Graphic designers are researchers. They look critically at their profession and the world, and reflect on change. They continuously ask questions, and by doing so they discover where information is hidden, what form to present it in, and how it can be made accessible. The profession of graphic designer is related to the visual arts, science, journalism and other creative disciplines.
Graphic designers work on commission and also initiate their own projects. They work with existing information and also create it themselves. In the latter case they are no longer simply designers, but assume the role of initiator, editor, project manager and publisher as well. There is a strong emphasis on the research and development of concepts that form the basis of information transfer.
Designing is a combination of inventing and imagining. For example, the design of a website is not just the website in itself, but is, instead, a unification of images and descriptions of what the website looks like and how it works. Because of the increasing availability of technological means of production, for example user-friendly software and affordable high quality printers, designers are able to control the production process. As a result, the gap between design and product diminishes.
There are infinite ways to design graphically. A graphic designer can draw with pencil or with a design programme, he can rip and paste paper, create patterns in sand with his fingers, arrange led letters, copy objects on a copier, organise stacks of photographs, and so on. The products that result from these processes are equally diverse. Graphic designers design websites, apps, browsers, book covers, books, magazines, experiences, forms, flyers, newspapers, interactions, campaigns, letters, signs, agendas, games, logos, flags, boxes, money, and so much more. When the image by itself is not sufficient, they work with sound, texture, and even with smell and taste. Some graphic designers like to break through the boundaries of their discipline, by, for example, working in the fields of visual arts or theatre. Others have expanded their area of work to include film, and it is interesting to observe that the background of graphic design is visible in the films these designers create: their vocabulary, imagery and signature transcends the medium in which they work.
So what exactly is the discipline of graphic design? To keep it simple, we say that graphic design is the development of, and giving form to, communication concepts by arranging, adapting and visualising the available information. This happens in so many different media and according to an equal multitude of different approaches, that the discipline is often described as heterogeneous.
The connotation with printed matter, which can literally be found in the name of the discipline, is a relic from the pre-digital era: the label no longer fully represents the content. This is why some refer to the discipline as ‘visual communication’ or ‘visual design’. Graphic designers practice their profession in numerous ways. Some work alone, while others work for small studios and bureaus. Some of these initiatives have been set up as a cooperative effort or as collaborative ventures of independent designers, and others as small businesses with staff and a designer as director. On the other end of the spectrum are the large firms with large numbers of employees. These firms mostly focus on strategic communication and the development of identities and campaigns. Where individuals and small bureaus are often specialised, these large firms cover almost the entire field. Additionally, many companies, such as marketing firms, media corporations and multinationals, have an in-house graphic designer. The commissioning parties vary just as greatly, from individuals to multinationals, from cultural institutions to ministries, from shop-owners to media giants. The discipline of graphic design includes, to sum up, everything that happens in graphic design and everyone who plays a part in it.
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