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A Graphic Design History By: Amirah Tyner

c 5,000 BCE


Early Writing Systems Cunieform “From the early Paleolithic to the Neolithic period (35,000 BCE to 4,000 BCE), early Africans and Europeans left paintings in caves, including the Lascaux caves in Southern France.” Early pictures were made for survival and for utilitarian and ritualistic purposes. Petroglyphs are carved or scratched signs on rock.These images became symbols for what would be the first spoken language. Many of these paintings and petroglyphs are found all over the world and appearance of them are abstract geometic signs.” “Discoveries indicated that early people in Thailand might have used agriculture and pottery in early date, because of this Archaeologists had long believed that Mesopotamia, also known as “the land between the rivers,”—Between the Tigris and Euphrates river, is what started civilization. It is known that early humans were nomadic, because of Mesopotamia’s lands that were had rich flat and fertile and climate seasons were wet winters and hot dry summers were what finally settled nomadic people and helped establish a village society.”(Meggs) Sumerians made civilization possible in Mesopotamia, along with their invention of writing cuneiform, their greatest gift to communication to social order, economic progress, and other future developments. “Cunieform is wedged shape writing that was created in 3000 BCE.”. Once it was discovered libraries were then built and organized filling with tablets about religion, mathematics, and history. “Clay was used for record keeping and a read sharpened to a point was used ot scratch in the surface of the tablet, lines were written in verical columns and then dried in the hot sun or baked rock-hard in kilns. Small clay tags were made to identify contents in sacks and pottery containers for stored food with pictographic drawings of objects with numerals and personal names inscribed in orderly columns.” (Meggs)

“Egyptians used hieroglyphics. Sumerian writing was passed down to the Egyptians. The Egyptians writing was complexic pictograph than cunieform and the Egyptians continued to preserve their culture and writing for over 3000 years. Hieroglyphics consisted of pictograms that depicted objects or beings. These were combined to designate actual ideas, phonograms denoting sounds, and determinatives identifying categories.” In 1798, Napoleon directed a search through Egypt to blockade the English trade route to India. A year later in August, his men while digging, found a black slab with inscriptions of two languages and three scripts. Later it was called the Rosetta Stone, which was written in 196 or 197 BCE to celebration of Pharoh Ptolemy’s claim to the throne. The Rosetta stone contains writing in Hieroglyphics, Demotic, and Greek. The major deciphering of the stone was done by Jean-Francois Champollion. “The development of papyrus sped Egyptian visual communication—papyrus a paperlike material made from a plant called the Cyperus papyrus. In 1500 BCE Egyptian priest had developed a cursory hieratic script, a penstroke simplification of the hieroglyphic book hand, for use in religious writings. The hieroglyph fo rscribe was a pictorial image of the very early brush holder, palette, and sack of ink.”(Meggs) Papyrus paper was a major step forward in Egyptian visual communication. The Egyptians were the first people to produce illustrated manuscripts in which words and pictures were combined to communicate information. Eventually, Papyrus was used for funerary purposes. The majestic Egyptian culture survived for over 3000 years. Hieroglyphics, papyri, and illustrated manuscripts are its visual communications legacy.” (Meggs)

-c 100 BCE

Cave painting from Lascaux, France 15,000-10,000 BCE. Cuneiform Tablet originated from Umma, 2050 BCE. Engraved drawing on deer antler, c. 15,000 BCE. Rosetta Stone, c. 197-196 BCE. Hieroglyphics, Demotic, and Greek script. Hieroglyph, 2700 BCE; Hieroglyphic manuscript hand, c. 1500 BCE; hieratic script, c. 1300 BCE; and demotic script, c. 400 BCE.

c 2000 BCE

Alphabets Greek “The subsequent invention of the alphabet is a word derived from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and beta.The Greeks adopted the Phoenician alphabet as well as there style of writing from right to left, later on they adopted the style of left to right. As early as the eighth century, the oldest known inscriptions from that time period. Greek civilization had set out accomplishments of the western world–science, philosophy, and democratic government all developed in ancient Greece. In 500BC, Democracy was adopted in Greece. Visual communications played a secondary role in the oral culture of the Greek city-state. The alphabet played a role in Greek democracy; it enabled the use of allotment tokens when selecting citizens by lot for public service. Alexander the Great smashed through the power of the Persian Empire. Reading and writing had become more important by this time, because the expansion of information and knowledge exceeded the ability of oral communication. Most of the knowledge documented by the Greeks was lost due to the fragile nature of papyrus scrolls and the damp Greek climate. After the death of Alexander the Great, Greek civilization and its alphabet became influential throughout the whole world.” (Meggs)

Romans “The Latin alphabet came to the Romans from Greece by way of the ancient Etruscans. The letters Y and Z come from the Greek alphabet. Roman brush writers wrote notices and political campaigns on walls. Around 190 BC, parchment paper, made from the skins of domestic animals, came in to use. Vellum, the smoothest form of parchment, is made from the skin of newborn calves.”(Meggs) “The codex replaced the scroll, as it consisted of stacked pieces of papermuch like a modern book. Graphic symbols became a representation of religious belief during the Roman Empire. Rome’s legacy includes architecture, engineering, language, law and literature. Just as the invention of printing launched a quiet revolution in Chinese culture, alphabetic writing on papyrus slowly transformed Western society. Alphabetic writing was spread by armies, traders and especially religious missionaries.” (Meggs)

-c 1500 BCE

Greek Archaic bronze miniature chariot wheel, c. 525-500 BCE. Timotheus, The Persians, Papyrus manuscript. unknown. Etruscan Bucchero vase, seveth or sixth century BCE Carved inscription form the base of Trajan’s Column, c. 114 BCE.

c.2000 BCE

The Asian Contribution “Also Chinese developed a writing style called Chinese calligraphy. Woodblock printing developed in China. They used moveable and reusable woodblocks and also ink to write on their cloth paper. This was the future influence on printing in Europe. � (Meggs)

-c.1200 CE

Chinese Chop. Third century during the Han Dynasty. The tradition al Chinese identification stamp. Diamond Sutra, 868 CE.

300 CE

Illuminated Manuscripts “Hand-written books are referred to as Illuminated Manuscripts. The vibrant luminosity of gold lead, as it reflected light from the pages of handwritten books, gave the sensation of the page being literally illuminated; this dazzling effect gave birth to the term illuminated manuscripts in Europe. The earliest surviving illustrated manuscript is the Vatican Vergil, created in the late 4th century by Publius Vergilius. Parchment is the skin of domesticated animals sheep goat calves. Vallum, fine parchment smooth skins of newborn calves. Wring was scratched into wax with a stylus, the flat end of which was used to erase the writing the soft wax so that tablet could be used again. Codex Revolutionary design format began to supplant the scroll called a rotulus in Rome and Greece. The parchment was gathered in signatures of 2,4, or 8 sheets and were folded and stitched and combined into codices with pages like modern book. Most of these manuscripts were made at Scriptoriums, which were places that trained scribes would hand draw them. Illuminated manuscripts were mostly used for religious purposes. Codex Revolutionary design format began to supplant the scroll called a rotulus in Rome and Greece. The parchment was gathered in signatures of 2,4, or 8 sheets and were folded and stitched and combined into codices with pages like modern book.�(Meggs)

-c 1500 CE

The Book of Kells, the Chi-Rho page, 794-806 CE

Limbourg Brothers, Les tres riches heures du duc de Berry, 1413-16.

The Vatican Vergil, Early Fifth century CE

The Multitude worshipping God, From the Douce Apocalypse, 1265 CE


Rise of Printing in Europe, Renaissance Graphic Design

“Playing cards and religious image prints were popular with woodblock printing because of their illustrations. Playing cards first graphic designs to move into an illiterate culture. A lot of books were in demand and woodblock printing made it easier for everyone because they could afford prints, but Johann Gutenberg a metal engraver took it a step further and made the first successful printing press using metal moveable and reusable type. Labored for 10 years before his first printing and twenty years before printing the first typographic book – the forty-two-line Bible. With moveable, reusable type became more popular, the rise of prints and demand for books skyrocketed. Design centers all over Europe furthered printing by making metal engravings to print and illustrate beautiful page layouts. What was also sucessful was tradmarks and fonts were also made by examples of artist Claude Garamond and Geoffery Tory.” (Meggs) “The Renaissance was the time period between the medieval and modern eras, a time of rapid change and advancement. Designers of this time loved to really decorate all their works with floral patterns and other types of decoration. Scientists now were publishing books on all manner of subjects which got rid of some of the old ways of thinking and suspicion of the medieval period.”(Meggs)


Jack of Diamonds, woodblock playing card, c. 1400​​​​​ Johann Gutenberg, page from the Gutenberg Bible, 1450-55 Johann Gutenbergs system for casting type, Early 19th century engravings Albercht Durer, The Four Horseman of the Apocalpse, 1948


Typography in 18th Century

This era is characterized by a simultaneous standardization and increase in creativity. For the longest time typesets were proprietary to the press they were intended to be used on. Fournier le Jeune changed all this by instituting a standardization method. King Louis the XIV, also wanted standardization and established the royal printing office. The result was a mathematically designed font called Roman du Roi. Also this era is the sole focus of typography hences the nam Typograpy. A grid system of point measurement was made. Fonts were redesigned and page layout started focusing more on type rather than illustrations. Some of the most influential typographers came from this era, such as Bodoni, Caslon, Didot, Baskerville, and there are many more artists as well.


Louis Simonneau Master of alphabets for Romain du Roi, c. 1700 Fournier le Jeune’s Manuel Typographique, 1742 Rene Descartes created the first font information graphics. Caslon Typeface, English printer and engraver Baskerville Typeface, changed fonts of thick and thin. Bondoni Typeface, Bodoni Redesigned Roman letter forms to a more ornamental look. Didot Typeface, made fat and thin type, and the point sytstem of measurement

c. 1760

Graphic Design and the Industrial Revolution “The industrial revolution had huge impact on printing and the economy because more people moved into the cities to find jobs and factories were a new opportunity, also for the fact that factories sped up the process for other things in quanity. When demand for printing raised, something had to be done do maximize its efficiency. Friedrich Koenig came up with the steam press. His first version was essentially a hand press operated by steam. William Carlson was considered the grandfarther of this typographic revolution. His apprentices were also successful. These men were Thomas Cotterell, and Joseph Jackson. They used a style that features large bold letters and thses fonts latter came to be known as “fat faces”. One influential fat-face designer was Robert Thorne and his fat-face fonts featured a roman face with heavy contrat and weight made by expanding the thickenss of heavy strokes. the Egyptian style typefaces and 3dfonts. These typefaces covey bold machine like feeling through rectangular slabs, even weight, and short ascenders and descenders. Additionally the designers of the time introduced Tuscan style fonts that were characterized by serifs that extended and curved. The third major innovation in typography of the 1800’s was the use of sans-seriff fonts.William Carlson was seen as the originator of this style but spin off styles became known as “grotesque” fonts, or “gothic” fonts. By the mid 1800’s sans-seriff fonts were seeing increased use.” (Meggs) Ottmar Mergenthaler invents the linotype in 1886. Joseph Niepce was the first person to produce a photographic image.


Fat face typeface, Robert Thorne

Antique Typeface, Vincent Figgins

3D typeface

Egyptian Typeface, Thorne

Tuscan Typeface, Figgins


Victorian Era The Victorian Era formally began in 1937 the year Queen Victoria began on the thrown and ended when she died in 1901. The common perception of the period is the Victorians are prudish, hypocritical, stuffy, and narrow-minded with optimistic and strong morals and religious beliefs. There is a mass production in this era because the printing field was easier and sucessful for everyone. Illustrations and typography were extravagant, ornamental and filled a lot of space. The Crystal Palace hosted the Great Exhibition of 1851 with more than 100,000 objects and artworks displayed and more than 15,000 contributors. This was the ‘Crystal Palace’, home to the Great Exhibition, an idea dreamt up by Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, to display the wonders of industry and manufacturing from around the modern world. It opened people’s eyes to creativity. Harper and brothers created the first illustrated magazine in the era of Pictorial Magazine. Thomas Nast was hired by harpers and went on to produce some of the most popularized wood cuts of figures such as santa clause, uncle sam, and the statue of liberty. He was seen as the father of American political cartooning. ”(Meggs)


C.W. Parker Company’s lithography poster for portable carousels.

Lithography Poster for Cincinnati Industrial Exposition.

Nast’s Uncle Sam.


Arts and Craft Movment “The arts and crafts movement was an action against the social, moral and artistic confusion of the industrial revolution. Arts and crafts design had returned to handcrafted works, no more mass-produced goods because people in this movement took value in hand made art. The leader of this movement, William Morris, central figure of the Arts & Crafts Movement. Arthur H. Mackmurdo, a young designer who led a group of artist and designers to establish the Century guild in 1882. Their goal was to render all branches of art, no longer tradesmen just only artist. They incorporated renaissance and Japanese design ideas into work and their designs such as floral designs and they also created fabric designs. -in America, the influences of the A&C movement were seen by two young men, book designer Bruce Rogers and typeface designer Frederic W. Goudy. Fredric Goudy started the Camelot Press, freelance, specializing in lettering and typographic design, designed 122 typefaces.� (Meggs)


The Kelmscoot Printing Press Trademark


Art Nouveau

“An increase in trade and communication between Asian and European countries in the 19th century caused a cultural collision. Both cultures changed as a result. Ukiyo-e means “pictures of the floating world” and defines an art movement of Japan’s Tokugawa period. Tokukawa period, economic exanpion, internal stability flourishing cultural arts blended realistic narratives of traditional picture scrolls with decorative arts. Alphonse Mucha was an illustrator, Made a poster for Sarah Bernhardt’ sJoan of Arc. Bottom portion was unfinished because of time restraints. His stylized hair patterns became a hallmark of the era, known as “spaghetti and noodles” hair. Stunning pen line. Aubrey Beardsle was known for vibrant black-and-white work, exotic imagery, contrast between geometric and organic shapes reflects the influence of the Japanese print. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, broke new ground for poster design, he was known to use flat planes simplified color, shapes and dynamic spatial relationships. Van de Velde synthesized Japanese prints, French and English arts and crafts movement and explored abstract expression in advertisement posters. Behrens, abstract designs by ancient artifacts to stylize floral designs widely known for large and multicolor woodblock prints inspired by French art nouveau and Japanese prints. ” (Meggs)


Mucha’s poster for job Cigarette papers.

Beardsley’s Illustration for Oscar.

Peter Behrens, The Kiss, 1898

Toulouse-Lautrec’s poster for Moulin Rouge.


Modernism “Modernism was a totally different time era. There was a lot of debate between tradition and the modern world art. Modern design was as characterized by its use of flat colors, san serif, liberal white space, and geometric shapes. Modernism bridged 19th century ornament and art nouveau with rational functionalism and geometric formalism of the 20th century. Modernism also had many of different styles like cubism, a design concept that is independent of nature. The Glasgow school of fine arts was created in this era. Modernism connected with 19th century ornament and art nouveau with rational functionalism and geometric formalism of the 20th century.�(Meggs)


America: Frank Lloyd Wright, Robie House.

Spain: Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937 Scotland: The Glasgow Art Institute Poster.

Austria: Ver Sacrum Cover Institute Poster.


Bouhaus & New Typography “The Bauhaus took place starting in Germany in an Art School. They established a new philosophy of art that there was no distinction between fine arts and applied visual arts. They focused on technology, furniture, architecure, product design, and changed type to a more structured look. Created by Gropius and influenced by Moholy-Nagy, the Bauhaus movement helped combine typography and photography, and greatly influenced an industrial look to art that was used. The German school abruptly ended because of increasing Nazi activity.”(Meggs) New Typography movement was a big deal because new typefaces and photography were being explored and Jan Tschichold wrote a book called Die neue Typographie, that said everything about Modern design. Gill is known for his typeface Gill sans and Paul Renner for Futura.”(Meggs)


Herbert Bayer, exhibition poster, 1926.

Herbert Bayer, cover design for Staatliches Bauhaus in Weimar, 1919-1923.

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, typophoto poster for tires, 1923


American Modernism “The modern movement did not gain an early foothold in the United States. When the fables 1913 Armory Show introduced modernism to America it generated a storm of protest and provoked public rejection of modern art and design. Modernist European design did not become a significant influence in America until the 1930’s... American graphic design during the 1920s and 1930s was dominated by traditional illustration. However, the modern approach slowly gained ground on several fonts, book design, editorial design for fashion and business magazines catering to affluent audiences and promotional and corporate graphics.�(Meggs)


Alexey Brodovitch, cover for Harper’s Bazaar, June 1940

Cassandre’s cover for Harper’s Bazaar, October 1938.


Internation Typographic Style During this time the Swiss Movement is has became an internation influence, Adrian Frutiger completed a 21 san-serif fonts named Univers. All 21 fonts have he same x-height and ascender and descender lengths. Hoffman decided that Akzidenz Grotesk fonts should be refined and upgraded. Hoffman collaborated with Miedinger-executed the design and new news serif called Helvetica. It had a larger x-height that that of Univers.


Hoffener and Miedenger’s Helvetica

Adrian Frutiger’s Univers


New York School “Paul Rand led the approach to modern design in America. He understood the concepts of modern design and his ability to manipulate visual form (shape, color, space, line, value) and reducing it to a symbolic essence to communicate with his audience without making it sterile or dull. Saul Bass was known for unifying graphic materials for films posters. Herb Luablin is hailed the genius of typography. He uses words and letters to become images.� (Meggs)


Rand’s IBM logo.

Lubalin’s poster announcing Davida Bold Typeface, 1967

Bass’s poster for Exodus, 1960.


Postmodern Graphic Design in the Global Village PostModernism is the exact opposite of Modernism. Modernism value’s the artist and the meaning first. Postmodernism values the audience and the multiple variety of meanings from them. The Postmodern artist is unclear on what they initially intended. And all together unoriginal unlike Modernism.


Reid’s Sex Pistols, God Save the Queen cover. 1877


Meggs, Philip B.Meggs’ History of Graphic Design 5th ed. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. 2012. Print Poynor, Rick.No More Rules Graphic Design and Postmodernism. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 2003. Print

A Graphic Design History  

All about Graphic Design's childhood before it's grown up..;)