The Definitive Dwiggins no. 81—Who Coined the Term “Graphic Design”?
Three and a half years ago I wrote two posts about the origins of the term “graphic design” that debunked the commonly held view that W.A. Dwiggins deserved credit for it: “Graphic Design:” A brief terminological history (June 4, 2014) and “Graphic Design:” more on the terminology of a profession (June 8, 2014). In them I traced the first use of the term to the California School of Arts and Crafts in 1921, one year before Dwiggins used it in “New Kind of Printing Calls for New Design” in the Boston Evening Transcript (August 29, 1922) special issue published in connection with the Third Annual Convention of the International Association of Printing House Craftsmen that took place in Boston from August 28 to September 2. 
In April of 2017 I received photocopies and scans of several catalogues of the California School of Arts & Crafts from Andrea V. Grimes, Special Collections Librarian of the Book Arts & Special Collections of the San Francisco Public Library, that not only supported my contention that the term “graphic design” had been employed before Dwiggins, but further solidified it by pushing the date of use back several more years. The material covered the years 1915 to 1921. In the 1917–1918 catalogue a course in Graphic Design and Lettering appears for the first time, replacing one called Advanced Design and Lettering.  Both were taught by Frederick H. Meyer (1872–1961). 
In the catalogue for 1916–1917 the Advanced Design and Lettering course was described as dealing “with the principles of lettering and commercial work and the various processes of reproducing the same.” The topics covered were “Lettering, Roman and Old English; Initial letters; Monograms and Ciphers; Book-plates and Book-covers; Illustrated quotations; Title pages; Calendars; Posters, etc.” In the 1917–1918 catalogue the course name was changed to Graphic Design and Lettering, but the description renamed virtually the same: “Graphic Design deals with the principles of lettering and commercial work and with the various processes of reproducing the drawings.” The subjects were also nearly identical: “Lettering, Freehand, Roman and Old English; Initial letters, Monograms and Ciphers; Illuminating and Engrossing; Book-plates and Book-covers; Illustrated quotations; Title pages; Calendars; Posters, etc.” Both courses reflected the influence of the 1890s poster craze and Arts & Crafts movement with an emphasis on posters, books and related items. Notably absent was any reference to advertising work.
Despite the absence of any explicitly commercial art topics in the Graphic Design course, there is no doubt that this is the earliest known use of the term in the manner in which we understand it today.  There is no explanation in the 1917–1918 catalogue as to why Meyer changed the name of the course. But it seems to have stuck. 
1. Alex Jay provided additional help for the second post.
2. Intriguingly, the Advanced Design and Lettering course was taught in 1915-1916 by K.E. Martin (KEM) Weber (1889–1963).
2. The German-born Meyer had founded the School of the California Guild of Arts and Crafts in 1907 near the University of California campus in Berkeley. The following year the school was renamed the California School of Arts and Crafts. (In 1936 it became the California College of Arts and Crafts and then in 2003 it changed its name again to the present one of California College of the Arts.) In 1917 the CSAC was billed as “A Practical School for Designers, Illustrators, Craft Workers, Teachers, Draughtsmen and Students of the Fine Arts.”
3. One reason that Meyer’s course did not include anything overtly commercial was that in 1917–1918 the school also had a course in Composition and Poster Design taught by Miss Patrice Borgeson whose description said that “special attention is paid to designing such forms of commercial illustration as Posters, Pictorial work for Newspapers, Books and Magazine Illustrations.” Borgeson, a graduate of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, had studied for a year under Arthur Dow at Teachers College in New York.
4. It was still in use in the 1921–1922 catalogue, the last one that I have any knowledge of.