Design History

Print and Graphic Design

What to include:

  • how it began
  • changes over time – mass production e.g. newspapers
  • modern day decline in book sales – ebooks (kindle) digital media – rise in sales of tablets and smartphones
  • History
  • Styles
  • Pioneers
  • Print to digital/web design

A design can be considered print design if the final form was created through the impact of a stamp, seal or dye on a paper surface.

The printing press revolutionised the world it was invented c.1440 by Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany. (Gutenberg Bible?)

There are many aspects of print design that also apply to web/digital e.g. the importance of typography just using a different medium (a screen instead of the printed word).

Prior to the 20th and 21st centuries with the likes of the inkjet printer, Adobe photoshop/Illustrator print design relied on mechanical technologies using letterpress or lithography.

The letterpress was perfected by Johannes Gutenberg c.1440 who developed his press based on existing screw presses. It spread rapidly by 1500 in Europe around 20 million volumes produced. In Renaissance Europe the arrival of mechanical movable type began the era of mass communication. The circulation of information and (sometimes revolutionary) ideas such as capturing the masses in the Reformation and threatened the power of political and religious authorities. This increased literacy broke the elite monopoly on education and learning and bolstered emerging middle class.

In 19th century the hand operated Gutenberg-style press by steam-powered rotary presses gave the ability to print on an industrial scale.

Lithographyis a method of printing based originally on immisability of oil and water. It was invented by 1796 by German Alois Senefelder as a cheap method of publishing theatrical works. This method is still sometimes used as a fiine art medium.

Modern day decline in book sales and rise of ebooks and ebook readers (kindle), digital media – tablets and smartphones

Typographers are key especially in the modern era – Paul Rand

Typography is 95% of the web…

Typography is key = visual component of the written word. Fonts are part of typography but it goes beyond fonts.


Graphics from Greek graphikos meaning ‘belonging to drawing’ are visual images/designs on a surface e.g. a canvas, wall etc to form, illustrate or entertain. In current usage it includes CAD (Computer Aided Design), typesetting and graphics arts, and educational and recreational software.

Graphic design is the process of visual communication and problem-solving using one or more of typography, photography and illustration. Common uses include corporate designs (logos and branding), editorial design (?), advertising, web design, product packaging and signage among others.

Graphic design is the art or profession of combining text, images, ideas in adverts, magazines or websites. The broadest definition refers to the whole history of art although painting etc are usually regarded as art history.

The term graphic design was coined in 1922 by William Addison Dwiggins, but graphic design like activities exist from cave art to illuminated manuscripts of middle ages to modern day neon lights in Tokyo and New Yorks Times Square.

“The essence [of graphic design] is to give order to information, form to ideas, expression, and feeling to artefacts that document human experience.”

Lines between fine art, advertising, art and graphic design have blurred in recent years as they share many elements, principles, theories and practices including (sometimes) the same client/benefactor.

Earliest examples of graphics are cave paintings/marking from the Palaeolithic period 50-10,000BC. Engraved stone tablets and cylinder seals c.6000 years ago and keeping of inventories. This history and the beginning of writing gave the foundations of graphic design.

Other categories under ‘graphics’ include drawing, printmaking, etching, illustrations, line art, graphs, diagrams, symbols and maps.

Something to note is that graphics acan be functional or artistic. The latter can be a recorded version e.g. photographs or interpretations by a scientist to highlight features or an artist when distinction between imaginary graphics may become blurred.

In the US Benjamin Franklin used his newspaper Pennsylvania Gazette to master the art of publicity to promote his own books and influence to the masses (and also he may have been) the first to use logos early symbols announced services like opticians displaying spectacles.

Engineering drawings are different as they are technical in nature used to fully and clearly define requirements.

Photography is a slightly different medium as in theory it records a single moment in reality without interpretations. A photographer chooses the field of view and angle sometimes with other techniques especially with the introduction of modern digital photography.

Coming more up to date in 20th century computer graphics were introduced of which there were two types raster and vector graphics. It began in 1950s with MITs Whirlwind I the first computer driven display to generate simple pictures.

With the development of PCs in 1980s designers and artists saw them as a design tool particularly Mac and Commodore Amiga. 3D computer graphics became possible in the late 1980s. GUIs became increasingly common from 1980s into the present day.

Popularity of 3D graphics increased rapidly in 1990s and 1995 Toy Story became the first full length animated film released in cinemas, and in 1996 Quake became one of the first 3D games.

Web graphics began in 1990s when internet speeds increased and browsers were capable of viewing images – Mosaic was the first. GIF format was the first used to display small images now JPG/JPEG, PNG and increasing SVGs are now being used. SVG support in modern browsers make it possible to display vector graphics that are clear to any size.

Drawing and prints (British Museum gallery)

Print production began with the use of wooden blocks. This later developed into the use of copper plates with the lines cut into copper by an engraver. This used a rolling press to transfer ink onto paper. In both of these examples someone had to produce a design and someone (usually another person) had to cut the design into wood or plate.

From 1500s+ copper was in increased demand with the high skill demonstrated by the best engravers. However copper plates did wear which affected both the level and amount of prints that can be produced.

Rembrandt is regarded as one of the finest printmakers in Western tradition and for centuries his finest work was considered to be Christ preaching and healing the sick (1648) known as the ‘hundred guilder print’ because of the price paid during his lifetime.

John Boydell is seen as the greatest British print publisher. Most famous for the ‘Shakespeare Gallery’ he commissioned paintings from leading artists and then he published prints – created a huge export market for British prints but lost his fortune following the French Revolution.

Hans Holbein – Erasmus portrait – counted as facismile art – translating a design by engraving on copper seen as interpretative art and of a higher order.

Copper plates could be worked by other methods such as etching, mezzotint, aquatint and stipple – these techniques are known as ‘intaglio’ as they all use same method of printing. Plates were valuable and good printers were always in demand – key members of trade in trusted positions.

Publishing covered several activities from financing the plate to distributing it or retailing in a shop. Letter engraving on copper plates was a specialised trade usually a different person to the engraver of the image. With the names of designers on left and the engraver on the right.

Hogarth – Copyright Act passed in 1735. Print trade was controlled by oligarchy of print seller who had enough of a monopoly to squeeze others out of the trade.

Most prints were made for everyday life. penny dreadfuls?

Modern day mass production - printing of books/newspapers - decline of newspaper sales many publications moving to an online subscription base.