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.
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.
Paleolithic Rock Art (Altamira Cave, Spain)
Prehistoric rock paintings (Cave Chauvet, France)
Negative images of human hands (Cave de las Manos, Argentina)
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.
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.
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.
The evolution of Chinese characters. Poster by Jason Chang
Details of Egyptian hieroglyphs (Luxor, Valley of the Kings)
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.
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.
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.
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.
"The Book of Kells". Fragment (Scotland)
"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.
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.
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