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Design History and Design Orientation

 

Within visual arts, a first step toward learning begins with unlearning older values and replacing them with new ones. During the years immediately following World War II, most design students came to education with some predictable preconceptions about art and design, but it was not particularly difficult to move them into new directions.

During the 1950s, graphic design was distinct from advertising allowing students to clearly identify the profession along with its leaders and role models. Graphic design students regularly followed the professional work of men such as Golden, Beale, Lustig, Bayer, Lionni, Bass, Rand, Chermayeff & Geismar among others. The Fifty Best Books of the Year exhibition and other design functions sponsored by the American Institute of Graphic Arts were eagerly anticipated. Students read Graphis, Typographia, and other design journals from abroad. It was thought that the most advanced graphic design was being done in Europe. The primary job market for graphic design graduates in America at the time was in corporate design with some moving into architectural offices, publishing, education and government.


The Unlearning Process
Presently, students come to the university saturated with a disparate array of visual imagery from television, videos, film, computers and print. Graphic design is not clearly defined, standards for performance are confusing or misleading and there are few notable role models. Consequently, the visual values of entering students are muddled. The unlearning process is considerably more extended than previously. These conditions suggests the need for an education which reduces visual chaos and provides focus, instruction in basic visual values, and if currently there are no outstanding designers, students should be exposed to the best role models of the past. A factor creating present difficulties for graphic design education is confusion between design as a problem-solving function and design as a marketing tool. In many respects, advertising has usurped the term graphic design without changing any of the marketing objectives, values or practices. At most major cities, older Art Directors Clubs are now called Chapters of the American Institute of Graphic Arts–a traditional graphic design organization. What formerly were called art studios are now identified as graphic design studios. Educational programs in advertising design also changed their designation to graphic design but continue to prepare students for careers in advertising. Many former job opportunities as corporate designers disappeared so more graphic designers moved into marketing design which further adds to the confusion between advertising and graphic design.



Graphic Design: Multiple Categories
From its inception, graphic design has been associated with other design fields, printing, book design, architecture and the crafts. As such, it has been identified with problem-solving, function and formal values. It has been an intra-disciplinary profession based on visual communication using design, typography, printing, photography, film, video, and most recently, electronic imagery. Although most graphic design programs have been part of fine art departments in the past, it seems more logical for graphic design to be associated with a school of design or a college of architecture..

Advertising design programs historically have been incorporated into the fine arts. The first commercial illustrations were commissioned by advertising agents from illustrators or painters. The relationship between art and advertising is there because of the visual aspects of marketing including illustration and rendering. Advertising design students were expected to carry many fine art courses in drawing, painting and art history. These were supplemented with courses in illustration, calligraphy or lettering, layout and design. More recently, business and marketing strategies have been added to the curriculum, especially at universities. The objective for advertising is sales, so that becomes the most important criteria for evaluating the quality of advertising design–if it sells, it is good design!

What graphic design students require today goes far beyond instruction in visual principles or the professional/technical aspects of design. There has never been a period of greater need for professional ethics, high performance standards, exemplary values and a clear understanding of career goals than now. Good role models are essential to communicating these traits to students. It is amply apparent that for students to better cope with the present, it is going to be necessary to provide them with greater exposure to the past. Beginning in the mid to late 1960s, there was a growing perception among graphic design educators that there was an obvious need for developing a Design History and bringing it into the curriculum. The precedent at most institutions had been to require several Art History courses for all art students including those majoring in design programs.

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