The history of Graphic Design: Part 1

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The Invention of Writing

It is not known precisely when or where Homo sapiens, the biological species of conscious, thinking creatures, emerged. As the search for our prehistoric origins continues, the early innovations of our ancestors have been pushed back further in time. It is believed that we evolved from a species that lived in the southern part of Africa. These early hominids ventured out onto the grassy plains and into caves as the forests in that part of the world slowly disappeared. In the tall grass, the hominids began to stand erect. Perhaps this adaptation was a result of the need to watch for predators, to help discourage enemies by increasing the hominids’ apparent size, or to hold branches as weapons. In any event, the hand developed an ability to carry food and hold objects. Found near Lake Turkana in Kenya, a nearly three-million-year-old stone that had been sharpened into an implement proves the thoughtful and deliberate development of a technology—a tool. Early shaped stones may have been used to dig for roots or to cut away flesh from dead animals for food. While we can only speculate about the use of early tools, we know that they mark a major step in the human species’ immense journey from primitive origins toward a civilized state.

Alphabets – The 1st graphic designs

“Early visual language systems, including cuneiform, hieroglyphics, and written Chinese (see chapter 3), contained a built-in complexity. In each, pictographs had become rebus writing, ideographs, logograms, or even a syllabary. But these early writing systems remained unwieldy and required long, hard study to master. For centuries, the number of individuals who gained literacy was small. Their access to knowledge enabled them to acquire great power in the early cultures. The subsequent invention of the alphabet (a word derived from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and beta) was a major step forward in human communications.”

The Asian Contribution

Chinese changed the course of human events. The compass made exploration and seafaring possible. Gunpowder, used by the Chinese for fireworks, fueled an aggressive aspect of the human temperament and changed the nature of war. Chinese calligraphy, an ancient writing system, is used today by more people than any other visual language system. Paper, a magnificent and economical substrate for transmitting information, and printing, the duplication of words and images, made possible the wide communication of thought and deed. Europeans adopted these Chinese inventions and used them to conquer much of the world: the compass (which may have been developed independently in Europe) directed early explorers across the seas and around the globe; firearms enabled Europeans to subjugate the native populations of Africa, Asia, and the Americas; and printing on paper became the method for spreading European language, culture, religion, and law throughout the world.

Illuminated Manuscripts

The vibrant luminosity of gold leaf, as “it reflected light from the pages of handwritten books, gave the sensation of the page being literally illuminated; thus, this dazzling effect gave birth to the term illuminated manuscript. Today this name is used for all decorated and illustrated handwritten books produced from the late Roman Empire until printed books replaced manuscripts after typography was developed in Europe around 1450.”


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