. The client might request design adjustments. This process could take time; after each adjustment round, a designer should ask for feedback to ensure clients' requests are followed.
6. Project Delivery
Once the client approves the modified design, the designer can deliver a finished product. The designer sends the project according to the instructions, so the client does not need further edits or adjustments.
6 Types of Graphic Designs
Although the areas in which it is used overlap, we can roughly distinguish six types of graphic design:
- Web Design. Graphic design combines and arranges elements to create a website’s visual identity. An appealing-looking and functional website design provides a satisfying user experience and communicates the brand’s messages to its target audience.
- Product Design is a process of imagining and creating material and digital products that solve users' problems and specific needs. In this process, designers use a visual aid to communicate with their target audience.
- Branding Design includes essential components, like the logo, color scheme and typography, which distinguish the brand from the competition and make it recognizable to customers.
- Print Design is a type of visual communication that prints attractive designs on paper and serves them to the target audience instead of offering them in digital form.
- Animation Design includes animation and special effects to create multimedia content for video games, movies, TV or social media platforms.
- Environmental Design is a process that considers environmental concerns when creating programs, structures, strategies and products across many industries.
Best Graphic Design Tools
Now that you are familiar with graphic design elements, principles and the entire process functioning, it’s time to introduce tools that make the best graphic design trends come to life.
Here are some of the often-used aids:
- Photoshop is the most famous graphic design tool of all. It is irreplaceable for editing all photos, but it also offers 2D and 3D image management, composting, image analysis and video editing.
- Illustrator allows the creation of all types of graphic design content — from vectors and logos to complex graphics and fonts. Although many consider it Photoshop’s alternative, Illustrator is a vector-oriented tool that allows you to edit images without compromising quality.
- Sketch is a vector-based valuable help in designing icons, advertising banners, social networking graphics and presentation materials. Additionally, it features a wide range of UI and UX applications, including icon design, prototyping and user flow creation.
- InDesign is a designer tool ideal for publishers because it facilitates the creation of layouts for newspapers and magazines. Designers can efficiently organize text, design layout formats, add picture placeholders and save documents in a print-ready format.
- After Effects tool is intended for motion design and visual effects; It allows designers to produce animations, movie titles, transitions and 3D formats.
What Is Graphic Design: Final Thoughts
Whether you present material or digital products to today’s market, their attractive design is more important than you could assume. 94% of customers confess that their first impressions of a brand are design-related — graphic design can make or break users' experience.
You have only 50 milliseconds to impact customers' opinions, so you better make them worth it!
73% of companies invest money in design to stand out from the competition and 69% of companies that improve their design are more likely to exceed their business goals.
Graphic design can make your brand visually more appealing, but that’s not all — it can also improve how you communicate with your audience, advancing your entire business functioning.
Considering graphic design's importance for businesses of all kinds, now that you have elementary knowledge about it, it’s time to level up your business game — alone or with the help of a professional graphic design agency.