So what IS graphic design anyway?

At the start of a new term I like to ask students what graphic design means to them. This year I'm teaching all introductory courses, so I've decided to help them out a little bit. There is an endless stream of resources out there in the form of videos, presentations, essays, etc. I think the two pieces I've posted here (although not the newest, hottest, topics) provide very different definitions of what design is. The beautiful thing about our field is that they are both correct. The first video, produced by the Australian studio Pip & Co., asks the general public to explain what we do. The answers all over the place and the humor and honesty keeps this 10 year old gem on my radar. It's a simple explanation of design in the commercial sense. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oeRwFkjQe6s]

On the other hand, learning about the connection one can have when experiencing design gives us an opportunity to look at the field from an emotional perspective. In the second video Austrian designer Stefan Sagmeister shares with us some experiences in his life when design has made him happy. The examples range from product design to exhibitions to guerilla advertising and tell a story that inspires me to be a designer for reasons other than a paycheck.

Color Psychology

We are all aware of what holiday it is in the US just by observing the color combinations on the shelves of the local Walmart and Target (annoyingly being stocked months in advance of the actual celebration). The orange and black confirms our need to stock up on candy and the red and green starts popping up before Halloween has passed. Designers are relied upon for their experience with, and sensitivity to, what color can communicate. While we all grew up with an understanding that these meanings are universal, color can communicate very different messages in other cultures. The infographic below is an excellent resource for investigating cultural meanings—remember to know your audience first, then communicate with color.

Two-tone Monograms Courtesy of The Daily Heller

The following collection of monograms is courtesy of Print Magazine's The Daily Heller, a wonderful email subscription series from design historian and critic Steven Heller. Sign up for your own daily dose of inspiration from Heller's archives here! 1.22.14/Two-tone Monograms

Monograms and signets are beautiful typographic delights that require a keen design sense and a calligraphic hand. These German specimens from Max Körner’s Das Neue Monogram und Zeichenwerk (c.1950) is a sampling of a lost talent, although not a lost art. So much was achieved with two colors and a pen.

The Diverse Landscape of Data Visualization

The digital world has drastically changed the way information is organized, disseminated, and viewed. Successful organization of content equates to quick interpretation, and supports the right-now attitude of modern society. We long since surpassed data overload—if you had printed all of the content on the internet in 2009 it would take you 57,000 years to read it (via Cartridgesave.co.uk). The sheer amount of data has become overwhelming, but thanks to data visualization and information graphics, it will never become incomprehensible.

Although information graphics have been utilized for centuries to break down complex data into easily understood visual systems, Edward Tufte's strict rules for creating them are increasingly disregarded. Chartjunk can litter the data, skew content and confuse the audience (just like decorating a design can hinder its overall success), but in a world of shrinking attention spans strong visuals have become increasingly necessary to help capture attention. If you are a novice information designer be sure to consider the following as you develop your project:

The three parts of all infographics are the visual, the content, and the knowledge. The visual consists of colors and graphics. There are two different types of graphics—theme and reference. Theme graphics are included in all infographics and represent the underlying visual representation of the data. Reference graphics are generally icons that can be used to point to certain data, although they are not always found in infographics. Statistics and facts usually serve as the content for infographics, and can be obtained from any number of sources, including census data and news reports. One of the most important aspects of infographics is that they contain some sort of insight into the data that they are presenting—this is the knowledge (via Wikipedia).

The examples below show a broad range of approaches to data visualization. Consider how each utilizes visuals in various ways to support the content. How does each solution reveal content that may have been hidden otherwise?

David McCandless

David McCandless

Kai Krause

Kai Krause

Sarah Illenberger

Sarah Illenberger

Nicholas Felton

Nicholas Felton

History Flow

History Flow

Cooper Smith

Cooper Smith

Emoto

Emoto