Welcome to an overview of Graphic Design History.

In these pages we examine the artistic, social, and technological influences on graphic design from the Industrial Revolution to the present.

I’ve collected many excellent links and resources for you to bookmark. This information only skims the surface of design history — there is so much more than can fit into a single website. For more in-depth information I highly recommend books by Philip Meggs’ History of Graphic Design and any of Steven Heller’s many books on graphic design.

I am a graphic designer.

I have a responsibility to my craft, which is the reason I’ve written this blog.

Prior to 1440 the only way to reproduce anything on paper (and remember, paper was pretty rare back then) was with tedious hand-drawn calligraphy and wood-block carvings.

In 1455, a German goldsmith named Johannes Gutenberg published a revolutionary work – a bible using his invention of re-usable blocks of letters made from his own custom blend of metals that could withstand the pressure of a printing press. He also experimented with ink, paper, and different sorts of presses. He was able to make around 180 identical copies of the bible with this method – and it revolutionized the world.

Fifty years later, printing shops using this new technology opened in every major city in Europe. In that short  time an enormous new industry evolved with many new professions: paper manufacturers, type designers, engravers, type setters, printers, and even news papers.

(an interesting aside: there was a newsletter in 1556 in Venice that sold for one gazetta – a small coin –  which became the origin of the English word gazette, another term for newspaper).

The development of printing brought about a major change in the world. The spread of knowledge and scientific discoveries promoted more scientific development and became a milestone in the historical progress towards modern times.

We are living in a revolution.

Fast forward 550 years to now — another communication revolution on the same global scale has occurred. Now, the technology for reproducing works has become cheap enough and easy enough that anyone can publish anything to be read on paper or on personal computers. (It’s worth noting this is happening at a time when most of the world’s population can read.)

Over the last 500+ years, we have seen Western culture evolve through experiments in technology that brought photography and color to the printed page.  We have passed through a variety of styles (arts & craft, modernist, deco, etc) in response to the social and political trends of the times. Yet graphic designers are the minds and hands through which published communication travels.

Just like the communication revolution that followed Gutenberg’s work, we have entered a new era in communication. Many new industries and new professions have developed: information architects, user interface experts, application developers, and the like. And at the same time, instant grass-roots communication is becoming important. We don’t yet know where technology will take us, but we are experiencing yet another revolution in visual communication.

It is our responsibility to honor our long history of being a conduit of knowledge to the greater world. It is up to us to  resist being conned into using our talent for propaganda, for unsustainable consumption, for political fear mongers. Ours is an honorable and ancient profession of artists, writers, inventors, and skillful communicators.

We need to know where we’ve been in order to see where we are going, because it’s all interconnected. And it’s all very interesting.

Renée C. Tafoya,
Associate Professor of Art + Graphic Design
Northwest College


About Renée Claire Tafoya

Graphic designer, educator, publisher.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Welcome

  1. Hello Green Tea, the information I’ve presented comes from a variety of sources and I include a bibliography with each page. I am presenting the info for educational purposes and I want to share it freely. When you don’t want something shared or quoted without attribution, it’s nearly impossible to control violations unless you publish it in a book (remember those?). Another method I’ve seen is to publish the work as a pdf online – makes copying and pasting more difficult. Of course you should put a copyright notice on your site – an example of a good notice can be found here: a href=”http://www.designhistory.org/howtouse.html”

  2. Samantha says:

    Wonderful site. A lot of useful information here.

    I am sending it to a few pals ans additionally sharing in delicious.
    And of course, thanks on your sweat!

  3. With havin so much content and articles do you ever run
    into any problems of plagorism or copyright violation?
    My website has a lot of completely unique content I’ve either written myself or outsourced but it appears a lot of it is popping it up all over the internet without my permission. Do you know any techniques to help protect against content from being ripped off? I’d certainly appreciate

  4. Torsten says:

    Wow that was strange. I just wrote an very long comment
    but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
    Regardless, just wanted to say superb blog!

  5. Great site! Appreciate you sharing it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s