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Graphic Design Through the Ages – Camelback Displays

The word Graphics comes from the Greek word γραφικός, (graphikos) which means “drawing, painting, writing, a type of writing, description, etc.”. At its widest definition, it therefore includes the whole history of art, although painting and other aspects of the subject are more usually treated as art history.

Early Cave Paintings

From the earliest cave paintings right through to 3-D (three-dimensional) digital design, graphics and graphic design have been around for a very long time. And as soon as humans were able to find elements to draw with, the first types of “advertising” were created. Yes, even cave drawings were a form of advertising! They clearly depicted feats of bravery or something so special, it was worthy of permanently etching such an event – for all time.

Paleolithic cave painting: Vallon-Pont-d'Arc, France 15,000-18,000 BC

Paleolithic cave painting: Vallon-Pont-d’Arc, France 15,000-18,000 BC

Greek border style: A Plate showing typical borders used
Roman style architecture: Building with Corinthian columns and text engraved on the apex facet

Greco-Roman Era

Ancient Greek art stands out among that of other ancient cultures for its development of naturalistic but idealized depictions of the human body. The famous and distinctive style of Greek vase-painting with figures depicted with strong outlines, with thin lines within the outlines, reached its peak from about 600 to 350 BC. The iconic border styles used by ancient Greek designers is as ubiquitous today as it was thousands of years ago. Rome’s influence in design was substantial too. While the Romans absorbed many Greek design themes, one of the most important Roman contributions was the introduction of typography standards in architecture and sculpture.

Religious Texts and Iconography

Many books in the classical world were illustrated, although now, only a handful of original examples survive. Medieval religious illuminated manuscripts used graphics extensively. Among these books are the Gospel books of Insular art, created in the monasteries of the British Isles. The graphics in these books are influenced by the Animal style of the “barbarian” peoples of Northern Europe, with much use of interlace and geometric decoration. All of these designs were hand drawn and laid out, often by scribes and because of the scarcity of these books, many people did not have the ability to read (let alone, write) and it was the privilege of the wealthy to acquire such written works.
It was only until the first printing presses were invented, did this laborious task become more available to the general public.
Religious symbolism and text: An early hand drawn and illustrated bible

Religious symbolism and text: An early hand drawn and illustrated bible

First printing press: A recreated Gutenberg press at the International Printing Museum

First printing press: A recreated Gutenberg press at the International Printing Museum

The First Printing Press

The printing press was invented in the Holy Roman Empire by the German Johannes Gutenberg around 1440, based on existing screw presses. Gutenberg, a goldsmith by profession, developed a complete printing system, which perfected the printing process through all of its stages by adapting existing technologies to the printing purposes, as well as making groundbreaking inventions of his own. His newly devised hand mold made for the first time possible the precise and rapid creation of metal movable type in large quantities, a key element in the profitability of the whole printing enterprise.
The printing press spread within several decades to over two hundred cities in a dozen European countries. By 1500, printing presses in operation throughout Western Europe had already produced more than twenty million volumes. In the 16th century, with presses spreading further afield, their output rose tenfold to an estimated 150 to 200 million copies. The operation of a press became so synonymous with the enterprise of printing that it lent its name to an entire new branch of media, the press?
In Renaissance Europe, the arrival of mechanical movable type printing introduced the era of mass communication which permanently altered the structure of society: The relatively unrestricted circulation of information and (revolutionary) ideas transcended borders, captured the masses in the Reformation and threatened the power of political and religious authorities; the sharp increase in literacy broke the monopoly of the literate elite on education and learning and bolstered the emerging middle class.
For years, book printing was considered a true art form. Typesetting, or the placement of the characters on the page, including the use of ligatures, was passed down from master to apprentice.

The Industrial Revolution

At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, the mechanics of the hand-operated Gutenberg-style press were still essentially unchanged, although new materials in its construction, amongst other innovations, had gradually improved its printing efficiency.
Two ideas altered the design of the printing press radically: First, the use of steam power for running the machinery, and second the replacement of the printing flatbed with the rotary motion of cylinders.
It is during this era that modern graphic design was conceived. Slow at first but quick to catch on, new ideas, new approaches, new methods…. from The French Impressionists, to the Pre-Raphaelites – people began to change the way we looked at the most ordinary things in life.
Steam driven press: The industrial revolution saw the development of bigger and faster presses

Steam driven press: The industrial revolution saw the development of bigger and faster presses

Graphic Painting: Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow, 1930 by Piet Mondrian

Graphic Painting: Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow, 1930 by Piet Mondrian

Graphics as an Art Form

Less is more. That is the basic premise of a minimalist color poster design. The Dutch painter Piet Mondrian in the years 1920-21 courageously introduced the style of minimalism in painting. His simple geometric compositions, together with the use of only three basic colors, blue, yellow, and red, in combination with black and white created a new venue for graphic designers. He demonstrated that with simple relocation of these colors, and experiment with the proportionality of various square surfaces one can achieve extremely different ambiances and various feelings. For the graphic designers who intend to convey a message with a minimum interference from the extraneous elements his experiment in minimalism was a valuable gift.

Graphic Design in Communication

Many medical organizations use the rod of Asclepius as their logo, since it symbolizes the healing arts. This kind of sign is called pictogram. The main advantage of a pictogram is that one does not need to be able to read or to understand a particular language in order to be able to understand the information it conveys. The traffic sign shown, is for no parking zone. The red circle with a diagonal line crossing it coveys the idea of “Not Allowed”, and is called an ideogram.

It is here during the early 20th century that our modern version of icons had their roots. Dr. David Canfield Smith first coined the term “icon” in his landmark 1975 PhD thesis “Pygmalion: A Creative Programming Environment”. In his work, Dr. Smith envisioned a scenario in which “visual entities”, called icons, could execute lines of programming code, and save the operation for later re-execution. Dr. Smith later served as one of the principal designers of the Xerox Star, which became the first commercially available personal computing system based on the desktop metaphor when it was released in 1981. “The icons on [the desktop] are visible concrete embodiments of the corresponding physical objects.” The desktop and icons displayed in this first desktop model are easily recognizable by users several decades later, and display the main components of the desktop metaphor GUI.
This model of the desktop metaphor has been adopted by most personal computing systems in the last decades of the 20th century; it remains popular as a “simple intuitive navigation by single user on single system. It is only at the beginning of the 21st century that personal computing is evolving a new metaphor based on Internet connectivity and teams of users, cloud computing. In this new model, data and tools are no longer stored on the single system, instead they are stored someplace else, “in the cloud”. The cloud metaphor is replacing the desktop model; it remains to be seen how many of the common desktop icons (file, file folder, trashcan, inbox, filing cabinet) find a place in this new metaphor.

Pictogram: A pictorial symbol for a word or phrase (sometimes referred to as pictograph). Pictograms were used as the earliest known form of writing, examples having been discovered in Egypt and Mesopotamia from before 3000 BC.

Ideogram: A written character symbolizing the idea of a thing without indicating the sounds used to say it.

Computer desktop icons: One of the earliest computer graphics were “Icons” referred to sometimes as GUI – Graphic User Interface.

Bauhaus School: A German art school operational from 1919 to 1933 that combined crafts and the fine arts, and was famous for the approach to design that it publicized and taught.

Bauhaus School: A German art school operational from 1919 to 1933 that combined crafts and the fine arts, and was famous for the approach to design that it publicized and taught.

Raymond Loewy designs: A snapshot of some of the most recognizable works and logos.

Raymond Loewy designs: A snapshot of some of the most recognizable works and logos.

Paul Rand designs: Logos and types of branding

Paul Rand designs: Logos and types of branding.

Milton Glaser designs: Glaser's most iconic logo

Milton Glaser designs: Glaser’s most iconic logo.

Pioneers of Graphic Design

Traditionally, graphic designs purpose through history was the communication of ideas and meaning through the use of graphic elements like typography, photography, and illustration. Strictly an artistic enterprise in spirit, it stands apart from more traditional arts like painting, printmaking, and sculpture because of its ubiquitous role that it plays in mass media and technology. These factors and their associated pressures have come to define the utility in various parts of this field. Below are some of the founding fathers (or schools) that have played an integral role in the graphic design arena:
Bauhaus school of art, had a great influence on modern architecture, the industrial design and graphic arts. It was founded  by the architect Walter Gropius in Weimar in 1919 who served as its director until 1928.  It was created by a merger of an art academy and an arts and crafts school, based on a philosophy that the crafts and arts are inseparable and they stem from the same aesthetic grounding. The school believed that modern art and architecture must be responsive to the needs and influences of the modern industrial world and must aim  at raising the quality of everyday life through the construction of buildings, design objects, and art works according to  aesthetics of modernity, universality and sound engineering.  It offered courses in crafts, typography, and commercial and industrial design, as well as in sculpture, painting, and architecture.
Raymond Loewy, was one of the best known industrial designers of the 20th century. Born in France, he spent most of his professional career in the United States. Among his many contributions were the Shell logo and the Greyhound bus logo. The most challenging corporate identity for Loewy, was when in 1966 Jersey Standard Oil, commonly known as ESSO, commissioned him to rebrand their name and logo. The rebranding was the result of a bitter legal battle over brand name identity and infringement brought against ESSO by Standard Oil, Loewy had the impossible task of altering, yet retaining ESSO’s corporate identity. Loewy gathered his top designers in a conference room and wrote the word “ESSO” on a blackboard. Then he said; “Here is the problem. We have to get rid of the sound of this name.” He crossed out the two Ss with the two large Xs, and the name EXXON was created! He correctly argued that consumers would recall ESSO subliminally by visualizing the two crossed out Ss in EXXON.

Paul Rand, IN 1986, Steve Jobs was a guy trying to launch a start-up. Having been ousted from Apple the year before, he and a small band of employees were in the early stages of building a new computer company called Next. Jobs had invested millions in the venture, and his reputation as a visionary business leader was staked on its success. The group was still working out key details about its products. But Jobs was certain about one thing: He needed a logo from Paul Rand.

Perhaps more than any other single designer, Paul Rand was responsible for defining visual culture in America in the decades following World War II. He radically transformed advertising, blowing away the dust of the Depression era and pioneering a new, modern approach to selling products. He helped convince some of nation’s biggest corporations that good design was good business, crafting indelible logos for the likes of IBM, UPS, and ABC.
Milton Glaser was born in New York City to Hungarian Jewish immigrants. He attended The High School of Music & Art, and graduated from Cooper Union in New York City. By a Fulbright scholarship, he also studied graphic design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna, Italy. 1954 he co-founded Push Pin Studios, along with fellow Cooper grads Edward Sorel, Seymour Chwast, and Reynold Ruffins. Glaser and Chwast directed Push Pin for twenty years, while it became a guiding reference in the world of graphic design. One of Glaser’s most recognizable works is his I “Heart” New York logo. It was Glaser who came up with the design in the back of a taxi cab on the way to a meeting.


Today, there are may sub-facets of graphic design. Technology and the ever increasing rise of computer power has played a giant part in this. Web design and E-Commerce, Digital Animation and Illustration, Digital Video Production Design, 3-D Design and Auto CAD, Packaging Design, Multimedia Design, Gaming Platform Design, Digital Media App Design are just to name a few! And all of these rely heavily on raw computer processing power.
Our world is filled with instantly recognizable brands and logos – this chart shows just what brands and logos people today immediately can identify.
It’s interesting to note that the logo of the oldest company in this chart was originally designed in 1892 by Frank M Robinson and has changed very little since it’s inception. The second oldest logo on this list was created in 1898 and the third oldest…. 1902! All within a decade of each other! Which logo is the youngest? Well, this logo first appeared in 1998 – Google.
What will be the instantly recognizable logo of “tomorrow”?  History has shown us that everything is “up for grabs”. Maybe it will be a wildly popular video game or the logo of a cartoon character. Or, maybe it will be a new restaurant chain or clothing company. What is certain, is that it will be from the mind of a conceptual designer and creative thinker who will leap over the boundaries of tradition and conformity with imagination and style.
Top ten most recognized logos: These logos are globally recognized

Top ten most recognized logos: These logos are globally recognized.

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