Throughout history, people have recognized the power of language and images. Authors and designers have been influenced by culture and, at the same time, they have shaped culture. Identity, power, and knowledge have been gained and affected by design.
Even prehistoric paintings show the ability and desire of the artist to create pleasure in the viewer. And in times of classical literacy, people developed cursives as a way the author could keep notes for himself in a simple and efficient manner. It was writing for writing’s sake.
As early as 3000 B.C., people had a desire to identify themselves with marks in the sand and handprints. Despite their assumptions that language was given from the gods, they recognized the value in identifying themselves with symbols. Even monks, confined to a quiet, solitary life, left self portraits and complaints in their religious copying.
During the 400s, people began to read for sheer entertainment, recognizing that books held knowledge, power, influence, and cultural heritage. Around the 1500s, the control of print meant political control. Throughout this time, people yearned for books on any topic in the vernacular. They wanted to read what they were capable of reading. In the 1700s, newspapers proliferated. People wanted what was current and relevant. Censorship began to exemplify the known power of print.
The 1800s brought a new emphasis on images and the dangers of reading novels. In response, aestheticism grew. In the 1920s, advertisers recognized the power of images and began to wield that power. The modern lifestyle of conspicuous consumption is a product of the design of the time. Graphic persuasion moved into photography, public interest campaigns, and wartime propaganda. In the 1950s, corporate images were seen as ways to mask the complexity and risk of investing in a company.
As a result, the 1960s brought pop culture. With it, designers showed their awareness of their audience by including them in the game of advertising. As technology progressed, people pushed more boundaries. Computers left designers in control of every aspect of the design and left much designing in the hands of “anyone.” The Internet, in turn, gave amateur designers a forum and an audience for their work.
The history of graphic design is married to the history of the book. Language, design, and images are power. But, they are only powerful when the author or designer has an awareness of the audience or readers. As Ong writes, “To formulate anything I must have another person or other persons already ‘in mind’” (173). The success of prehistoric paintings, cursives, newspapers, propaganda, pop culture, and YouTube are evidence of this. Each has its place in history because of the role it has played in connecting creators with their audience.