The History of Graphic Arts/Design

Chris Hayes (

Graphic design or graphic arts often comes in many forms, from the writing on this paper to the annoying television commercials millions of people view everyday. Despite the very popular usage of graphic design, many people, perhaps the majority of people do not understand or realize when they are experiencing the work of a graphic designer. The work of a graphic artist can be seen anywhere a person looks in any room, in any household. Graphic design with all of its unknown, yet profound affects on people’s lives has always and will always be at the center of our lives whether we realize it or not.

Graphic design is essentially any type of visual communication; it is the art of translating ideas and concepts into some sort of structural order and visual form. (Griggs, History of Graphic Design) Believe it or not even in prehistoric times, the concept of visualizing information to better understand it was around. The cavemen who we consider barbaric were the some of the first “graphic designers” ever known. They attempted to visually translate their ideas onto the dirt or on the walls of their caves. This was the beginning of our modern day graphic design.

The visual communication of ideas and information has since the earliest times involved various forms of pictograms. (Roberson, 22) Early examples of these pictograms can been seen in Chinese, Mayan and Egyptian hieroglyphics. Those pictograms or pictures that contained the ideas of those who drew them eventually evolved into alphabets. The alphabet we use today is derived from the first alphabet developed by the Phoenicians during the second millenium B.C.; this alphabet was the first graphic representation of any language. From this first alphabet came a string of other alphabets, many of which are still used today such as they Arabic, Greek, Russian and Roman alphabets.

The fact that the origin of most alphabets traces back to graphic design serves as a strong link between graphic design, reading, and therefore education. As the use of written forms of spreading information became more popular, there was a need for a way to effectively organize the information on paper; this was a call for a standard design for all documents. This design, now termed the “grid” was a way of organizing words either in columns and in lines as in this research paper. This grid was used as a way to divide the paper and more accurately communicate information to the reader.

During this same period in history learning, which is closely related to reading and therefore graphic design was restricted to a select few. After the Roman empire fell with its original alphabet, came the Dark Ages, which was an era during fourth, fifth and sixth centuries when reading, writing and learning was brought to an abrupt standstill. The advancement of learning as well as writing was set aside and therefore the graphic design would not further develop for a number of years.

Charlamagne, who was crowned Emperor in 800 AD nurtured a revival of learning in the arts. He required what he called a “crowd of scribes” to write several hundred copies of important religious text among other things. With several copies of books now available and being distributed, the standardization of page layout, writing styles and the alphabet was reformed. Not too much after Charlamagne came the Romanesque era, which was a period of revival in religious realms. (Laing, XVI) During this era books pertaining to religion such as the Bible, Gospels and Psalm books were produced at higher rates than any other form of book.

During the 1200’s as the popularity of university’s created a huge demand for books, literacy among professionals was on the rise and they were active in helping meet this growing demand for books. (Laing, 1027) In the 1300’s a quicker way of producing books was introduced by the Europeans. This system of printing books was called block printing; scribes and other literate people cut of letters from blocks and put them onto to pages to create a book or pamphlet. Around this same time, lower case letters were found to be more convenient than writing our capitals with a pen. Although still far from the more popular uses for graphic design today, the beginnings of