The Birth of Digitalised Graphic Design

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As technology moves forward and the graphic design method and process integrates into computers, artificial intelligence (AI) applications will inescapably enter the design industry. In this moment in time, graphic design activities are carried out in various fields without the need of graphic designers, such as web design and page design, corporate identity design, by using artificial intelligence codes. This paper explores whether certain graphic design applications running on AI and machine learning algorithms are as authentic and creative as a graphic designers and the impact of artificial intelligence on the graphic design industry.

The question is not whether machines have the ability to think but whether machines are as authentic as people. In 2014, Mark O. Riedl carried out a test, named ‘Lovelace 2.0,’ which calculates how creative machines can be. Certain area of employment has declined as AI came along. Some argue that employment rate will go down in the field of design in the future, on the other hand, others think there is not going to be much change in the employment rates of professions that require creativity. Undoubtedly, graphic design requires innovation and is under the influence of the computerization process.

This paper will explore the origin of technology along with the impact it had on the industry. Continuing investigating to this day and age, where the internet is filled by users who design. They design their profile page on social media, they design their blog, or design their own website. Everybody is a designer nowadays since they have a computer and access to the internet. With the rise of self-proclaimed designers around, you would almost argue that there is no work for professional designers left. However, looking upon the internet, there seems to be something going on, and not entirely right. With the internet becoming a continuously growing part of daily life, it also intruded into the work field of graphic designers. As experts of communication, they must know what to do with it.

Origin of technology in graphic design

The requirements of a graphic designer dramatically evolved with the introduction of the personal computer as a design tool. A certain level of credibility was inserted into the profession, since designers were no longer viewed as a profession where designers played with their markers and coloured pencils but instead demonstrate great skills on a machine that was still relatively new to most people. The same rules and fundamentals of design theory and composition still applied to the craft, however the execution of the design process moved away from the drawing board and into the desktop computer. In its beginnings computers were still difficult and somewhat awkward to operate and very few companies had the financial resources to own more than a few workstations.

Ronald Labuz released The Computer in Graphic Design: From Technology to Style in 1993, when technology was starting to entangle with the general public. This book is a great resource to gain better understanding of the origins of the computer in graphic design. According to Labuz, “The first attempts at computer graphic design were marked by an unfortunate combination of limited computer power and undeniably inadequate aesthetics. Many experiments were conducted by engineers and technicians rather than trained graphic designers. After the first seminar in computer graphic design, sponsored by the Media Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1979, more interest was shown. In most cases, the interest did not translate into involvement because of a limited access to technology powerful enough to produce valuable results.” Labuz also further points out, “Pagination technology not dissimilar to today’s desktop publishing environment was widely available as early as 1981. The Bedford and Penta front ends were, however, priced far beyond the pocketbook of most users. Systems costing $250,000 or more were interesting marvels to be seen and displayed at equipment shows. Few graphic designers used the technology. Large type houses, newspapers, and major magazines were the market for this first generation of wysiwyg (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) display devices. The first computer product to be marketed as a graphic design tool would not be available for another five years. In 1985, the Macintosh breakthrough was not so much technological as it was economic. Affordability rapidly created a new and remarkably expanded level of interest. The designer’s experience with the computer was now not limited to demonstrations and exhibits of work done by engineers. Suddenly, graphic designers could actually use the machine to create their own images.”

However, Labuz also explains that even though these upgrades in the actual hardware and software and its relative near affordability, it would take a long while, maybe years before the printing technology would catch up with what was being produced on the computer screen. By the early 1990s, using a computer to design wasn’t a necessity, however a troublesome sense of change was soon becoming obvious within the design industry. Even the most resistant and old school graphic designers found their handcrafted layouts being transferred into large scanners and cameras to be captured in digital form. Separating color and the application of a transparency effect were simplified by the technology. Individual images and photographs could be captured digitally and then edited or scaled and reversed with a simple keyboard command, getting rid of the need for Photstats and photo-mechanical transfers that needs more hand-manipulation on a layout board. Rub-down lettering was replaced by a wide range of sometimes free and often inexpensive fonts. All of these factors were significant in the movement from tradition design production techniques to the use of computer generated graphic design.

As designers progressed and improved design tools that allowed for an infinite amount of creative manipulation, a gradual acceptance of the personal computer was generally accepted. Labuz stated, ‘The computer is neutral. Like the T-square and the triangle, this machine is a tool that may be used poorly or well, responsibly or irresponsibly. Fortunately, the short history of the medium has already produced work of exceptional quality. Rapidly moving from infancy to adolescence, computer graphic design has matured as a medium in a remarkably short time.” A great deal of attention was now being concentrated on the look and feel of design that was created from these machines. Designers took advantage of the precision and accuracy of the design software and were dumbfounded in their individual ability to perform such complicated operations without the assistance of a typographer or production assistant. Mastering advanced graphic design software became an exclusive practice that was reserved for the professionally trained. As computers made their presence in more homes and offices across the country, graphic designers were quite impressed with themselves in their skills to outperform the average computer user. Considering they were the first to experiment with this new visual technology and push it to its limits. They were professionally trained in the practice of design and worked closely with the commercial printing industry, producing amazing visual products for both business and industry.

Natalia Ilyin, a professor of Design who teaches design history and criticism, design for social activism, and transition design, wrote an article Fabulous Us: Speaking the Language of Exclusion, which appeared in a 1994 issue of the AIGA Journal of Graphic Design. She states, “… the language of design was based on exclusionary principles that we, as designers, all recognised. We went to school and learned and taught our clients what tools they needed to understand this language. We all agreed to use these principles, were welcome to the long house, had a corner on the market of knowledge, and paid the Con Ed bill. It was fabulous us and not-so-fabulous them, and it was our job to keep them realising that we knew more than they did.” What this group of professionals did not see coming was the development of their hard-earned foundations and principles being programmed into the software that was now slowly appearing on everyone’s desktop computer. As if in an instant, desktop publishing has escalated beyond being a practice of graphic professionals and evolve into a general means for anyone wanting to showcase and express their personal style through visual communication.

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The computer had in a lot of ways made design too perfect and too clean. The design profession’s response to this initial challenge by self-taught desktop publishers was to promote a new exclusive language that would be artistic in nature and move further away from the reliance of computer-generated design. Every design element rested on some sort of a grid system that kept the composition neat and orderly. Now that professionals and novices were using the same tools, graphic designers made a conscious effort not to use the established palettes and special effects filters within the design application and relied on their own creative devices of imperfect type.

Tobias Frere-Jones, an American type designer who teaches typeface design at the Yale School of Art MFA program, clarified his view further on Looking Closer: Bk. 2: Critical Writings on Graphic Design by Michael Bierut, which is about covering new and important issues in design language, education, intellectual property, new media, the state of the business, and the place of design in society. Frere-Jones states, “The ingredients of design are now available to everybody, even if the less obvious skills are not… To justify the costs of design commissions, the benefit must become obvious: the designer must provide what the secretary cannot”, and others agreed. “Clean work is easy. Edgy, inclusive work is unintelligible to those who do not speak the language. Our exclusionary language is now a language of obfuscation, which clients pay money to understand. And they said a computer was just a tool.”

The flipside to a totally expressive design solution is to create one of limitation and precision. With a “modernist approach,” Frere-Jones suggested that graphic designers could also refer to themselves as “visual engineers” that specialise in research and analysis of the most effective means for communication. Frere-Jones argue that designers could show off the principles and evidence of their professional training and formal education. Design became self-made as designers began exploring a more self-expressive approach of representation. Designers began designing for the approval and acceptance of other designers and the audiences they were paid to communicate messages to, as well as the clients whose products they were paid to present, somehow became lost in the equation. Content became secondary, and the message was not always clear, nor did it fundamentally represent the client’s voice. As a result, clientele preferring a cleaner and decipherable message looked to desktop publishers for a simple and more understandable format.

Moving away from the 90s and accelerating forward to this day and age, without a doubt the internet is the most substantial invention within technology. The internet is filled by users who design. They design their profile page on social media, they design their blog, or design their own website. Everybody is a designer nowadays since they have a computer and access to the internet. With the rise of self-proclaimed designers around, you would almost conclude that there is absolutely no work for professional designers left. However, browsing through the internet, there seems to be something going on, and not entirely right. With the internet becoming a continuously growing part of daily life, it also intruded into the work field of graphic designers. As experts of communication, they must know what to do with it. The public wants to create them without the thought of hiring a graphic designer.

The relationship between technology and graphic design needs to be understood. Since technology is growing excessively fast, I picked a recent essay about the subject to get more relevant information. This essay bounces back and forth on the positive and negative effect on graphic design, including evidence to determine each points. Even though this essay focuses on how the impact of technology on graphic design, it doesn’t tackle the originality or authenticity of graphic work.

Graphic designers relied heavily on word-of-mouth for their works to become popular and to be seen by the public, it was close to impossible to grow an organic dedicated fanbase to follow your work, nowadays with the rise of the internet and social media, you can create a profile on numerous websites such as Behance, Instagram and Dribble, where not only you can post your 2D images, you can share animations, vlogs and interactive art with no limitations of size file or quality. “With a traditional paper portfolio, it is rarely possible to accommodate all our work, with a laptop we can take everything”. On one hand, this supports graphic designers and gives them an easy interaction hub for clients to come in. On the other hand, this displays that having an image and a following is a bigger priority than before, especially since more designer accounts are being created every day. This may encourage designers to be more active and post more, therefore might have to rush out work or even worse, plagiarise. The struggle of graphic designer wasn’t explored enough, especially in a competitive aspect.

Away from the social media, they explored other programs like, Photoshop, Illustrator, After effect where you can create piece of work faster and more efficiently than the traditional way. Specifically, with Adobe After effect, an average person has access to a high amount of tools that helps them create animation in a rapid time compared to classic Disney movies where they had to use traditional stocks cell where they have to draw on every single frame. This determines that technology is giving opportunities to artists to be creative without worrying on buying big equipment or having a big team. Furthermore, it helps to find talent much easier than before, especially after they upload their animation on social media. One of the first graphic designers to use technology on their work was April Greiman. She is also credited, along with early collaborator Jayme Odgers, with helping to import the European ‘New Wave’ design style to the US during the late 70s and early 80s. ‘Greiman was one of the first graphic designers make use of the powerful tools in a computer. He notes that Greiman did not view the computer as simply a functional tool but as something that had led her to experiment in a way that opened up new avenues of design.’ This describes the good side of technology, however it doesn’t showcase the disadvantage of having so much tools and how it could affect the slight mistake of the human touch, moreover it might not challenge the creative mind.

Today we are seeing an uprising against the over digitalised style work. We are seeing a rise in the popularity of traditional print-based media as designers are striving for the type of imperfection that was commonplace before the digital revolution. This can be seen today in many sources. Just one look at designs from today’s creative area gives you the opportunity to see an abundance of textures and overlays used to create the implied use of traditional media.

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