What Is Graphic Design? – Explained!

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Graphic Design is sometimes difficult to define. The official dictionary definition is:

The art or skill of combining text and pictures in advertisements, magazines, or books.

A perhaps better definition, is that from Wikipedia, which reads:

Graphic Design is the process of visual communication and problem-solving using one or more of typography, photography and illustration.

While both of these are accurate in their own terms, there’s a lot more to design then either of these definitions touch on. To best understand what design is, let’s take a quick look at the history of design.

Design through the Ages

We tend to think of commercials, magazines and other modern graphic expressions as the core that defines design, but design has existed for centuries. Rock, cave, and pottery art would be prime examples of ancient design.

Modern design application however, can perhaps first be seen in the 1700s when advertisements in newspapers started employing graphics to sell goods. In the 20th century the modern era of design really kicked off and design started to be used in everything from subway station signs to war propaganda. Today, design serves a crucial capacity in our modern culture from food packing to the creation of pop-cultural icons.

Some Examples Of Modern Applications Include:

  • Greeting Cards
  • Clothes
  • Music Albums
  • Banners
  • Web Design
  • Social Media Banners
  • Signs
  • Branding
  • Packaging of All Kinds
  • Books
  • Flyers
  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Maps
  • Art Prints

Obviously, this is a huge mix of design applications and within the various applications, there are various styles of design used. Flyers, newspapers and maps might have simple graphics that make life easier, while art prints and music albums might have abstract art or disruptive graphics, designed to make you think or feel.

I’m sure you’re beginning to see how much graphic art is used in our modern day society. In fact, without design, our culture would fail to exist as it does.

Careers in Design

As we’ve already discusses, design is used in a variety of industries, but there are four primary fields for a designer to work in.

Web and Mobile

In this field a designer will work mostly in a digital capacity. In many cases a web and mobile designer will be focused on elements such as user experience, structure, functionality, and continuity. Of course this means a close collaboration with coders. The general requirements of web and mobile design include design, but also require a basic knowledge of coding and site development.


Branding isn’t just design, but the visual element is one of the most important parts of a complete brand. Artists going into this field need to understand branding and business in addition to how various fonts and colors should be used to create the visual element of the brand.


Print designs are those that are typically seen in print publications such as magazines or newspapers. This type of design requires that the artist understands layouts, placement of images, selecting fonts and a general familiarity with the print process. In addition to this, it’s important the design artist understands the current sales and advertising climate.


Packaging design requires the designer to have the skill of 3D design to properly design all sides of boxes, bags and other packing options. The packing designer works to create brand congruency while capturing the eye of the consumer. This type of design work starts with initial sketches and moves through to mockups which makes it one of the most demanding fields to work in.

Other Jobs within Design

We already talked about the four most tradition graphic designer careers, but there are many other areas a graphic designer can work in. Here are just a few to help you understand how truly diverse the world of design is!

DTP Artist

DTP stands for desktop publishing artist. DTP artists are responsible to take art work and transform it into digital files. This allows the files to be used online in various capacities. DTP artists are trained in computer designed applications and are skilled at transforming physical works of art into digital representations.

Environmental Designer

If you’ve ever been in an underground subway you’ve most likely encountered environmental design in the form of subway maps and safety information. Environmental design encompasses the visual elements and environmental parameters in fields including, but not limited to transportation and architecture.

User Interface Designer

The interface of a software, app or machine is the part that users interact with. So, for example, if you have a food tracking app, the user interface is the part of the app that allows you to input your food, set your steps and calculate your BMI. User interface designers specialize in maximizing user experience, which can include the aesthetic of the interface, while also maximizing the usability the interface. This is done through choosing designs elements that help the user engage with the product in a positive and productive way.

Video Game Artist

Game artists create the visual elements of video games. The video game artists typically works very closely with developers to create the visual world including the characters, the objects, clothing and vehicles.

Production Designer

Films, concerts, plays, and other entertainment products often require the assistance of a production designer. Production designers help create the world or ambience needed for the production and play a key creative role in this productions.

Publishing Designer

As you might have guessed by the name, publishing designers work to create covers for books, magazines and other publications.

Signage Designer

Signs are a big deal, just think of the number of street signs, subway signs, store signs, and billboards you pass every day. Those signs are in many cases designed by a graphic artist who specializes in signage.

3D Modeler

In computer graphics, 3D modeling is the process of developing 3D models using mathematical formulas to represent any object. 3D modelers might work on designer everything from imaginary creatures in a sci-fi movie, or the next public park statue.


Animation is the art of making a still image appear to be moving. Animation used to be drawn by hand with each movement illustrated by photographing the stills and moving them quickly (think of a flip book). Today, animators most commonly work using digital software to create a similar effect. However, there are productions that still use a lot of hand-drawn elements. If animation is something you’re interested in being able to draw and illustrate both by hand, and using digital software is essential.

Essential Design Tools

Graphic artists work in a variety of industries, so there’s no checklist for design tools that every graphic artist will have. However, here are some of the most common tools graphic artists use.


Computers, both laptops and desktops, are heavily used by many artists. Tablets are also used frequently, especially those with professional design applications that allow the user to create digital illustrations. The IPad Pro matched with the Apple stylus is becoming the standard for tablets in the design industry. In addition to this, artists also often need software programs for various design application. The Adobe Creative Cloud is the gold industry standard, but Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, Affinity Designer, Affinity Photo, and Corel Painter are also popular design programs. However, if the artist works primarily in animation, or 3D modeling, they’ll need software that’s specific to those needs. Another really handy tool for designers to have is a monitor calibrator. This is a special tool that calibrates your monitor color to ensure your design colors are accurate. In addition to a monitor calibrator, many people have swatch books, such as the Pantone swatch books which also allow you to properly pick your colors before printing. In addition to all of these digital products, many artists also use an Iphone or another top-quality smart phone to help them in their day to day.

Physical Products:

As for physical products, graphic artists often need a high-quality sketchbook. Moleskin and Wacom are both popular sketchbook brands and they both provide a variety of layout options and sizes which is beneficial for artists in various industries. For instance, some designers might need a storyboard layout, while another might prefer a grid layout. Obviously with the notebook, high quality pens and pencils are essential. Sakura, Prismacolor, and Pentel are some of the most popular options. As for pencils, there are a variety of professional quality brands that come in various shades of black, or even in color depending on the artist’s preferences. Lastly, if an artist works in print, or in other photograph-based applications they will also have a high quality camera and photo editing software.

Final words on design

There you have it! You now know what design is, the career options for going into graphic art and even the various tools graphic artists use! If you found this article by Universal Advice helpful share it with your friends and family.

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