Blue Pencil no. 46—Yet more on the early history of the term “graphic design”

Alex Jay, who has provided me with material in the past on aspects of graphic design history, has recently sent me two emails with new information on the issue of the early uses of “graphic design” as a term. I have summarized his discoveries below.

“Graphic Design”: More on the terminology of a profession (June 2014) mentioned a snippet that Alex Jay found from The Sierra Educational News about graphic design. The issue is now fully available online and Alex has told me that he incorrectly identified the original issue that contained the reference. It was December 1921 not August 1921. The text is on p. 535:

The New Year’s card reproduced in color on the back cover page of this issue is typical of the work done by students in the Graphic Design Class of the California School of Arts and Crafts, Berkeley. This card is one of dozens of original designs that have been worked out by students of the school. These cards have been printed by the press of the school and are for sale by the Students’ Supply Shop. Profits from these sales go into the the library fund of the school.

Here is the back cover of that issue, showing a greeting card created in the Graphic Design class.

Back cover of The Sierra Educational News vol. XVII, no. 10 (December 1921).

Alex also found an earlier notice in The Sierra Educational News vol. XV, no. 5 (May 1919) that mentions “graphic design”. It is on p. 256:

California School of Arts and Crafts, Berkeley.
Date: June 23-August 2.
Curriculum: Drawing, instrumental, mechanical, freehand and perspective; elementary and advanced antique; life drawing and painting; clay modeling; graphic design and poster work; constructive design and interior decoration; domestic arts, grade teachers’ course, metal work—copper and brass.

An earlier reference to “graphic design” comes from an even more unlikely source than The Sierra Educational News. Alex stumbled upon an article about technical education for printers from Organized Labor* vol. 9, no. 27 (4 July 1908), p. 4 that included this remark:

An Enterprising Trades Union
… The admittedly high standard of intelligence which prevails among printers is an assurance that with the elemental principles of design at their finger ends many of them will grow in knowledge and develop into specialists in graphic design and decorating. …

This reference is very apropos to W.A. Dwiggins’ article “New Printing Calls for New Design” since it acknowledges the changes that were occurring within the printing industry in the early decades of the 20th century. The anonymous author who wrote the article seems to have preceded both F.H. Meyer and Dwiggins in using the term “graphic design” in our contemporary sense.

*Organized Labor was a publication of the Labor Unions of San Francisco.