“Graphic Design”: A brief terminological history
“It was not until 1922, when the outstanding book designer William Addison Dwiggins coined the term ‘graphic designer’ to describe his activities as an individual who brought structural order and visual form to printed communications, that an emerging profession received an appropriate name.” This statement, by Philip B. Meggs in the Foreword to his A History of Graphic Design (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1983), has been taken as gospel over the past thirty years. Yet, it is inaccurate.
Dwiggins never used the term “graphic designer” in his life. What he did use was the term “graphic design”. It appears in the article “New Kind of Printing Calls for New Design” which he contributed to the special Graphic Arts Section of the Boston Evening Transcript 29 August 1922. (The section was added to the newspaper as a preview of the Graphic Arts Exposition in Boston organized by the International Association of Printing House Craftsmen in conjunction with their third annual convention.) The article is reprinted in its entirety in The Origns of Graphic Design in America 1870–1920 by Ellen Mazur Thomson (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1997), pp. 184–189. Thomson, following Meggs, declares, “It is signiﬁcant not only because it marks the ﬁrst time the phrase ‘graphic design’ appeared in print but because it recapitulates many of the developments in this study.” p. 7. But the term is used by Dwiggins only once in the article.
Midway through “New Kind of Printing Calls for New Design” Dwiggins writes, “If all the talk about the importance of art to the industries of a nation is anything but bumcombe it is of the highest importance that the advertising draughtsmen be made conscious of their influence and opportunity. Art will not occur in the industries until our fellow citizens learn to know the real thing when they see it. Advertising design is the only form of graphic design that gets home to everybody.” This is the full extant of his use of the term “graphic design” and it seems to me to be inadvertent. That is, he was not consciously coining a description for the “new design” that he felt was needed. In the penultimate sentence of his essay he wrote, “…the designer will attempt to do for the new printing what he undertook to do for the old.”
Dwiggins’ article is focused on the notion that printing by 1922 was divided into three categories: “plain printing; printing as a ﬁne art; and a third large intermediary class of printing more or less modiﬁed by artistic taste”. The latter category was the “new printing” that he felt needed new design. “This last group has certain noteworthy characteristics. For one thing it is not made to be sold, it is made to be given away—with a very canny purpose behind the gift. Then, it is a new thing—as new as advertising.… Its function is to prepare the ground for selling something, or to sell something directly itself.” Much of this third group of printing was described at the time as direct advertising—house organs, catalogues, mailers, stationery, etc. So it is not surprising that in the Boston Evening Transcript article he uses the terms “advertising artist” and “printing designer” interchangeably with “artist” and “designer”. Clearly, he had not yet ﬁgured out in his own mind what to call the new professional.
So, if Dwiggins’ use of the term “graphic design” was accidental, when was it ﬁrst used? Or when was it ﬁrst used with the meaning that we associate with it today? What follows is a chronology of the terms “commercial art”, “graphic art” (or “graphic arts”) and “graphic design” as they appear and supplant one another from the 1880s to the 1980s. It is based largely on word searches in Google Books, a technique that has teased out instances of each term that would most likely have gone undetected in the pre-Internet era.
When I was in high school I took a class called Commercial Art. This was 1969. At the time, commercial art was commonly used in education and by the public at large to describe what is now called graphic design. Yet, there is a subtle and important difference between the two, one that points up the shifts in the worlds of printing and advertising from the last decades of the 19th century to dawn of the digital age. Signiﬁcantly, Dwiggins did not use the term “commercial artist” in his 1922 essay. I believe the omission was deliberate.
References to “commercial art” prior to the 1880s seem to deﬁne it as printed “art”, meaning the reproductions of paintings, etchings and engravings, illuminated manuscripts, etc. as well as designs for wallpaper. It is not the creation of art for commercial ends.
Art and Industry: Drawing in the Public Schools by Isaac Edward Clarke (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Ofﬁce, 1885)
—this is the earliest instance I was able to ﬁnd of the term “commercial art” as an alternative to ﬁne art. Google Books only offers a snippet view so I am unsure if Clarke explains what, in his mind, commercial art entails.
Artists, Advertising and the Borders of Art by Michele Bogart (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1997), an investigation of the conflict between ﬁne art and commercial art from the 1890s to through the 1950s, does not discuss the origin of the term “commercial art”.
Alma College in Michigan offered two courses in Commercial Art. The introductory one focused on “terminology, techniques, media and lettering as applied to simple problems selected to parallel current advertising trends.” The advanced course emphasized specialization in fashion art, illustrative drawing or advanced lettering.
The British Printer (vol. VI, no. 35) September–October 1893
“Black and White Art for the Press” by Noax pp. 369–370 [reprinted in The American Bookmaker March 1895, pp. 87–89] claimed—long before Dwiggins—that “The art of the future will be printed art.” But Noax did not go into any detail about what “printed art” would be. Instead, he spent time trying to promote the new profession—though in a very odd way. “The production of illustrations is no mean profession; the pleasures of the product are manifold,” he wrote. But then went on to say, “To those to whom the more or less empty honors of an academy or like institution are hopeless dreams, to the moderately able, the ‘smaller fry,’ there is an opening in commercial art. Its disappointments are less keen, the comparative remuneration higher, and the scope broader than in the painting of unsold canvases, more especially so with second and third rate artists.” p. 369. Here are the seeds of the conflict that Bogart explores.
The Woman’s Book (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1894)
“Occupations for Women” by Philip G. Hubert, Jr. pp. 1–78 recommended commercial art as an occupation. This emphasis on commercial art as a suitable activity for women was not conﬁned to the United States as “girls” in Scotland were encouraged to take up commercial art as well. See “Education of Girls and Women in Glasgow” by Janet A. Galloway in Congress of Women Held in the Woman’s Building, World’s Columbian Exhibition ed. Mary Kavanaugh Oldham Eagle (Philadephia and Chicago: S.I. Bell & Co., 1894).
The Royal Academy: Its Uses and Abuses by W.J. Laidlay (1898)
“…while I do not feel competent or called on to deﬁne true art, I can go so far as to say that commercial art is not necessarily true art.” p. 138
The Inland Printer (vol. XXVII, no. 3) June 19o1
brief news item (p. 353) reports that “a high school of the graphic arts is planned at Munich, Germany”. This is the earliest use of the term “graphic arts” that I found.
The Society of Illustrators founded in New York. Although the founders are key players in Bogart’s book it is signiﬁcant that the new organization was not named the Society of Commercial Artists.
Printers’ Ink began “Commercial Art Criticism” column by George Ethridge of The George Ethridge Company. In the column Ethridge critiqued advertisements, giving opinions on their success or failure and providing advice on how the bad ones could be better. His company went on to become an art studio and in the 1920s Matthew Beecher, a member, contributed a column to Advertising & Selling.
Ethridge began his career in the art department of the Charles Austin Bates Syndicate, a pioneering advertising agency, in the 1890s. There he worked under Earnest Elmo Calkins (later partner in Holden & Calkins, an advertising agency that introduced the positions of art director and typographer). See The Mirror Makers: A History of American Advertising and Its Creators by Stephen R. Fox (New York: William Morrow & Co., 1984), p. 42
Modern Achievement (vol. 2) ed. Edward Everett Hale included “Opportunities for Women: Commercial Art Work” by Lois Knight pp. 366–369 which encouraged women to enter the engraving trade. The issue also contains “Art Designing” by Candace Wheeler pp. 356–360 which is focused on women entering the textile and silverware trades.
The Westminster Review includes “The Reign of Commerce” by George Trobridge which showcases the disdain many had for commercial art. Trobridge writes, “Ruskin deﬁnes Art as the expression of man’s delight in the works of the Creator, and William Morris as the natural outbirth of happy labour; but commercial art is neither of these. However, we may improve the technique and method of our art, it will not be ‘a joy to the maker and to the beholder’ (to quote Morris again) until it ceases to be commercial. Great art is produced for love and not for money.” p. 490
It is this negative connotation associated with commercial art is a major reason that Dwiggins avoided using the term to describe his own work or that of the “new design” that new printing needed. But it was not the only reason as commercial art was heavily identiﬁed with illustration—though by 1910 it also included decoration and lettering among its principal activities—and it left out the aspect of design.
Public Opinion (vol. XXXIV, no. 14 ) 2 April 1903
“Women in Commercial Art” p. 497: “The extensive ﬁeld which lies open in what is termed commercial art, formerly all but monopolized by men, is now attracting many hundreds of women yearly.” For an instance of the truth of this statement see 1904.
Printing in Relation to Graphic Art by George French (Cleveland: The Imperial Press, 1903)
—the ﬁrst book to use the term “graphic art” in its title. French does not deﬁne the term, but it is clear that he means art applied to printed matter, either as illustrations or as the arrangement of images and text. His focus is on books rather than advertising and this may explain why he does not use the term commercial art.
Ad Sense (July 1904)
Ella M. Dolbear, owner of the Hampshire Studio, “perhaps the largest commercial art studio in the city of Chicago”, proﬁled as an example of the “rapid and solid development of commercial art”. “Miss Dolbear, with several years back of her, devoted to art for art’s sake only, about ﬁve years ago entered the realm of advertising artists.” p. 38. Judging by the photographs her studio was successful enough to employ several other women.
The American Printer (vol. 42), following the lead of Printers’ Ink, initiated a “Commercial Art” column. It was written by Francis William Vreeland, a painter. It is further evidence that the concept of commercial art had become commonplace.
The Graphic Arts and Crafts Year Book: The First American Annual Reivew of Engraving, Printing and Allied Industries ed. Joseph Meadon (Hamilton, Ohio: Republican Publishing Company, 1907)
the term “graphic arts”, used to refer to the web of industries centered on printing, was beginning to be used by the printing industry. The annual continued until 1914.
The American Printer (vol. 44, no. 5) July 1907
“The Tide of Poor Drawing” by Francis William Vreeland pp. 554–556 (July 1907) continued the stream of negative views of commercial art. Vreeland scathingly wrote, “That commercial art is considered by able artists and promising students the very lowest type of work, is a reason for the existence of so much inferior talent in the ﬁeld.” p. 555 and “Not until absolute necessity is such an artist driven into the ﬁeld of commercial art, and even then he does so under protest and in a half-hearted, often utterly discouraged frame of mind.” p. 555
One area where commercial artists were being regularly employed was the engraving trade. This was made clear by the publication in 1907 of a booklet called Modern Commercial Art by the engraving house of Lammers-Shilling in Chicago.
Cement Age (vol. VI, no. 2) February 1908
“Graphic Design for Reinforcing Rectangular Concrete Sections” by R.S. Peotter, pp. 226–232 is the ﬁrst instance of the term “graphic design” turned up by a word search of Google Books. But it is not relevant to the ﬁeld of graphic design today as the article is about the design of graphs or charts. “The graphs are very compact and handy for checking and, with a knowledge of the subject, are ﬁrst rate for use in design.” p. 231
“Art in Advertising” exhibition organized by Earnest Elmo Calkins at the National Arts Club in New York.
The Proceedings of the New York State Teachers Association (vol. 65)
“Commercial Art” by C.J. Munro pp. 290–293 describes the profession of one that provides drawings for advertising purposes. This description did not fully reflect the reality of the profession at the time as indicated by the careers of such men as Will Bradley, Frederic W. Goudy, Oswald Cooper, Theodore B. Hapgood, Jr. and others.
The Graphic Arts: A Magazine for Printers and Users of Printing ed. Henry Lewis Johnson (Boston: The National Arts Publishing Company, 1911)
prior to starting up this magazine, Johnson had been the editor of The Printing Art: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine of the Art of Printing and of the Allied Arts from its inception in 1903 until 1910 which continued under different editorship through the 1920s. The Graphic Arts targeted the same audience: “The Graphic Arts is to deal with the business of printing.… The principal emphasis will be given to signiﬁcant examples of typography, illustration and design, in connection with the great commercial ﬁeld of printing.”
Advertising & Selling (vol. XXI, no. 5) October 1911
“Art Versus Commercial Art” by A. Rowden King of The Ethridge Company, pp. 49–53 is the earliest usage of “commercial art” as a phrase found using the word search in Google Books. In the article King explains that “the aim of the former being the beautiful and that of the latter sales, sales, always sales.” p. 50. The commercial artist must be familiar with reproduction processes and with advertising. The Ethridge Company, located in New York and with sales managers in Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago, advertised illustration, copy, engraving and printing as its services. It lasted through the 1920s.
Business Administration: Theory, Practice and Application ed. Walter D. Moody (Chicago: LaSalle Extension University, 1911)
“Advertising” by A.M. Stryker pp. 1–139 includes a section on “Buying Commercial Art” (pp. 107–110). Commercial art “adjoins the borderland of real art… a land of considerable mystery.” Commercial artists have “turned a deaf ear to the call of Fame through the hackneyed—‘Art for art”s sake,’ and harken to the hair of art for the dollar’s sake.” p. 107. Stryker says that a new profession is emerging: the “advertising artist”. The former is essentially a draughtsman, carrying out a drawing or lettering, while the latter is able to “originate and design” an advertisement.
Art Alphabets and Lettering by J.M. Bergling (Chicago: J.M. Bergling, 1914)
the full title of Bergling’s book is: “An inexhaustive collection of the most useful and artistic lettering for the use of painters, designers, engravers, commercial artists, show card writers, schools and colleges….” Note that he distinguishes between designers and commercial artists.
The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) was created in order to have an organization representing the printing trades of the United States at the Leipzig Graphic Arts Exposition. The idea was announced 13 November 1913 by John Agar at the eighth annual “Fifty Books of the Year” exhibition at the National Arts Club. “The institute will include engravers, etchers, the Typothetae, lithographers, illustrators, panel painters, mural painters, and generally, all arts and crafts intended to make ideas visible,” declared Agar. The list essentially embraced ﬁne artists who did printmaking, commercial artists and those in the “graphic arts” trades. It is this inclusive approach that prevented the nascent organization from becoming the American Institute of Graphic Design.
The Graphic Arts Association of New York was created by the United Typothetae and Printers’ League to represent the interests of the producers of paper, ink, photo-engraving, electrotyping and printing within the Associated Advertising Clubs of the World. This essentially codiﬁed the term “graphic arts” within the printing industry. After this, it is commonly employed.
The Printing Art (vol. XXVIII, no. 6) February 1917
“Opportunities for the Artist Typographer” by Robert Saladé pp. 449–452 stressed the need for “typographic designers”. Most of the samples shown are by Benjamin Sherbow, supposedly the ﬁrst individual to call himself a typographer (c. 1907).
In a promotional piece Charles Capon in Boston describes himself as a “designer” and “typographer”. Percy Grassby, also of Boston, had described himself as a “designer” in 1915.
The Inland Printer December 1920 p. 342 has a short item that reports that “The arts of graphic design and modeling in clay are taught” at The Estienne Printing School in Paris. This is the ﬁrst instance of the term “graphic design” that a Google word search turned up. But it is unclear what is meant by it.
Commercial Engraving and Printing: A Manual of Practical Instruction and Reference Covering Commercial Illustrating and Printing by All Processes for Advertising Managers, Printers, Engravers, Lithographers, Paper Men, Photographers, Commercial Artists, Salesmen, Instructors, Students and All Others Interested in These and Allied Trades by Charles W. Hackleman (Indianapolis: Commercial Engraving Publishing Company, 1921)
This manual tried to cover all bases in listing its potential audience. Oddly enough, it did not use the adjective “graphic” in any way.
The venerable Penrose Annual vol. 23 changed its subtitle to The Process Year Book and Review of the Graphic Arts by the addition of “Review of the Graphic Arts”. Another indication that graphic arts had become entrenched.
The Boston Register and Business Directory (1921) contained headings for artists, commercial artists and designers. Dwiggins listed himself under Artists. In 1927 he changed his listing to Designer.
Advertising & Selling March 5, 1921 p. 32 re First Annual Exhibition of the Art Directors’ Club held at the National Arts Club says “The National Arts Club and American Institute of Graphic DESIGN [my emphasis] have combined with the Art Directors’ Club to make this ﬁrst annual dinner and exhibition a marked success.” This early usage of the term “graphic design” is clearly a mistake. But it not simply a typo. Whoever did it must have subconsciously thought of the term as something apposite for the activities of the AIGA by this time.
A more serious example of a pre-Dwiggins use of “graphic design” is found in the California Teachers Association Journal (vol. 17) where “Graphic Design and Lettering” is listed as a course offered during its 15th annual session July 30, 1921. Unfortunately, Google Books only provides a snippet so further details of this course are known.
The Burlington Magazine (vol. 41) September 1921
“The Origin and Early History of the Arts in Relation to Aesthetic Theory in General” by G. Baldwin Brown says “Graphic design, sculpture, the decoration of the person and the implement in form and colour, are paleolithic; and the same is true of the dance, though for this particular form of art we turn naturally to modern savages, amongst whom, especially in Australia, it has received an extraordinary development.” p. 91. This is another irrelevant instance of “graphic design” that predates Dwiggins’ use.
“New Kind of Printing Calls for New Design” by W.A. Dwiggins in the Graphic Arts Section 3:6 of the Boston Evening Transcript 29 August 1922. Even though Dwiggins’ use of “graphic design” is not of any great importance, this is still a landmark essay as he is the ﬁrst to articulate the fact that non-book printing is worthy of as much aesthetic consideration as book printing; and that its explosive growth in the beginning of the 20th century has brought with it a transformation in the nature of the profession of those hired to give it a more pleasing appearance. Dwiggins’ article is an outgrowth of the commercial work he had been doing since c.1909, especially for the paper industry.
The Ethridge Company, by now an art studio rather than an advertising agency, adds to its staff. Among the titles are “Mechanical Artist” and “Designer and Letterer”. During the 1920s Matthew Beecher wrote a column for Advertising & Selling. Among them is “How to Make Layouts That Emphasize the Sales Message” (March 1924), pp. 10–11, 22 in which he inveighs against a “‘Topsy’ type of layout—‘letting it ’jes grow’”. p. 10. Instead he stresses that a design needs to be planned in advance. This may seem like commonsense today, but it was apparently still a novel concept in the 1920s—despite various pleas like Beecher’s during the preceding decade.
Here are a few examples of publications and articles as evidence of the new emphasis on the importance of the use of layouts in preparing designs for print and of the need to have a “layout man” on staff at both advertising agencies and printshops:
• Printers’ Ink 3 November 1910 column “The Little Schoolmaster’s Classroom” [anonymous] pp. 76–78—“There is no denying the value of the good layout and its superiority over oral explanation when you wish to put your copy ideas graphically before the advertiser.” p. 77
• Advertising and Correspondence by George Burton Hotchkiss, George Howard Harmon, Lee Galloway (New York: Alexander Hamilton Institute, 1911)
• How to Make Type Talk by Barnard Lewis (Boston: The Stetson Press, Inc., 1914)
• Advertising: Its Principles, Practice, and Technique by Daniel Starch (Chicago and New York: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1914)—layout is “the ad’s structure” p. 190 with two functions: “Attraction-power and readability—making it [the advertisement] easy to read.” p. 192 part of Chapter XVII: Type and Legibility
• Progressive Exercises in Typography by Ralph A. Loomis (Springfield, Massachusetts: The Taylor-Holden Company, 1915)
• The Art & Practice of Typography: A Manual of American Printing by Edmund G. Gress (New York: Oswald Publishing Company, 1917)—“The Layout Man” pp. 35–40; “Every printshop should have a ‘layout” man.” p. 35
• Printers’ Ink 6 September 1917 “Giving the Printer an Intelligent Layout” by Gilbert P. Farrar, pp. 49–51
• Making Dummies and Layouts by Harry L. Gage (Chicago: United Typothetae of America, 1918) no. 46 in the Typographic Technical Series for Apprentices
• Planning the Layout (Scranton, Pennsylvania: International Correspondence Schools, 1918)
• The Principles of Advertising: A Text Book by Harry Tipper, Harry L. Hollingworth, George Burton Hotchkiss and Frank Alvah Parsons (New York: The Ronald Press Co., 1920)—Chapter XXVII: Laying Out the Advertisement.—“In advertising, form or layout is a matter of building or arranging within certain limits certain material to express particular ideas.” pp. 223–224. (Parsons was the founder of what is now Parsons: The New School for Design.)
The want ads of Printers’ Ink are full of requests for advertising men with design and layout skills. In a 1917 advertisement touting the hiring of Edward R. Currier, Berrien-Durstine, Inc. Advertising expressly touted his layout skills. Currier—along with Benjamin Sherbow, Fred T. Singleton, Gilbert P. Farrar—was one of the pioneering typographers who promoted the use of layouts in talks, articles and books. Dwiggins knew Sherbow, Currier and Farrar professionally and it is likely that he saw men like these as models of the “advertising designer” needed to handle the new printing.
The University of Illinois changed the title of a course from Advertising Design to Graphic Design; see p. 80 of Transactions of the Board of Trustees, Fifty-Third Report (1926).
Graphic Design by Walter George Raffe (London: Chapman & Hall, 1927)
this is the ﬁrst book to have the term “graphic design” in its title. Oddly, though, the term never appears in the text itself!
Layout in Advertising by W.A. Dwiggins (New York: Harper Brothers, 1928). Dwiggins’ 1922 article in the Boston Evening Transcript can be seen as a prelude to this well known book of his. In it he uses the term “graphic design” twice with the second instance (p. 6) being of no consequence.—p. ix “The book [Layout in Advertising] tries to exhibit the method of this preliminary study, and to show how these preliminary concerns shape the graphic design of an advertisement.” Instead of discussing the “graphic designer” (or even the “advertising designer”) he refers often to the layout man.
The American Printer (vol. 59, no. 4) October 1929
“The Challenge of Present Day Typography and Design” by Robert McCay talks about action and motion in graphic design and about modern graphic design. But only a snippet is available on Google Books to be able to know anything further.
Modern Typography and Layout by Douglas C. McMurtrie (Chicago: Eyncourt Press, 1929), the ﬁrst book to promote die neue typographie in the United States, does not mention graphic design.
Commercial Art Practice by Charles C. Knights and Frank E. Norman (London: Crosby Lockwood & Son, 1930)
Commercial Art and Industry (vol. XVI ), p. 52 mentions that “photography and graphic design worked together” in a collaboration between E. McKnight Kauffer and photographer Francis Bruguière. Only a snippet is available on Google Books.
Layout: Its Theory and Practice in Modern Commercial Art by Cecil Wade (London: SIr Isaac Pitman & Sons, Ltd., 1934)
Advertising & Production Yearbook: The Reference Manual of the Graphic Arts (New York: Colton Press, 1935); the title was later changed to Graphic Arts Production Yearbook
Graphic Design: A Library of Old and New Masters in the Graphic Arts by Leon Friend and Joseph Hefter (New York and London: Whittley House, McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1936)
“Graphic design… is that creative endeavor which ﬁnds expression through the medium of printing ink. It is the design used in the make-up of daily papers, magazines, and books; in display cards, package goods, and advertising literature; and in the reproduced or original prints that adorn our walls.” from the Preface. This book marks the beginning of the shift from “commercial art” to “graphic design”—though it only uses the latter term four times. The authors deﬁne advertising design as the application of graphic design to merchandising. p. 247
Commercial Art: Advertising Layout by E.C. Matthews and Phillip Albaum (Illustrated Editions Co., Inc., 1938)
PM (October-November 1938) proﬁle of Paul Rand calls him a “typographer, designer, and graphic artist”.
Bauhaus Weimar 1919–1928 eds. Herbert Bayer, Walter Gropius and Ise Gropius (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1938)
the promotional texts for this landmark exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art make no mention of graphic design as part of the Bauhaus curriculum. The school is described as “…a community of architects, painters, sculptors, engineers, photographers and craftsmen…”
Design Laboratory established by Alexey Brodovitch at the New School for Social Research.
The American Printer
“Trends in Graphic Design” by Robert Foster July 1942, pp. 13–15. Like Raffe’s book, Foster’s article does not used the term “graphic design” in its text. In a later column Foster avoids the term in the title as well: “Printing Design” by Robert Foster October 1942, pp. 18–21.
Design (vol. 47, no. 8) April 1946
special issue on Black Mountain College includes graphic design among the disciplines listed on the cover designed by Alvin Lustig. The issue included an article on “Graphic Design” by Lustig who taught a course on Graphic Design with Josef Albers at the college in the summer of 1946.
Interiors (September 1946)
“Alvin Lustig: About the Career of a Young Man with an Inquiring Mind” —Lustig: “The words graphic designer, architect, or industrial designer stick in my throat giving me a sense of limitation or specialization within the specialty or a relationship to society and form itself that is unsatisfactory and incomplete. This inadequate set of terms to describe an active life reveals only partially the still undefined nature of the designer.” Quoted in Born Modern: The Life and Design of Alvin Lustig by Steven Heller and Elaine Lustig Cohen (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2010), p. 18.
“Too many people still think of me as a graphic designer. Of course, I realize the greatest volume of my work has been graphic but I am seeking to change that balance.” quoted in an undated letter to James Laughlin in Born Modern, p. 34.
These instances suggest that Alvin Lustig, despite his misgivings about the phrase, was one of the ﬁrst—if not the ﬁrst—person to consistently refer to himself as a graphic designer.
Thoughts on Design by Paul Rand (New York: Wittenborn and Company, 1947)
the phrase “graphic design” is not used in the text.
Robin Darwin set up specific graphic design course at Royal College of Art (see New Typographic Design by Roger Fawcett-Tang (London: Laurence King Ltd., 2007), p. 9
Graphic Forms: The Arts as Related to the Book ed. György Kepes (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1949)
contains no references to “graphic design”. Among the essays are “Trade Book Design” by Dwiggins and “Black in the Visual Arts” by Rand.
Modern Lettering and Layout by Cecil Wade (New York: Pitman Publishing Corp., 1950)
Visual Communication department—“structured like a wide-ranging graphic studio”—established at the Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm: “The aim of the training in the department of Visual Design is the education of specialist professionals in every ﬁeld of advertising design, including book design, exhibition design, etc.: specialists who are not merely trained in one limited ﬁeld, such as typography, graphics, or photography, but have mastered all these ﬁelds and can combine them.” Quoted in Ulm Design: The Morality of Objects ed. Herbert Lindinger (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: The MIT Press, 1990), p. 122.
Graphic Arts Program begun at Yale University under the direction of Alvin Eisenman. Its name was changed sometime in the late 1950s to the Department of Graphic Design following a visit by Robin Darwin of the Royal College of Art. Lustig was part of the faculty from 1951 to 1953. He created the “Experimental Workshop in Graphic Design” (see Born Modern, pp. 186–187 for details).
William Johnstone reorganized the School of Book Production at the Central School of Arts and Crafts and changed its name to the School of Book Production & Graphic Design. See The Penrose Annual XLVII (1953), “Graphic design at the Central School” by William Johnstone pp. 58–60. Although Johnstone emphasized a new integration of design and printing, his text still refers to artists rather than designers or graphic designers. The spur to the renaming may have been Herbert Spencer who was a visiting lecturer at the school.
Mildred Constantine became Associate Curator of Graphic Design at Museum of Modern Art. Constantine organized several shows with “graphic design” in the title. Her and MoMA’s use of the term surely helped it gain ground in the 1950s.
Graphic Design: With Special Reference to Lettering, Typography, and Illustration by John Lewis and John Brinkley (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1954)
“Four American Graphic Designers” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. Organized by Mildred Constantine. Despite the title of the show, MoMA’s 18 February 1954 press release described the individuals—Noel Martin, Ben Shahn, Leo Lionni and Herbert Matter—as “artists-designers”. The exhibition aimed to “demonstrate the varied approaches used today by leading graphic designers in communicating ideas to various kinds of audiences through advertisements, books, posters, magazine illustrations, pamphlets and announcements.”
“Two Graphic Designers: Alvin Lustig and Bruno Munari” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, October 18 to November 27, 1955. Curated by Mildred Constantine. Review by Aline B. Saarinen (“The Role of [the] Graphic Designer”) in the New York Times October 23, 1955 is the ﬁrst instance of “graphic design” appearing in that newspaper.
“Graphic Design in England” speech by F.H.K. Henrion at 1956 International Design Conference, Aspen. Published in Print (vol. X, no. 4) August–September 1956, pp. 49-51.
This speech, coupled with the activities at the Royal College of Art and the Central School, suggest that the British were pushing the term “graphic design” as the best way to describe the evolving profession more than the Americans were.
Graphic Design Department created at the Rhode Island School of Design. It evolved from evening classes in advertising design that had been begun in 1921 as part of the Decorative Design Department.
ﬁrst use of “graphic design” as a category in the Manhattan yellow pages. Among those listed was George Tscherny. But most graphic designers of the time (e.g. Ladislav Sutnar) were listed under “design”.
Neue Grafik / New Graphic Design / Graphisme actuel magazine begun. Co-edited by Richard P. Lohse, Josef Müller-Brockmann, Hans Neuburg and Carlo Vivarelli.
the ﬁrst instance of the Swiss use of the term “graphic design”.
Paul Rand: His Work from 1946 to 1958 (Tokyo: Zokeisha and New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1959)
although the term “graphic design” is used only twice in the book, Rand is referred to as a graphic designer—as well as a commercial artist and advertising designer!
die Neue Graphik / the new graphic art / le nouvel art graphique by Karl Gerstner and Markus Kutter (Teufen: Arthur Niggli, 1959).
Graphic Design by Matthew Baranski (International Textbook Co., 1960)
“Graphic Design as used in this connection refers to works of art which are produced and may be reproduced by the process of imprinting.” p. 2
“Graphic Design by Douglas Lynch: A Retrospective” exhibition at Portland Art Museum
The Graphic Artist and His Design Problems [Gestaltungsproblem des Grafikers / Les problèmes d’un artiste graphique] Josef Müller-Brockmann (Teufen: Arthur Niggli, 1961)
Who’s Who in Graphic Art (Zurich: Amstutz & Herdeg Graphic Press, 1962)
includes artists, graphic designers, illustrators and cartoonists. The choice of terminology can probably be attributed to the biographies submitted by each individual.
17 Graphic Designers (London: Balding & Mansell, 1963). See Typographica by Rick Poynor (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2002), p. 106.
Graphic Design: Visual Comparisons by Alan Fletcher, Colin Forbes and Bob Gill
Graphic Design Manual: Principles and Practice [Methodik der Form- und Bildgestaltung: Aufbau Synthese Anwendung / Manuel de Création Graphique: Forme Synthèe Application] by Armin Hofmann (Teufen: Arthur Niggli, 1965)
the ﬁrst Swiss publication to use the term “graphic design” as far as I have discovered. Hofmann’s emphasis is on the new situation of the graphic designer in a world where craft has disappeared.
Graphic Design and Visual Communication by John Cataldo (Scranton, Pennsylvania: International Textbook Company, 1966)
just as the term “graphic design” appears to be on its way to common acceptance in the English-speaking world, a push begins to replace it with “visual communication”.
herbert bayer: visual communication architecture planning by Herbert Bayer (New York: Reinhold, 1967)
although the title said “visual communication” the term is not used in the text. Bayer does not deﬁne any terms, but instead complains that “(the imprecise terminology of design, art, etc. forces me to constantly mix these words.)” p. 13. At the back of the book there is a timeline for “graphic desgn, exhibition design”, distinct from timelines for architecture and painting, that includes “posters, advertisements, booklets, packages, books, typography, magazine covers, outdoor advertising, industrial design, type faces, illustrations for industries, publishing houses, advertising agencies, and institutions” p. 205.
Functional Graphic Design in the 20’s by Eckhard Neumann 1967 (New York: Reinhold, 1967)
Graphic Design for the Computer Age: Visual Communication for All Media by Edward A. Hamilton (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1970)
History of Visual Communication [Geschichte de visuellen Kommunikation / Histoire de la communication visuelle] by Josef Müller-Brockmann (Teufen: Arthur Niggli, 1971)
“As the scope of the graphic designer’s work expands, the term ‘visual communication’ will become a more adequate description of hus activities than ‘graphic design’.” p. 6 and “The term ‘graphic design’ refers primarily to the artistic design of printed matter, book jackets, illustrations and posters.” p. 6 This book influenced a number of graphic design programs to change their names in the 1970s and 1980s. (There are references as early as 1972 for a Department of Communication Design at Parsons School of Design—the name it still has—and as early as 1974 for a similarly titled department at RIT.)
A Basic Course in Graphic Design by Richard Taylor (London: Studio Vista, 1971)
A History of Graphic Design by Philip B. Meggs (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1983)
Information Anxiety by Richard Saul Wurman (New York: Doubleday, 1989). In 1976 Wurman used the term “information architect”at a conference of the American Insitute of Architecture. He revived the word in this book and urged it as a better term than “graphic designer” to describe the profession—or at least much of the expansion of its activities since the 1960s. Designers like Willi Kunz and Massimo Vignelli enthusiastically embraced Wurman’s term as a means of separating their work from that of designers who were more intuitive, more pictorial, more allied with the worlds of publishing and advertising—who were, in short, less analytical and scientiﬁcally rigorous. The problem with this term is that it already existed in the world of computers where it had a different meaning.
Many of the entries in this rough timeline would not have been discovered if not for modern tools such as Google and its Google Books search functions. Yet, there are still limits to this methodology. Copyright restrictions make it difﬁcult to search publications after 1923 and a surprising number of those from before that date are not accessible online despite having been digitized. Of course, all internet research is limited by what has been both digitized and uploaded. Thus, this survey of the shift from commercial art to graphic art to graphic design to visual communication to information architecture is only a preliminary effort.