History of graphic design. Origin
History of graphic design

His­tory of graph­ic design. Part 1. Ori­gin

First of all, you should un­der­stand what lies be­hind such a phrase as "graph­ic design". Al­though this term is now un­der­stood as a vast pro­fes­sion­al activ­ity that is car­ried out by a sep­ar­ate group of people (graph­ic de­sign­ers), it is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to give a pre­cise defin­i­tion of this concept for sev­er­al reas­ons.

First, it is worth start­ing with the fact that this term ap­peared quite re­cently by his­tor­ic­al stand­ards. In 1922, the Amer­ic­an print­er and cal­li­graph­er Wil­li­am Ad­dis­on Dwig­gins in­tro­duced it to book pub­lish­ing. There­fore, in the clas­sic­al sense, "graph­ic design" means activ­it­ies re­lated to the visu­al design of prin­ted products, such as books, cata­logs, ad­vert­ising posters, and so on.

Secondly, as it of­ten hap­pens, in the pro­cess of de­vel­op­ment of graph­ic design, more and more new dir­ec­tions and func­tions began to be at­trib­uted to this defin­i­tion. There­fore, now the term "graph­ic design" has be­come a much more vo­lu­min­ous concept than it was be­fore. If we give a brief defin­i­tion, then today it is un­der­stood as any artist­ic activ­ity to cre­ate ef­fect­ive visu­al com­mu­nic­a­tion between people. The key here is the phrase "visu­al com­mu­nic­a­tion", which, as you know, oc­curs with the help of vari­ous signs, im­ages, im­ages and oth­er things. In mod­ern graph­ic design, it is im­per­at­ive to use such means as text (ty­po­graphy), im­ages, sym­bols, col­ors, etc., and the main task of a graph­ic de­sign­er has be­come to com­bine all this in­to a har­mo­ni­ous and at­tract­ive whole.

The new defin­i­tion now cov­ers not only prin­ted products, but also cov­ers a wider class of design areas: logo design, cor­por­ate iden­tity (iden­tity), pack­aging design for food and non-food products, design of al­co­hol­ic bever­ages (in­clud­ing la­bels), visu­al design of web­sites, ap­plic­a­tions and more.

In this art­icle, we will try to briefly con­sider the his­tory of the de­vel­op­ment of graph­ic design us­ing the main stages of its form­a­tion as an ex­ample.

Stage 1. Draw­ings

The his­tory of the cre­ation of graph­ic design began long be­fore the afore­men­tioned Dwig­gins, back in the Pa­leo­lith­ic era. It was the first rock art that be­came the start­ing point from which it is worth start­ing the his­tory of graph­ic design. At that time, it could only in­clude draw­ings made by prim­it­ive people in the caves of Europe and Asia.

His­tor­i­ans still can­not ac­cur­ately un­der­stand the reas­ons for their ap­pear­ance. Some be­lieve that the draw­ings arose as a res­ult of cer­tain re­li­gious rituals, which, ac­cord­ing to the first people, could bring good luck in hunt­ing. Oth­ers be­lieve that an­cient im­ages are the res­ult of the so­cial need of cave people to com­mu­nic­ate with each oth­er and trans­fer in­form­a­tion from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. Be that as it may, for­tu­nately for us, this pro­cess was launched and act­ively de­veloped by them as tech­no­logy im­proved. Look­ing ahead, we note that the his­tor­ic­al de­vel­op­ment of graph­ic design is primar­ily due to two reas­ons: the con­stant de­sire to dis­cov­er something new, in­her­ent in us from birth, and the de­vel­op­ment of tech­no­lo­gies that al­low us to trans­late this new in­to real­ity.

History of graphic design

Pa­leo­lith­ic Rock Art (Altamira Cave, Spain)

History of graphic design

Pre­his­tor­ic rock paint­ings (Cave Chauvet, France)

History of graphic design

Neg­at­ive im­ages of hu­man hands (Cave de las Manos, Ar­gen­tina)

History of graphic design

Rock paint­ing (Las­caux cave, France)

In that dis­tant peri­od, those prim­it­ive people who cre­ated cave paint­ings con­di­tion­ally ac­ted as graph­ic de­sign­ers. These draw­ings were quite simple and de­pic­ted vari­ous an­im­als. In the Meso­lith­ic and Neo­lith­ic era, the draw­ings be­came more com­plex, they af­fected vari­ous as­pects of the life of the first people: the palms of the hands, an­im­als, fire, tools, the pro­cess of hunt­ing and gath­er­ing, sil­hou­ettes of people, and so on. As a rule, the im­ages were mono­chrome us­ing dyes of min­er­al, an­im­al or ve­get­able ori­gin. In the pro­cess of de­vel­op­ment, the draw­ings began to be made more ac­cur­ately, volume and col­or were ad­ded, the pro­por­tions of the fig­ures and per­spect­ive were taken in­to ac­count, and move­ment was trans­mit­ted. Later, cave paint­ing began to de­vel­op from real­ism in the dir­ec­tion of styl­iz­a­tion of im­ages.

Stage 2. Writ­ing

So, at the end of the first stage, hu­man­ity has mastered draw­ings for trans­mit­ting in­form­a­tion. Now the ques­tion arose of de­vel­op­ing new means of trans­mit­ting or­al speech. In the be­gin­ning, people tried to use the stand­ard items that they had at hand for this: beads, shells, sticks, and the like. The so-called "sub­ject writ­ing" was formed. However, it was an ex­tremely in­ef­fi­cient way of com­mu­nic­a­tion and was gradu­ally aban­doned.

The an­cient Sumeri­ans solved this prob­lem in a very ori­gin­al way. They un­der­stood that draw­ings were still a power­ful way to con­vey in­form­a­tion to an­oth­er per­son. There­fore, for each ob­ject, ob­ject, phe­nomen­on or fig­ure, they came up with spe­cial signs (pic­to­grams). Of­ten they were schem­at­ic. From this peri­od of the birth of pic­to­graph­ic writ­ing, the second stage in the de­vel­op­ment of graph­ic design be­gins.

History of graphic design

Sumeri­an cunei­form. Clay tab­let from Ur re­cord­ing the dis­tri­bu­tion of bar­ley

At that time, the Sumeri­ans used a man-made clay tab­let as a car­ri­er of in­form­a­tion, and pic­to­grams were squeezed out us­ing spe­cial wooden tools. However, this meth­od turned out to be not very re­li­able in prac­tice, since these plates were ex­tremely fra­gile, quite heavy and large. For these reas­ons, they have sur­vived in small num­bers to the present day.

Pic­to­grams cer­tainly had their mer­its. For ex­ample, they were quite uni­ver­sal, as they can be un­der­stood by people who speak dif­fer­ent lan­guages. That is why pic­to­grams are act­ively used by mod­ern de­sign­ers today. For ex­ample, they can be found in vari­ous in­ter­faces of op­er­at­ing sys­tems, ap­plic­a­tions, and the like. However, pic­to­graph­ic writ­ing can­not form a text in its lin­guist­ic sense, so they gradu­ally began to aban­don it.

The fur­ther de­vel­op­ment of writ­ing was based on the so-called ideo­grams - spe­cial signs or draw­ings that de­noted not only the concept de­pic­ted on them, but also in­dir­ectly with it. It could be ob­tained us­ing a simple lo­gic­al chain. Nowadays, ideo­grams, along with pic­to­grams, are also act­ively used by de­sign­ers in the in­ter­faces of op­er­at­ing sys­tems and mo­bile ap­plic­a­tions, road signs, air­ports, hos­pit­als, phar­ma­cies, toi­lets, and so on.

On the basis of ideo­grams in an­cient China, Egypt, Ja­pan, Korea and oth­er coun­tries, the first hiero­glyphs were cre­ated, which were first used in writ­ing.

From the point of view of graph­ic design, such an art dir­ec­tion as cal­li­graphy be­gins to act­ively de­vel­op dur­ing this peri­od. The first laws of con­struc­tion and lay­out of hand­writ­ten texts (manuscripts) be­gin to take shape.

History of graphic design

The evol­u­tion of Chinese char­ac­ters. Poster by Jason Chang

History of graphic design

De­tails of Egyp­tian hiero­glyphs (Luxor, Val­ley of the Kings)

History of graphic design

An ex­ample of Ja­pan­ese cal­li­graphy

From a tech­no­lo­gic­al point of view, there has also been sig­ni­fic­ant pro­gress. Clay tab­lets began to be aban­doned every­where. Manuscripts were cre­ated on three dif­fer­ent me­dia: parch­ment, pa­pyr­us and pa­per. Parch­ment was cre­ated in an­cient Per­sia from pro­cessed an­im­al skin, while pa­pyr­us was cre­ated in Egypt from or­din­ary reeds. Pa­per was cre­ated in China from bam­boo, the tech­no­logy of its man­u­fac­ture was kept in the strict­est con­fid­ence. All ma­ter­i­als were ex­tremely ex­pens­ive and dif­fi­cult to man­u­fac­ture. Each of them had both its ad­vant­ages and dis­ad­vant­ages. Parch­ment was an ex­tremely re­li­able me­di­um, be­sides, it could be writ­ten on both sides, so it be­came the most com­mon in writ­ing. Pa­pyr­us was whiter, but re­quired more strin­gent stor­age con­di­tions. Pa­per, on the oth­er hand, was dis­trib­uted only in China, after 500 years the tech­no­logy of its man­u­fac­ture leaked to Korea and Ja­pan, and it reached Egypt only in the 12th cen­tury AD. and sup­planted pa­pyr­us, in the same cen­tury she reached Europe.

Stage 3. Hand­writ­ten books

Upon com­ple­tion of the second stage, the de­sign­ers had a full ar­sen­al of tools (draw­ings, writ­ing and me­dia) for the break­through de­vel­op­ment of graph­ic design. The third stage came, which marked the cre­ation of books and the rules for their design. It has its roots in the an­cient civil­iz­a­tions of Egypt, China, Greece and Rome. It was there that the first books began to ap­pear, which con­sisted of sep­ar­ate stitched manuscripts. Un­for­tu­nately, not all of them can be care­fully ana­lyzed from the point of view of design, and some of them have not sur­vived at all to this day. There were cases of de­lib­er­ate de­struc­tion of books. For ex­ample, due to the fact that parch­ment was quite ex­pens­ive, the pages of many an­cient books in the Middle Ages were worn out in or­der to be re­used (pal­impsest books).

The first of the books on which I would like to stop my close at­ten­tion will be the an­cient Egyp­tian "Book of the Dead". It is a col­lec­tion of pa­pyr­us scrolls con­tain­ing sac­red texts de­signed to help the dead in the af­ter­life. In it, hiero­glyph­ic nar­rat­ives, su­perbly writ­ten by scribes, are il­lus­trated with col­or­ful il­lus­tra­tions. Words and im­ages are com­bined in­to a single whole: both ele­ments are com­pressed in­to a ho­ri­zont­al strip, the ver­tic­al struc­ture of writ­ing is re­peated both in columns and in fig­ures, a single stroke style is used for writ­ing and draw­ing.

An­cient Egyp­tian scribes and il­lus­trat­ors were able to bring something new to book pub­lish­ing, but this happened nat­ur­ally in the pro­cess of their cre­ation, so to speak, on an un­con­scious level. For them­selves, they saw the main task in cre­at­ing a har­mo­ni­ous com­bin­a­tion of text and im­ages to ef­fect­ively con­vey the idea of ​​their manuscripts. Note that all mod­ern graph­ic de­sign­ers are strug­gling to solve the same prob­lem. There­fore, it is safe to say that dur­ing this peri­od all the ba­sic ideas and rules of this type of design were laid down.

History of graphic design

Book of the Dead by Ne­siamun. Frag­ment (An­cient Egypt)

In the Middle Ages, in con­nec­tion with the spread of Chris­tian­ity, manuscripts of the Holy Scrip­ture began to ap­pear, which were cre­ated by monks in mon­as­ter­ies. They were writ­ten mainly on parch­ment, since this ma­ter­i­al could bend well and sew per­fectly in­to books. Pa­pyr­us manuscripts were not widely dis­trib­uted be­cause the pa­pyr­us was too brittle. And pa­per, as men­tioned above, gen­er­ally came to Europe only at the be­gin­ning of the 12th cen­tury.

In the Middle Ages, sep­ar­ate labor for the cre­ation of manuscripts began to take root in Europe, which led to the ap­pear­ance of the first books there. Sep­ar­ate writ­ing rooms (scrip­tor­ia) ap­peared in the mon­as­ter­ies, headed by spe­cial people who knew Lat­in and Greek very well. These were the first ed­it­ors in his­tory who were re­spons­ible for the design and pro­duc­tion of manuscripts. In these rooms, the scribe monks hunched over their desks for days on end, tran­scrib­ing texts page by page. They in­dic­ated the places on the page lay­outs where il­lus­tra­tions were to be ad­ded after the text was com­pleted. The il­lus­trat­ors cre­ated im­ages and em­bel­lish­ments for the text. When writ­ing their manuscripts, the monks began to un­der­stand that a well-chosen or­na­ment and col­or can cre­ate an artist­ic im­age, thereby set­ting the read­er in a cer­tain way. Un­doubtedly, the found reg­u­lar­it­ies began to be act­ively used sub­sequently.

History of graphic design

Ex­amples of manuscripts (left to right): Gos­pel of Saint Med­ard of Sois­sons, Gos­pel of Lindis­farne

Gen­er­ally speak­ing, it is worth not­ing that an­oth­er im­petus in the de­vel­op­ment of graph­ic design was such, at first glance, an un­pleas­ant fact as, from a tech­nic­al point of view, the pos­sib­il­ity of trav­el­ing between coun­tries and con­tin­ents. This led to a sep­ar­ate de­vel­op­ment of design, its in­di­vidu­al­iz­a­tion de­pend­ing on the re­gion. Even with­in Europe alone, one could count a huge vari­ety of page designs, il­lus­tra­tion and text styles, and book pro­duc­tion meth­ods. A strik­ing ex­ample of one of these styles is the Hi­berno-Sax­on book tra­di­tion, which was act­ively spread in Ire­land and Great Bri­tain in the peri­od from 500 to 900 AD. e. One of the most beau­ti­ful manuscripts in this style is con­sidered to be the Book of Kells, also known as the Book of Columba (circa 800 AD). An in­ter­est­ing fact: more than 150 calves had to be slaughtered to cre­ate it. This is a richly il­lus­trated hand­writ­ten book that in­cludes all four Gos­pels of the New Test­a­ment in Lat­in. Many art crit­ics agree that this is a real mas­ter­piece of cal­li­graphy, and the il­lus­tra­tions and or­na­ments used in it are so com­plex that even now, with cur­rent tech­no­lo­gies, they can­not be re­pro­duced with the same ac­cur­acy and fili­gree. The page dec­or­a­tion com­bines tra­di­tion­al Chris­ti­an icon­o­graphy with or­nate, swirl­ing dec­or­at­ive ele­ments. Al­most every page is unique in its beauty and grace. Fig­ures of people, an­im­als and myth­ic­al creatures, along with Celt­ic knots and in­ter­la­cing pat­terns of bright col­ors, bring the pages of this book to life. Some of the graph­ic ele­ments in­tro­duced in it were later re­cog­nized as Chris­ti­an sym­bols and are still used today. All this ad­di­tion­ally em­phas­izes the spe­cial role and sig­ni­fic­ance of this Gos­pel not only in the de­vel­op­ment of book design, but also in Chris­tian­ity. For­tu­nately, each of you can find the com­plete di­git­al ver­sion of the Book of Kells on the In­ter­net.

History of graphic design

"The Book of Kells". Frag­ment (Scot­land)

History of graphic design

"The Book of Kells". Pages (Scot­land)

I would also like to dwell on the "Winchester Bible", writ­ten pre­sum­ably in 1175 by Romanesque mini­atur­ists from Eng­land. It is in­ter­est­ing in that sev­er­al artists, dif­fer­ent in their tra­di­tions and af­fec­tions, par­ti­cip­ated in its cre­ation. Nev­er­the­less, they were able to cre­ate an in­teg­ral work, which is con­sidered ex­cep­tion­al in its kind for the rich­ness of the dec­or­at­ive design. Re­search­ers have been able to dis­cern the work of at least six dif­fer­ent mas­ters who have been work­ing on this book for 25 years. Des­pite the long peri­od of time, the book was not fully com­pleted: the cov­er and some il­lus­tra­tions were left un­fin­ished, and some pages were de­lib­er­ately re­moved from it later (in­clud­ing for fur­ther re­sale). Of course, there are also pos­it­ive as­pects: the text, mag­ni­fi­cent in its beauty, is com­pletely com­pleted.

History of graphic design

Winchester Bible. Pages (UK)

In ad­di­tion to European monks, res­id­ents of Is­lam­ic coun­tries also achieved high skill in the graph­ic design of books. This is es­pe­cially no­tice­able in the Per­sian mini­ature. For ex­ample, a col­or­ful il­lus­tra­tion to the work "Khamse" ("Kham­seh") by the great 12th-cen­tury poet Nezami (Neẓāmī) is con­sidered the pin­nacle of the Shiraz (Shīrāz) school. It de­picts the Per­sian king Khos­row II (Khos­row II) in front of the palace of his be­loved Shir­in (Shīrīn). Hu­man fig­ures, an­im­als, build­ings and the land­scape are presen­ted in the form of soph­ist­ic­ated forms, char­ac­ter­ized by lac­on­ic out­lines. The il­lus­tra­tion is filled with bright col­ors and dec­or­at­ive pat­terns in a tightly in­ter­con­nec­ted com­pos­i­tion.

History of graphic design

Per­sian manuscript "Khamsa" by the poet Nezami. Pages (Ilde­giz­id State)

Of course, you can cite a lot of oth­er books that have made a ser­i­ous con­tri­bu­tion to the de­vel­op­ment of graph­ic design. However, in our opin­ion, each of them de­serves sep­ar­ate close con­sid­er­a­tion out­side of this art­icle.

The third stage in the de­vel­op­ment of graph­ic design af­fected, as can be seen from the above, a long peri­od of time and ended with the ad­vent of the print­ing press in the 15th cen­tury.

Publication date: 08 February 2021