Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What is a Graphic Designer?

When I tell people that I'm majoring in Visual Communication and plan on becoming a Graphic Designer they usually nod their heads and tell me how cool it sounds, but then they confess that they have no idea what a Graphic Designer really does...

One of the most popular questions I get asked is what my career options are going to be once I graduate, and the beautiful thing about Graphic Design is that the options are virtually LIMITLESS. However, that statement still leaves people with a lot of unresolved ambiguity, and I've done some research and would like to share some general fields that a designer may find him/herself working in:


Identity Design.

The process of identifying a product, service or organization, identity design is more than simply creating a logo - even if there is nothing simple about that. Through a concise and consistently applied set of elements - colors, typography and other visual cues in unison with a logo - identity designers create a visual system that makes a product, service or organization easily identifiable. The identity can be manifested in business cards, uniforms, marketing materials and other communication materials. Identity design is broadly divided into corporate identity and brand/retail identity. The former specializes in designs for corporations and businesses, while the latter focuses on design meant for direct contact with consumers. In both cases, identity design is an influential aspect of our profession because it generates tangible manifestations of the intangible values of any given product, service or organization, no matter how big or small.

Delta Airlines Logo.

Delta Logo applied to aircraft.



Typically related to consumer products and services - although the same principles apply to corporations and business, even personalities - the goal of branding is to form an overall perception of any product, service or organization in the consumer’s mind thorough a variety of means. These range from the behavior of staff, to the lighting conditions in a store, to the music that plays in a T.V. commercial, to the photography used in a print campaign, to the tone of voice in which something is communicated. Branding is usually the result of collaboration among graphic designers, strategists, researchers and writers where every discipline - web, advertising, public relations, identity design - comes together cohesively to position and deliver the aspirations of a product, service or organization. Successful branding creates positive associations and establishes consistent expectations for the consumer. And, yes, successful branding also generates revenue.

Examples of branding logos.


Collateral Design.

All products, services and organizations must communicate beyond what branding identity and advertising can offer and, in this regard, collateral design can be one of the most varied and active disciplines in Graphic Design. Through an unlimited range of approaches, designers create brochures, pamphlets, manuals, catalogs and annual reports of all sizes, page counts and production techniques, with singular regularity. Ranging from lavish to low-end productions, from oversized to compact, from informational to emotional, collateral design offers infinite communicative and expressive possibilities - maybe too many!

Brochure, letterhead, business cards...


Environmental Design.

Despite its name, environmental design is not necessarily concerned with ecological initiatives; instead, it refers to the application of design to a specific environment. Whether in service of a museum, an airport, a train or subway station, an amusement park, a movie theater, a shopping mall, or an entire neighborhood, environmental design aids and enriches the way in which the destination is experienced, navigated and understood. Taking the shape of directional or informational signage (or wayfinding systems), exhibit design, retail or restaurant graphics, and even interior decoration, among other manifestations, this discipline provides a rich output for design as it interacts with the built environment and benefits from the diversity of materials and textures in which it can be produced in various scales - any environmental designer will tell you that Helvetica Bold (or any other typeface) is much more amazing when specified in feet rather than points.

PCBC 2008 - San Francisco, CA, USA

PCBC 2008 - San Francisco, CA, USA

PCBC 2008 - San Francisco, CA, USA



The intricate difficulties of creating cohesive systems of dozens of icons that must communicate and extensive amount of varying information in a unified style and with the least number of visual elements possible makes iconography a rare specialty. Icons are developed for a range of applications - user interfaces for computers or handheld devices, software applications, instructional manuals, warning signs on equipment, signage, weather information, and more - and must be adaptable to the various mediums in which they are deployed, from pixels based graphics on a wrist watch to metal-cast identifiers in an airport. Iconography plays a major role in large graphic programs as well, like the Olympics Games, or a zoo, because no one likes to confuse fencing for javelin throwing or bears with lemurs.

Popular computer-based icons.

The apps on your Iphone are all icons that were designed by someone!


Information Design.

While designers manage and organize information in every project, one specific discipline deals with presenting complex information - statistics, research, findings, data comparison, forms and more - in the most efficient and easily understood way as possible. Through innovative, allusive and engaging diagrams, charts, graphs, iconography and illustration or photography, information design visually presents facts, figures and data that aid in the understanding of any given topic. Typically used in editorial contexts, as supporting elements in newspapers, magazines and journals, information design thrives in the interactive realm. The Internet has fostered a new breed of information design that can parse both live and static data from various sources and present a dynamic view of how this data is changing and evolving by the second. With the added layer of user interactivity, information design can now engage users in ways few other disciplines can.

Political infographic.

Workforce infographic.


Editorial Design.

Shaping the layout and pacing of magazines, newspapers and books - items bought, read and collected by millions of people - across dozens to hundreds of pages in collaboration with editors, writers, photographers, illustrators and information designers is the task of editorial designers. With newspapers and magazines the challenge and joy is to create unique layouts under a consistent style, governed by strict grids, and determined by impending deadlines. For books, the schedule may seem more relaxed, but the demands of extensive content, the need for consistent pacing and the imperative to maintain an even visual execution that permits the material inside to be the protagonist provide the framework for book designers. Regardless of the end product, one goal is constant in editorial design: To design successful hierarchy of of information punctuated by bold graphic treatments - like a double-page, full-bleed photograph, to mention one example - that lead readers from beginning to end, maintaining their attention and sparking their curiosity.

Full magazine spread with illustration.

Half spread with table of contents.


Poster Design.

As a highly celebrated form of design and because of the sheer size of the blank canvas offered, poster design is a coveted endeavor. Whether they are announcing concerts, films, products, or sporting events, or serving causes of activism or public awareness, posters have a tremendous impact and resonance. The poster’s guises: a utilitarian device for conveying information, a provocative voice for calling to action, or a seductive lure for selecting a specific product or service. Included in permanent collections of museums, shown in galleries, and organized in biennales worldwide, posters are ambassadors for the design profession, public beacons of the creative and communicative potential this profession offers.


Packaging Design.

More than other disciplines, packaging is intimately tied with the general consumer because it occupies every moment of almost everyone’s day. It manifests in the endless array of products people purchase or use, from shampoo bottles to milk cartons, paint buckets, soda cans - every conceivable item available for consumption. At its widest application, packaging serves to unify ;large families of products, abiding by strict legal requirements trough consistent visual systems that allow variety (different sizes, flavors, quantities, etc.) and create a unique and recognizable presence on store shelves across regions and even countries. packaging can also serve smaller stores or boutiques through limited-distribution products offering a differentiating identity. Regardless of the volume or reach of any given product, packaging offers the possibility to enrich each design through the use of different materials, finishes and production techniques that interact with the three-dimensional presence of the product. The challenge of packaging, to persuade the consumer to pick the product it embodies over another or a dozen others, is its driving force.

Vitalize fruit beverages.



Interactive Design.

As the youngest discipline, interactive design has been redefining itself since the mid-1990s, evolving energetically along with technology and the growing embrace of the Internet - although interactive work has been practiced since long before the advent of the Internet in the form of interactive kiosks, CD-ROMs, and earlier forms of user interface. While websites may be the most common expression of interactive design, the discipline takes form as user interfaces for electronic equipment (digital cameras, handheld and mobile devices, computers), software applications, electronic ticketing kiosks as onscreen menus for DVDs and cable or satellite guides; and as electronic displays of information. The key to interactive design is consideration for the end-user. The designer focuses on the usability and accessibility of the design, striving for tge least obstructive and most intuitive interaction with the information. Interactive design relies on the collaboration of graphic designers, front-end and back-end programmers, and information architects - or one really smart person who can do all these things.

Web based presentations.

Online navigation and usage.


Motion Graphics.

Affordable, powerful and easy to use software, coupled with an increasing number of output channels - the web, mobile devices, hundreds of T.V. channels, outdoor digital displays, buildings with fancy screens in their lobbies - have brought interest and attention to motion graphics, a discipline practiced as far back as the 1920s. Whether it’s the opening (or closing) titles of a movie or T.V. show, the two-second animation of a logo, the full composition of a short film or music video, the graphics over live-action footage, or the coveted identifiers for T.V. channels, motion graphics thrive in the integration and orchestration of typography, imagery, sound, digital effects, and storytelling with movement and time, allowing designers to take on an exciting and glamourous-sounding role other disciplines don’t offer - director - even if the cast’s biggest star is just Mrs. Eaves.

BBC News Intro.


Information provided by: "Graphic Design Referenced" By: Bryony Gomez-Palacio and Armin Vit

1 comment:

  1. My cousin is a very good graphic designer. He is my idol and I am amazed with his designs.