So, what is graphic design?


New Member
Hi everyone, I was wondering if you wouldn't mind contributing towards my final university project.

Basically I am exploring how the discipline and practice of graphic design does not seem to have a formal definition, as it tends to vary from person to person, from people within the field to those with no design experience.
So can you tell me what you think graphic design and the role of the designer is?
Do you have any experience where you are trying to explain what you do to someone and they don't really understand what it is?
Does graphic design even need a formal definition?

I am really interested to know what everyone's views and ideas on this are! Thank you.
To me, Graphic Design is to be able to communicate certain message/s through various mediums. The skill is to be able to communicate a message in a clever, non-confusing and unobtrusive way, to meet the intentions of the brief through well thought out planning and execution.

It can be argued that any form of communication can be interpreted as Graphic Design and to a degree I also believe this. As long as the communication is documented and a record kept then yes, pretty much anything can be Graphic Design. Even sound!

Most people believe that Graphic Design is just Computers, Drawings etc. This is where I believe that Graphic Design can be categorised and that this list of categorisation is never ending, which is why Graphic Design is such a fantastically creative industry to work in.
Thank you for your response, it's great to see what other people think.

It seems that whenever I tell people what I am studying the general response is "does that mean you draw things?" and "what can you do with that!"
Well, 'graphic design' could mean heaps of things, but in practice, and as Topper mentions, they are all related with communication, putting across a message of some sort. In the real world, graphic design is about just that, making things more intelligible. The classic things are advertising, magazines and the like, and that's where most kids seem to want to be, which is fair enough, because that's the glam side of it, but graphic design is also making motorway signs easier to follow (without unduly distracting the driver), labeling toilets efficiently so that people don't go in the ladies' or gents' by mistake, and so on.

I'm not a designer myself, my main connection with the discipline is through my wife, a book designer. The basic principle of book design is that reading of the contents of the book should be facilitated as much as possible and that there should be no elements which impede understanding - the first thing fledgling book designers learn is that 'widows' and 'orphans' must be eliminated like vermin. There is the vast field of typography, which font is most suitable for that kind of book. Sidebars need to be sidebars, they mustn't be confused with the main text, headings ditto, etc. Then there are indices, footnotes, endnotes, bibliographies (wow, can bibliographies get complicated!), and a very, very long etcetera. And book covers are a whole sub-field to themselves, almost a genre.

In short - graphic design = visual communication.
Hey =) I'm currently applying for Graphic Design at university and, similar to the above posts, I think that Graphic Design is an arrangement of typography, illustration and photography which effectively and creatively communicates ideas to viewers.
Thats what I think at the moment anyway xD

You might know this already but there's a book called 'What is Graphic Design for?' by Alice Twemlow and she's included lots of quotes throughout the book, from different designers, about what they think graphic design is and what its for. Hope this helps =)
Shoot me down but I think that - more often than not - the perception is, in fact, the reality: graphic design is making utilitarian stuff look better.
Cheers for the replies!

Has anyone said outright to you that (whether you are studying or working) that graphic design is a useless discipline to pursue as "no one needs it". Some family members can be oh so supportive...
Cheers for the replies!

Has anyone said outright to you that (whether you are studying or working) that graphic design is a useless discipline to pursue as "no one needs it". Some family members can be oh so supportive...

graphic design is where one uses art in order to MARKET a message to a DEFINED AUDIENCE.

loving my caps - thats the commercial definition
I'm a Graphic Design student, and my friends from back home are oblivious to what Graphic Design is, so when the obvious question of "What do you do?" kept on creeping up (after attempting to explain with mouthful after mouthful of words) I finally narrow it down to a sentence;

I visually represent a message.

So in reply to the thread question, graphic designing is visually representing a message threw whatever method you personally think is best. That's what makes each designer different; the way they execute their method of design.
"I create order from chaos."

Ok, that was a little pretentious but that's one of the main elements of good graphic design, especially when talking about editorial design for example. Legibility and an aesthetically pleasing layout (complete with hierarchy) are the main aim.

Logo design and advertising is more about the creative idea and representing something in a simple, yet clever way that non-designers can also 'get'.

In future I'm planning to specialise in a niche just so I can say to people "I design book jackets" or "I design logos" since it's easier than boring them with a list of things I do that they're really not interested in knowing.