Brief History of Graphic Design

Brief History of Graphic Design

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Graphic Design in the 1800s

Graphic design is a combination of art, graphic symbols and words that is used to send a certain message or give identity to a certain brand. It often involves a graphic designer meeting with a client and discussing their needs in order to create a logo, poster or packaging that will deliver the intended message. Many people would be forgiven for thinking that graphic design is a relatively new concept, but this is not the case. In actual fact graphic design dates back many hundreds of years and it has been used to sell products and advertise items.

William Morris

William Morris was born in 1834 and died in 1896. He was English and was an accomplished artist, writer, textile designer and socialist. Together with Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti he founded a design firm in 1861. This partnership had a massive influence on the decoration that was used in houses and churches of the time. He was a keen lover of nature and much of this love was used in his patterned designs which were repeated in many of his patterns for wallpaper and textiles.

He was also a typographer, craftsman and bookbinder as well as being skilled in many other areas. He firmly believed that in order to succeed, a designer needed to have a good working knowledge of many different techniques and medias. It was this knowledge that allowed him to be such an amazing teacher of these techniques to others who were eager to learn from his extensive skills.

William Bradley

William Bradley was born in 1868 and died in 1962 and was nicknamed “The American B”. He was an American graphic designer who was interested in the Art Nouveau style. He was a skilled artist and editor of art. He was greatly influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement from the United Kingdom which William Morris was a part of. He produced some world famous posters which were in demand in America when the craze for posters really took off in the late 1800s. Some of his most well known posters were for Victor Bicycles, The Chap Book magazine and a book by Scribner’s called The Modern Posters.

His work as an art director was used in many American journals such as Good Housekeeping and Collier’s which were seen by millions of Americans. From 1915 – 1917 he was the art supervisor for a series of films and by 1920 he was the art director for the famous Hearst magazines, films and newspapers.

Some Quick Highlights of Design in the 1800s

  • 1800 – in this year Lord Stanhope invented the world’s first printing press that was made entirely of cast iron parts. This meant that only 10% of the original manual labor was required to run it and the size of paper that can be run through it was double.
  • 1816 – the sans-serif font first makes an appearance. It was shown as one single line of a book and was soon adopted by many publishers around the world.
  • 1890 - the Art Nouveau movement was thought to begin in 1890. It incorporated many different types of arts and was used quite prolifically in commercial design. Art Nouveau is still a very much loved style and continues to be with us today.

Finding More Information Online

William Morris

For more information on William Morris take a look at this website: There is a lot of detailed information about him and his life including some of his notable achievements. Anyone who is interested in the history of graphic design should spend time reading this as it is very interesting.

William Bradley

If you are interested in learning more about William Bradley this website has quite a lot of information It also shows one of the magazine covers that he designed which was typical of his style.

You can also perform your own searches for information on these twp graphic designers as well as others from this period. However William Morris and William Bradley are by far the two most significant graphic designers of the 1800s and they are two people who should certainly not be ignored.

Graphic Design in the 1900s

The 1900s was a time when graphic design really came into its own and many advances were made both in the way that books and posters could be printed and the techniques that could be used for graphic design purposes. Before the 1900s graphic design was an area that was gaining interest yet lacked the techniques needed to expand its use. As the 1900s progressed new typefaces and new innovations completely changed graphic design.

Important Figures

One of the most important figures in the history of graphic design was Jan Tschichold who wrote a book called New Typography which looked into the philosophy behind modern typography and put it into some kind of system. It was written in sans-serif typeface which was one of the most early modern fonts and was seen as something of a trademark for graphic design.

Other typographers which were seen as the forefathers of what we know as modern graphic design include: Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, El Lissitzky and Herbert Bayer. These three men were incredibly innovative when it came to stylizing and building new techniques for typography.

After the Second World War the American economy started to go through something of a boom and as a result advertising was in great demand. With the demand for advertising came a demad for graphic design. It was one section of the employment sector that began to flourish significantly.

While many 20th century designers 1900s made significant contributions to design, some people stand out as masters of design. Some of themost famous designers from this period included:

  • Rob Janoff

    Rob Janoff is involved in creating corporate identities and logos and also for working on television commercials as well as printed advertising. While he has created many modern logos throughout his long and illustrious career, his most famous is probably the Apple logo which is one of the most simple yet stylish logos in use today. It shows an apple with a bite taken out of it and is instantly recognizable.

  • Ruth Kedar

    Ruth Kedar is a graphic designer and artist and she is probably most well known for creating the logo for Google. She has also been involved in creating commissioned work for Adobe Systems and continues to create logos and advertising today.

  • Paul Rand

    Paul Rand was a corporate designer who created logos for UPS, ABC, IBM and many more. His designs were always incredibly simple yet very effective and he stressed that minimalism was something that all graphic designers should strive for as this was something that would never go out of fashion.

  • Milton Glasser

    Milton Glasser is probably most well-known for his I Love NY logo which showed the word love as a red heart. This logo is used on posters, clothing and more. He was also responsible for the DC Bullet logo that was on the front of old DC comics for nearly 20 years as well as the Brooklyn Brewery logo. He was also responsible for founding New York magazine in partnership with Cley Felker.

  • Bill Cleary

    Bill Cleary designed the eBay logo that is currently in use today. He has a background in marketing and advertising and used to be a high school teacher. He went on to work for advertising firms in New York as a copywriter.

By the middle of the 1980s desktop publishing was at the forefront of everyone's minds. Computers and the internet changed design forever. Programs like PageMaker and Illustrator were being used by everyone and anyone who was into graphic design. Yet the contributions from these masters of Graphic Design continued to shape the modern world. No technology can change or diminish the genious of quality design.

Internet Resources

This website: has an article on the origins of logos and is written by a graphic designer. It has quite a lot of useful information on logos and helpful way you can read more on this subject.

Another really helpful website can be found here: it goes into more information about various logos that have been used for many years in the United States.

For a really comprehensive overview of some of the most well-known logos in the world take a look at this website: As you can see it is an absolute treasure trove of logo information and gives anyone reading it a really great history of the logos shown and the people who were behind them.

To find out a little more about the history of logo take a look at this website: it also gives examples of some of the logos that are in existence today to give you an idea of what logos look like, should you need it.