What is Graphic Design?

This question came from my ‘Ask Me Anything’ session, in my design class. The full inquiry is: “I’m currently a Graphic Design student but I feel like I haven’t grasped well the core of this field. What is the core of Graphic, and what is the core of Design?”

To answer this question, first of all we need to understand the role of Graphic Design (G.D.) in the world. Graphic Design is a branch of Communication Design. Communication here is the activity of transferring information from place to place. Humans have 5 entries for information reception. Therefore, as we wish to convey something to other human beings, we need to deliver information through those entries, which are our 5 basic senses: Hearing, Sight, Touch, Taste and Smell. For example, if we want to convey the information: “I am an elegant gentleman”, then such verbalization alone is ineffective. We need to rely on the other’s senses to convey it. Sight: dressing manner; Smell: perfume; Hearing: voice; Touch: skin; Taste: how you taste food/cocktail. The art of communication through these senses gave rise to all the subfields within Communication Design. To give some examples: we have Sound Design for Hearing, Perfume Design for Smell, the Braille Alphabet for Touch, Chefs/Bartenders for Taste, and finally, Graphic Design for Sight. We also have professions that incorporate those senses such as: Project Mapping (Sight + Hearing), Game Design (Sight + Hearing + Touch), Print Design (Sight + Touch), etc. Summing up the first point, G.D. serves the purpose of communication via sight. However, don’t mistake G.D. for Art. G.D. communicates on purpose, being incentive-driven, whereas Art, in most cases, is not needed.

The second thing is about graphic designers. A graphic designer basically resembles a scientist, but instead of doing research on, for instance, the effect of chemicals on people, we do research on the influence of visual elements on people. All visual elements like colour, shape, form, etc. provoke a definitive influence on our mental aspects. Graphic designers must understand and control these elements in combination to generate effective communication, serving to convey a message. What does this colour provoke? What does this shape communicate? How are the fonts? How to combine them all? Example: when we apply the colours yellow and red to a lucky money envelope, we are referring to Chinese New Year fortune, wealth, and reunion. Or when we use a styled handwritten font to design a love letter – that is our effort in communicating our affection through it.

Long story short, we can understand that the core of G.D. is the communication of messages via visual elements. And graphic designers are scientists doing research on the correlation between sight and psychology. We research, experiment and combine things to know their effect, and finally use it to fulfill the required communication duty.

I hope this response will clear up your query. This is part of the lesson on the first day as well. At class I will have more time to talk about basic Semiotics; you can google it beforehand to learn more about it. I wish you success!

Huy Ta