What is Graphic Design

Graphic Design is More than Making Things Look Pretty

Throughout my years working as a graphic designer and marketer in both the corporate world and in my own business, I’ve run across one particular assumption many times. Graphic design is just making things looks pretty. While making things not look like crap may be one small goal of the designer, it is so much more than the aesthetics of the design. So if it’s more than just making things look pretty, what is graphic design?

Many people, including my own mother, always ask me what graphic design is. Graphic design is a type of art, and can be seen in very early writings like illuminated manuscripts and gospel books. Before computers, graphic design was done solely by hand, utilizing various tools. With the invention of the printing press, a whole new world of graphic design opened up as well. Graphic design is literally all over the world and you pass by it probably 500 times a day. While everyone experiences it, not a lot of people actually know what it is.

Today, I’m going to dive deeper into what graphic design actually is. Let’s get started!

What is Graphic Design?

Graphic design is also known as communication design. To put it simply, it is creating effective experiences with visual and textual content. A designer makes sense of various elements (imagery, message, color, and typography) in order to deliver the best possible solution to enhance the customer experience.

Designers follow five basic design principles (along with a plethora of other skills) to deliver the final product. Those skills are balance, repetition, contrast, dominance, and hierarchy. Designers also follow theories such as the rule of thirds and other grid systems that are naturally found in nature (Fibonacci sequence, golden mean, etc.)


Graphic design is about problem-solving. A designer must develop the best possible solution for their client. The designer must account for the brand and messaging of the company, the expectations of the customers for that service or product, the desired experience for the customer, and the duration of that impact (is this an instant reaction or is it to be developed and nurtured over a long period of time).


It is no surprise that many designers also have expert experience in marketing (even if they don’t necessarily claim to be a marketer). While the two fields are separate, a designer must have a solid understanding of marketing in order to create the best solution for their client.


A graphic designer must also be an expert communicator. In order to deliver the best possible solution, they must utilize their communication skills. For many products, a customer will make up their mind in less than 10-seconds. That is less than 10-seconds to get your brand and messaging across, let alone what the actual product or service is. Seems daunting, right? A designer must use their skills in psychology to work out what that particular customer is drawn to, what would make them trust your brand, and what messaging would most effectively get that across.

Thinker and Analyst

A lot of people don’t realize that about 75% of design is done in our heads and on paper before a designer even gets to a computer. With newer technology, like drawing pads and styluses, many designer may start at a computer, but even then a lot of the work (the problem-solving, analysis, and deconstructing of the issue) are done mentally. Usually when solutions start to appear, that is around the time sketches and mock-ups are created, thrown out, revised, and eventually delivered to the client.


This is one of my personal favorites. Many times a designer finds themselves in a consultant role, and I am a big believer that they should be. That is a whole other topic that I will blog about though. A designer can talk through various scenarios with you and offer solutions. With the experience of doing hundreds of designs, a designer will often know what will work, what will fail, and what the best solution will be.

I hope this short article shed some light on the mystery that is graphic design. While the end product may be beautiful, I now hope that you can appreciate the design piece for more than just the aesthetic. Oftentimes graphic design is referred to as functional art or art with a purpose.

If you have thought of using a professional graphic designer but are unsure if you should, take a moment to join my FREE 5-day email course: Hiring a Professional Graphic Designer Saves You Money.
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