What is Graphic Design?

Graphic design is everywhere - from the ads we see to the things we watch and the websites we visit. In fact, the global graphic design market is worth over $48.1 billion(1).


The expansive industry involves the creation of things like logos, print posters and even packaging design. Everything is designed for specific purposes - whether that be to inform you about something or persuade you to make a purchase.


In this guide, we’ll break down what graphic design is, its key elements and how exactly it influences our day-to-day.


(1) - https://explodingtopics.com/blog/graphic-design-stats.

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What graphic design is in simple terms


Graphic design is the art of creating visuals to convey a message. It allows graphic designers - and the brands they work for - to project ideas to their audience. It’s a form of visual communication that spans various print and digital media types, including advertisements, web design and motion graphics.


As an example, logo design is important when crafting a brand image, as it’s the first thing people see. Meanwhile, packaging design tells a consumer all they need to know about a product and encourages them to buy it.



What is the purpose of graphic design?


Graphics are often the first things that people see when interacting with a brand, product or service. First impressions are valuable, which is why getting things right and conveying a clear message is key. In fact, 80% of small businesses believe that graphic design is very important to their business’ success(2).


Graphic design can connect with audiences and motivate them to take action. Whether you’re educating people on a specific subject, compelling them to interact with your brand or persuading them to buy a product. With images and graphics, typography also plays an important role in graphic design when shaping tone and clarity.


(2) https://mymarketing.io/blog/top-graphic-design-stats-for-2021/

Graphic design: A brief history


Let’s start at the beginning…


  • 1903. The first graphic design agency, The Wiener Werkstätte, is established in Austria.
  • 20th century. Artistic movements flourish and influence art, design and media. Notable periods include Art Deco, Pop Art and Postmodernism.
  • 1984. Apple introduces the first Macintosh computer.
  • 1987. Adobe launches Illustrator - one of the first digital graphic design programs available to the masses.
  • 1990. Adobe releases the first iteration of Photoshop. It will go on to become one of the most influential pieces of editing software still used by graphic artists today.
  • 1995. The release of Disney Pixar’s Toy Story begins the mainstream journey of Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI).
  • Early 2000s. Brand logos, print and ads move away from hand-drawn art and start to transition into digital design.
  • Mid-2000s. Online gaming and social media become popular. Websites shift from being purely informational, to recreational, which affects what people expect from brand design.
  • 2010. Android releases its first phone, beginning the smartphone era. With this comes the creation of apps and mobile-orientated marketing.
  • 2011. Adobe Creative Cloud is released. This marks a shift in how people access and use design software.
  • 2014-onwards. Now with a whole host of new tools and design trends circling all industries, re-brands become popular.
  • 2021-present. Generative AI breaks new ground, with the innovative tool holding many exciting possibilities for graphic design.



Key elements and principles of graphic design


Graphic design itself isn’t an independent skill - there are many different design principles you’ll need to master that work together to form a well-rounded skillset of creative abilities. Graphic design elements and principles you may want to explore include:


  • Colour. Understanding colour is a primary building block to understanding design. From knowing which colours complement each other, to understanding contrast and colour theory, you never quite stop learning.
  • Line. This is what everything’s made of. From the canvas you work on to the shapes you create - from straight and perfect to freehand and organic. Lines are the building blocks to any design.
  • Shape. Shapes themselves are usually categorised into geometric (e.g. squares, hexagons and triangles) and organic (natural shapes, like flora or those created freehand).
  • Form. All about taking shapes and making them feel more dimensional. You can, of course, stick to classic, striking 2D graphics, but giving visuals form affords them a different artistic appeal.
  • Size. Ensuring the size of shapes and typography complement each other in the graphic design process is a skill in and of itself. Mastering the use of shape can emphasise and indicate importance and completely alter the composition of your work.
  • Space. Understanding the use of both positive space (elements of your design) and negative space (the background or ‘gaps’) is integral when crafting the ‘perfect’ piece. When space is used just right, you can guide people’s eyes and draw attention.
  • Texture. Like form, texture gives things dimension. Flat, one-shade colour can be perfect for some designs, but using different textures, patterns and brush types can add something a little extra.



What a graphic designer does


Graphic designers work across multiple different industries and settings, often within agencies or design studios. This often means no one job is the same as the other and there are various career paths to consider. From working in print to marketing, television and fashion, there are many different areas to explore as a passionate design expert.


Web design


Web design is the practice of planning, building and creating a website. Graphic designers and web designers are not the same, but they do exist in the same creative insustries. However, the latter play an important part in web design and the creation of sites. They often:


  • Create website banners
  • Create illustrations and infographics
  • Select colour palettes and fonts
  • Act as site design consultants
  • Create visual design elements, like branded icons and buttons
  • Design templates and layouts for web pages


The Creative Cloud All Apps plan is perfect for all your web design needs. It combines Illustrator and Photoshop, so you can create graphics and pull them straight into the editing stage.


Print design


Print design can span a whole range of industries. Unlike digital graphic design, printmaking encompasses printed media types, including:


  • Posters
  • Brochures and leaflets
  • Business cards
  • Billboards and public ads
  • Physical newsletters


Motion graphics


Motion graphics are exactly what the name suggests - graphics that are in motion. They’re often used for logos, banners and digital ad materials. Most commonly, you’ll see motion graphics being used on television show and film title cards and for brand logos on TV ads.


Logo design


Logo design is an integral part of brand design work. A logo is often the first thing people judge a company by, so it has to be effective and representative of their products and services.


A graphic designer has the responsibility of designing the ‘perfect’ logo and deciding how it will be used. This will affect how that brand is perceived and even future brand design decisions.


Packaging design


Packaging design helps to sell a product and motivates people to buy it - whether you’re looking for a chocolate bar or a bottle of shampoo. For example, when designing food packaging, the aim is to reassure people that whatever’s inside will be good to eat, nutritious or whatever the product’s unique selling point (USP) is.


Type design


Typography in graphic design is often what helps pull a project together. While graphic designers may not have control over what’s being said (that’s the copywriter’s job), they do dictate how it’s said. For example, they:


  • Design customised fonts, typefaces and numerals
  • Select and curate fonts for design projects
  • Create typography brand guidelines


UX and UI design


User experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) design focus on creating the best possible experiences for customers. They design sites and web elements based on audience research, attitudes and preferences. They assess the intuitiveness of a site and their job is to make it as easy as possible to get the customer to complete their journey on-site.


Editorial design


‘Graphic design’ actually came from the original term ‘editorial graphic design’. This is the practice of designing the overall look, feel and layout of media - typically for print publications. An editorial designer decides on the aesthetic of a project, as well as things like image and text placement. This means they need to be passionate about problem solving and organisation. Editorial designers often work on:


  • Magazines
  • Newspapers
  • Books
  • Newsletters
  • Email campaigns
  • Digital publications.


Adobe InDesign provides editorial design freedom and a range of tools that help you unleash your creativity. Whether you’re an editorial expert or want to start your design practice, the software’s user-friendly interface can bring any layout idea to life.




Graphic Design FAQs


Can I become a self-taught graphic designer?


Yes - with all the software and online expertise available at your fingertips today, anyone can learn valuable graphic design skills. All you need are the right tools and a little bit (or a lot) of passion. Many people begin their graphic design journey with a love for art and a few pencils, but you can also invest in creative tech like tablets and touchpads.


Can I be a graphic designer without a degree?


Yes, you can become a designer without a graphic design degree. Although, if you want to be a professional, you’ll need to build up your design portfolio. You’ll need to prove you’re good at the job, after all. After you’ve collated all the necessary skills, you may want to take on freelance graphic design projects to help gain experience. You may choose to continue to be a part-time freelancer or apply for a full-time, permanent position at a brand or agency.


How can I get started as a graphic designer?


Every graphic designer should start out with a love for art and design. Next, it’s up to you to learn the basics and maybe decide to specialise in an area of interest - for example, motion graphics, print or digital design. You could do this by attending a design course or taking on freelance projects. Then, it’s all about developing your skills and putting in the hours of professional parctice to build a strong portfolio.

Start your graphic design journey with Photoshop


Hone your skills with the cutting-edge design tools, tutorials and features from Photoshop. Bring your designs to life to build our your portfolio or deliver spot-on projects.

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