graphic design

graphic design
   Although it has been around for centuries in pageantry, stained glass windows and royal display, to name only a few examples, design’s rise to the point of cultural saturation is arguably the defining example of art meeting late capitalism in the twentieth century. Creative artists have come to be routinely employed by everyone from small businesses and marketing departments to governments and multinational corporations. Following the impact of modernism on all understanding of art, the increase in the level of general awareness of the importance of design across Western culture since the Second World War is remarkable, as designers and then consumers have learned to manipulate and process all kinds of graphical language across the arts and in the media. Design operates at the border of different, sometimes contradictory aims: for example, it can be used simultaneously to clarify and to distort, as with the famous design of the London Underground map which bears little relation in terms of verisimilitude to the positions and distances between stations, but is much more comprehensible and useful than a literal, scaled rendering of the Tube lines would be. Graphic design uses symbols, pictures, style and imagery for aesthetic, ideological and commercial reasons. It is driven by fashion and demand, but also creates fashions and desires.
   Design in photography has drawn on the techniques of surrealist imagery and cubist collage. The importance of stark, startling geometric patterns also dates from this period, particularly from Russian communist propaganda posters. Design is also greatly affected by technology: the airbrush, new paint materials, computer graphics (see computer graphics and multimedia) and computer-aided design all allow new ways of either creating or executing designs. Since the 1980s, microchip technology has resulted in brash, multi-layered, easily manipulable imagery which mixes text, photographs and illustrations in a fragmentary but cluttered cyberworld of Quantel Paintbox design.
   Typography has undergone several revolutions this century. It is now fashionable to eschew tradition, use precise geometrical shapes, avoid ornamentation, employ photographs for illustrative purposes and create contrast both through bright, primary colours and imagery. In Britain there is a strong tradition of typographical design. Edward Johnson designed the sans serif type for London Underground in 1916, Eric Gill produced the Gill Sans typeface for the Monotype Corporation in 1928, and, most influentially, Stanley Morrison (1889–1967) developed the now hegemonic Times New Roman typeface in 1932. Postwar Britain was largely conservative and took time to embrace the typographical strides taken in the USA, Germany and Switzerland. This was also a key time for the development of corporation logos (for example, the establishment of Henrion Design International in London in 1959), business heraldry and film posters, which fed off the International style of functional and aggressive designs which became somewhat predictable with their sharp lines and loud imagery. The reaction to this in the UK was pop art, the first British example of the world dreaming itself American: glossy, wealthy and sexy. The epitome of this style is Richard Hamilton’s famous 1956 design, ‘Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?’ One of the key realizations inherent in pop art, alongside the dominance of consumerism and popular culture, was the significance of mechanical reproduction: images were not unique one-off creations, but were to be replicated (hundreds of) thousands of times. This phenomenon led to a degree of sameness across the arts, as images circulated so widely that the knowledge of how to imitate successful styles and designs became commonplace. In the 1960s, the cut-and-paste amateur collage style was also exemplified by Private Eye, a satirical magazine which always aimed to look rough and ready in terms of both its graphics and its photographs, in order to maintain an antiestablishment, backroom-printing-press look. The other anti-establishment style was psychedelic art, which drew its inspiration from Art Nouveau for rock posters and underground magazines like International Times. In later decades, it was probably Neville Brody’s bold designs for The Face magazine that were most praised in Britain. In the 1970s and 1980s, corporate design has also become increasingly important and contentious. Landor Associates’ overhaul of British Airways imagery, from the Union Jack to a sober red, white and blue motif accompanied by a coat of arms, was as contentious in the early 1980s as the colourful and probably short-lived ‘ethnic’ redesign of their livery by BA in the late 1990s. In the late 1980s, the image of the London Metropolitan Police Force was re-pro-moted by Wolff Olins through a series of advertisements and billboards using agitprop designs. In the 1990s, the ability to combine the technical work (typeface, composition, illustration, layout) of several people into one person’s computer session via the proliferation of graphics software packages has revolutionized design craft and made it into a diverse and pervasive artistic practice predominantly based on desktop publishing. This has also brought the previously expensive power of graphic design into the smaller hands of micropolitical pressure and lobby groups.
   See also: DTP
   Further reading
    Dormer, P. (1993) Design Since 1945, London: Thames & Hudson.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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