Graphic Design or Visual Communication Design: Product vs. Process
by Paul Nini Assistant Professor of Visual Communication Department of Industrial, Interior, and Visual Communication Design The Ohio State University
Words. The more we use them, the less they mean. Take "graphic design" for instance--just what is it anyway? If you go to your local print shop they may tell you they do graphic design. So will many highly-trained, and in relation, highly paid consultants or corporate designers. Obviously there's a huge difference in the quality of services and finished products between the two extremes cited (or so we hope). Does this situation bother you? It bothers me.
In my opinion the term "graphic designer" has lost its significance. It's come to mean too much, and now it means very little. The term was originally conceived by the field's early practitioners as a way to differentiate their activities from those of their counterparts in advertising and commercial art. They saw their practices focusing on the design of informative communications instead of those meant to persuade. Their hope was that "graphic design" would develop into a true problem-solving profession (as opposed to a service profession) with a status akin to that of architecture's.
What differentiates a true profession from a service profession you may ask? A service-oriented business generally offers a number of predetermined products or services to customers or clients. For instance, a barber provides haircuts, shampoos, shaves, etc. A professional-oriented business, however, typically utilizes a "process" for serving clients, and a body of knowledge and theory that is drawn from when conducting that process. A lawyer, though he or she may specialize in one area of the law, must investigate a client's situation, analyze it, look at precedents, and prescribe an appropriate course of action. Investigation, analysis and planning now enter the equation, and there the distinction lies.
Where does "graphic design" fall into this framework? Somewhere in the middle, but closer to the service side I'm afraid. Some graphic designers do conduct investigation and analysis to inform their form-making, but the majority do not. That is why graphic design has never achieved the status of a true profession, and has been historically viewed as the poor step-child of the design fields. How did "graphic design" lose its original intent to become professionally-oriented? Simply put; by focusing on the product (form-making) and not the process.
Form-making is an extremely important part of what we graphic designers do. Please don't misunderstand me, I'm not advocating that form-making become less important. I'm merely suggesting that we make the earlier stages of the design process (investigation, analysis and planning) equally important. These activities should not be left to marketing people, as their primary focus is on finding better ways to sell goods and services. Graphic design is about selling at times, but just as often it's about providing information--and that's something most marketers know little about. Graphic designers should be involved in analyzing a client's communications, and finding ways to provide information that is of strategic value. Transforming complicated product and pricing information into an easily understood form is one example of a communication that is of strategic benefit to a client, and that would be greatly appreciated by the end-user. Clearly this type of activity requires a focused and well-defined process to solve a particular problem, and problem solving is what true "professionals" do.
Stylistic and form-making developments generally receive the most attention from graphic designers. That is appropriate, as no one would wish to see one style of form-making used in all situations. There are, obviously, many different types of audiences with different concerns and expectations. A style utilized for a communication geared to one audience is probably not valid for a communication geared to another audience. The ability to understand the concerns and expectations of audiences can only be achieved through incorporating investigative and analytical activities prior to the development of form-making. It is graphic design's inability (or refusal) to do this that has resulted in its current less-than-professional stature.
What about the term "visual communication"? Many of us see it merely as a fancy way of saying "graphic design." I define visual communication as the process of providing pictorial and written information to an intended audience. There are, in my opinion, two important distinctions that separate visual communication from graphic design. The first is that visual communication is a "process," that by its problem-solving nature includes investigative and analytical skills in the creation of communications. Graphic design focuses primarily on form-making, while visual communication incorporates a broader series of efforts to provide rationale for form-making. 'The second distinction is that visual communication includes other types of communications beyond printed matter (graphic design's mainstay). The design of interactive computer presentations that integrate video, animation, sound, stored images and text is also included in this definition (like it or not, this will be a major activity of tomorrow's visual designers).'
Many changes in our roles as designers are in store for this decade and the coming century. There will be significant advances in how we practice and how we educate newcomers to our field. If we wish to progress towards a more substantial professional stature we must incorporate additional concerns and skills into our practice, and provide ways to incorporate these skills into our educational programs. It's clear that to produce a designer that is literate, well-educated and adept at utilizing analytical processes and creating sophisticated form will take more than four years of undergraduate education. Consequently, there will be a new emphasis on graduate design education (one Ph.D. program in design already exists in the US, more will likely be created). On the other hand, the profession may be asked to provide more student work experiences, where critical hand-on and technical training can be most easily supplied.
Our field is being forced to grow up. If it doesn't it will eventually become irrelevant. Facilitating changes such as those discussed above will be the emphasis of educators like myself. Whether we call ourselves graphic designers or visual communicators is of little importance. The important thing is that we move our field forward. Our future depends on it.
- I disagree that the term "graphic design" refers exclusively to a product and not a process. Design is both process and product. What is the purpose of the essay other than to make the point that visual communication is broader in scope than graphic design and narrower in scope than communication design? If the point is that the term "visual design" should replace "graphic design," that case needs to be made on the graphic design project page or the graphic design talk page. Oicumayberight (talk) 04:58, 29 March 2010 (UTC)
...since were it's has value?
--lanoo 10:04, 15 February 2006 (UTC)
Communication design vs graphic design
" "Graphic Design" versus "Visual Communication Design"
It is necessary to recognize that the term "graphic design" has contributed to the obscure profile of the profession. Although better than "graphic artist" and better than "artist", the term still places too much emphasis on the graphic, physical element and omits more essential aspects of the profession - the main aim of which is not the creation of graphic forms but the creation of effective communications. Although the most widely accepted term is indeed "graphic designer," it is more descriptive and appropriate to say say "visual communication designer," because this definition includes three essential elements of the profession: a method (design); an objective (communication); and a medium (vision). "
from the book > Communication design: principles, methods, and practice By Jorge Frascara
Agreed. Communication design, visual communication, and graphic design seem to refer to the same profession, interpreted in slightly different ways. Chelt 04:23, 12 September 2006 (UTC)
This is really just a synonym o graphic design. The meaning of graphic design is changing to include a "broader meaning that includes auditory communications as well as visual" and I believe the term will change also in time. But the term graphic design is still being used, so this entry will certainly make many people confused.
I think this entry should be moved to graphic design as a critique of limited scope of the current terminology. But to leave communication design as a different entry is confusing (not for an encyclopedia). (Aleph73 23:25, 16 May 2007 (UTC))
Communication design often utilizes graphic design but is not summed up by graphic design. Oicumayberight 21:47, 30 November 2007 (UTC)
Examples of communication design
I removed animation from the sentence for examples of communication design because animation is more technique than design. Often the communication design part of animation is in the storyboards, which are static illustrations. If we start listing everything that is related to communication design as an example of communication design, the list will get too big for the sentence. Oicumayberight 00:38, 10 November 2007 (UTC)
- "Communication design is a mixed discipline between design and information-development"
Could someone please provide the text for this reference: MEGGS, Philip B. A history of graphic design, Michigan, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1992 - Pg.xiii Preface? I doubt it says anything close to what the editor claims it is implying. Oicumayberight (talk) 08:53, 1 December 2009 (UTC)
Response to Paul Nini
I would disagree with Paul Nini when he says that graphic design and communication design differ greatly. These two can be seen as a topic and sub topic. Communication Design is the overall topic. Meanwhile, graphic design, web design, animation and many others are the sub topics thru which one becomes a successful communication designer. Furthermore, it is a different story when a person focuses his major to be graphic design and takes classes towards perfecting that one field. However, the person is still a communication designer, in a broader sense.
Furthermore, most colleges offer communication design as a major and not graphic design specifically. On the other hand, if a college has a specialty in a field that would emphasize graphic or web design, they might consider offering classes under that title but still wouldn’t offer an entire degree for it. For example, The Fashion Institute of Technology offers graphic design as a class but that can only be taken after declaring Fashion as your major. Hence, it has no specific graphic design program. This further proves my notion that graphic design in only a sub topic of various different majors. It can be part of communication design, fashion, and even business advertising. However, to stand solely with a Graphic Design degree is usually connected to a bigger picture behind itself.
Lastly, I would like to say how I don’t go against any specific graphic design courses or degrees but would like to comment on the fact that they aren’t as popularly offered as communication design. I am aware that graphic design is a strong field and that certain colleges may offer it as a degree of its own, but it is widely considered when it links to a broader subject so that a person can have multiple abilities and a farther understanding of the environment around a graphic designer. It is usually considered an advantage when a person can use multiple abilities learnt from communication design to create a product than to only have knowledge of graphic designing to create a product.