Graphic Design as it was Before Computers Came to the Party

Table of Content

Graphic Design has always been playing a part in beautifying written documents ever since man learnt how to write. Ancient manuscripts unearthed in Greece, Egypt and China, abound in examples of graphic designs (early cousins of what we know as graphic design today) since the need to beautify or highlight a particular point was as strong in those days as it is now. But graphic designing really came into its own when publication and printing began on a larger scale.

Publishers of books and magazines and advertisers started hiring people who were trained and adept at the art of beautifying a printed matter and creating designs which complemented the message and made it more effective. Use of diverse font faces, imaginative typography, relevant shapes and designs and introduction of several planes and angles in the printed matter were the main techniques adopted by graphic designers those days. In fact, the term ‘graphic design’ came into existence in early 1920s when a typographer William A. Dwiggins used it for the first time. (Dwiggins W. A., 1919)

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As printing technology and associated crafts saw a sea change in the method, process and technique of printing huge volumes, graphic design found its place of pride everywhere; right from posters, magazine pages, postage stamps, trademarks, advertisements to films, television, and websites. Rise of Nazis in Europe, however, caused a temporary setback in this profession as it was denounced as decadent and misleading by them. That resulted in large scale migration of graphic artists across the Atlantic and what was Europe’s loss gave a new impetus to the discipline in America.

All through the War, graphic design played a huge role in creating highly evocative posters that, along with radio broadcasts and propaganda films, played a huge role in boosting the morale of both citizens and armies of warring nations. After the War got over, graphic designing got an unprecedented boost as free market economy and the competition to grab eyeballs became more and more intense. Popular music also took help of graphic designing as was evident when Milton Glaser created waves with his 1967 poster of folk legend Bob Dylan. Without in any way slighting the musical capabilities of Dylan, it can be said that Glaser was in some ways responsible for the phenomenal popularity which Dylan subsequently enjoyed. ( Graphic designing had come a long way by now and posters of these types were a far cry from the highly emotive posters designed by Flagg like “I want you…” during the First World War. (Flagg J. M., 1946)

The Advent of Computers and Entry of Motion in Graphic Designing

While graphic designing in its static form kept on evolving throughout the world, a paradigm shift in the discipline came when computers and software injected a kinetic fact and empowered graphic designers to make their creations move, realign, juxtapose in an unending series of fine tuned movements to make them more incisive, forthright and compelling where viewers were unable to wrench themselves away even if they wanted to. This new found strength made graphic design an even more potent weapon and advertisers, manufacturers, movie producers (you name it, and they were there) and all those who depended on public attention to make a living, made a beeline to the doorsteps of the best in the trade of graphic designing, and, by mid 1990s, the journey of this discipline from drawing tables to computer screens was almost complete.

Motion graphics have overtaken all other forms of graphic designing so much so that for every hour of telecast, a quarter of it belongs to the graphic designer. But, some people lament that these masters of television screens do not get the recognition they deserve. They always remain behind the screen so to say and create what can truly be termed as invisible art. That, however, is possibly what a graphic designer is supposed to do – to remain in the background and let his creation speak out loud and bold. (Meggs, 1998)

Computer Programs that Usher in Motion

Motion graphic designers depend heavily on a few computer programs which give them the versatility of combining time space and sound to achieve that unique illusion of movement. While some swear by Photoshop created by Adobe Computers, others (and that band is increasing steadily but surely) would not accept anything other than Apple Computer’s Motion. Those who are in the know say that these days not only professionally trained graphic designers but also people having experience in film making and animation are also flocking into the arena of motion graphics, mainly because of the ease with which movement can now be incorporated in graphic art. (Meyer and Meyer, 2000)

There are various processes through which motion graphics is put in practice but the general three step method consists of frame by frame animation, interpolation and compositing. Television, multimedia and films have certain standards to adhere and motion graphic designers keep those basic parameters in mind while letting their creative juices flow. Two most vital ingredients in motion graphics are transition and motion and an artist is judged by how seamlessly he is able to blend these two aspects to create a smooth flowing movement on the screen. (Krasner J., 2004)

Computers are now able to accurately calculate the changes in the three dimensional image of an object (could be an inanimate object as a car or an alphabet, or, could be that of a living being as an animal or a man) while in motion in a particular plane and trajectory. Sophisticated software is able to effect smooth transition from one pose to another thus effeciently mimicking natural and spontaneous movement in case of living beings and imparting an added dimension to things that are inanimate. The terrifying movements of deadly dinsosaurs in latest Spielberg movies or the flying Spiderman is nothing but the result of some really creative and high class motion graphics.

Using Motion Graphics in Promoting Fashion

With such a vast array of creativity waiting to be explored by the graphic designers, it was no wonder that sooner rather than later these motion graphic designers started promoting fashion using this new found technology. Famous apparel company Diesel unveiled its Spring Summer 2008 collection in a breathtaking show in ltaly during the last week of June where techniques of motion graphics were used to project holographic images which semlessly juxtaposed with live models to create a near fantasy world where reality and dreams overlapped one another with effortless ease. It was 17 minute show and the cherry of the cake was when a holographic image of a shoal of fish gradually transformed into a live model. The crowd roared its approval and Diesel surely scored quite a few fans by virtue of this show. (

A rather unusual marriage between motion and graphics took place recently when Nottingham Trent University’s senior lecturer in Graphic Design, Jonathan Hamilton teamed up with his colleague in Contemporary Dance Department, Michele Danjoux to produce a unique graphic design in motion. The duo used Chromatte fabric as the dress material and various graphics designs were keyed in the fabric. The dress was worn by a dancer expert in contemporary dancing who gave a performance which was interspersed with shades of Mexican steps fused into the main formations reflecting modern day break dance. Intelligent use of Chromakey, Litering and the wonder fabric Chromatte, Jonathan created an effect which was simply stunning. The awesome lighting which threw sharp silhouettes with dramatic effect created an out of this world experience to all those who witnessed this bold attempt at mixing motion and graphic design. (

The Darkroom Ltd. is a company based in New Zealand that has made quite a name for itself and its partners Bruce Ferguson and Mike Hodgson have caused quite a stir in the thinly populated world of top quality motion graphic artists. The duo has been able to grab quite a large number of eyeballs and have made many heads turn. They really made the audience stand on their toes with their 360° depiction of mobile fashion visuals culled from an entire century’s watermark of high fashion during the launch of Grazia Fashion Magazine at Sydney in May 2008. Throbbing music with sharp visuals dreamily melting away to form new shapes and faces cast a spell on the audience – they were simply spellbound.

This company also produced a superb example of motion graphics when they were commissioned to spice up the David Jones Collection Winter Launch at Sydney and Melbourne in February 2008. They had with them stark winter landscapes of Japanese winter and they mixed these with fabulous motion graphic imagery which was a curious, most out of the ordinary combination of starkness of winter and snug warmth of the luxurious clothes. The creation by this prolific duo could really highlight the smooth comfort of the winter clothesline of David Jones. The Darkroom Ltd. has become almost a regular with fashion house Louis Vuitton and whether it is London or it is Taipei, the motion graphics designs created by this company have always created a ripple and have forced a bout of admiration from the viewers. (

Some great motion graphics designers

Mike Salisbury

Mike happens to be one of the most widely known and respected faces of motion graphic design in the United States of America. He is the man behind Michael Jackson’s iconic white gloves – can anybody ever imagine Jackson without his white gloves, they seem to have become a part of his person. But Mike is a person who is always trying, testing and mixing and matching new ideas and true to his creative talents, he is also the mind behind the resounding success of Levi’s 501 jeans. He has left his mark in the field of fashion and also contributed handsomely towards the success of O’Neil and Gotcha surf wear.

But fashion is not the only genre where he has excelled. He also put his hand to cement the already awesome reputation of Rolling Stones and Playboy magazines and also got associated with Hasbro and some of the wildly popular video games. So, this motion graphic artist happens to be a master in his chosen field and has emblazoned his signature in all corners of the discipline.

This prolific artist has also taught design, advertising, illustration and photography at UCLA, Otis Art Institute and Art Centre and has frequently contributed to Forbes and other more trendy magazines. He is also a photographer of no mean distinction and his photos have been printed in Vogue, Esquire and Newsweek magazines.

He did not have a resume because he felt resumes are too lifeless and decided to get a job by creating an advertisement which would suit the style of the agency where he was trying to get in – he was straightway appointed as Art Director in that agency. He strongly advises aspiring graphic designers to be at their creative best even when they are preparing samples to be incorporated in the portfolio. The only way to impress a client is to make him understand what you are capable of delivering and this has to be done on an intensely personal basis. Impersonal company stationery is not the ideal medium to convey the warmth and verb which are integral to any motion graphic design. Mike suggests that graphic artists should go for their personalised stationery and, if possible, personal logo to gain recognition and success. (

Michael Bierut

Michael is one of the stalwarts of graphic designing and all major museums around the world proudly host his creations. He has also served with distinction in the Unites States arm of AIGA and is a permanent faculty member of Yale University’s School of Art and School of Management.

After graduating in graphic design from University of Cincinnati he shifted to New York and got a job at Vignelli Associates. He stayed there for a decade and moved over to Pentagram where he is the prime mover of all the wheels. Pentagram has become an institution by itself and Michael very coolly states that they do not have any account executives as such, since work automatically comes their way.

He advises those who have just stepped in this arena to continue reading since that is the only way one can keep abreast of what is happening all around and he strongly suggests that graphic designers must keep on acquiring newer skills while retaining the sharpness of skills that have already been acquired. This advice assumes a great significance since newer computer programs are reaching the market almost every day. (

Jack Anderson
Jack Anderson was originally a student of engineering but drifted to architecture and finally found his moorings in graphic design and graduated with a degree in graphics from Montana University in 1975. He came over to Seattle and joined an architectural firm called TRA Richardson Associates and stayed there for five long years. Finally he ventured out with his partner John Hornall to found Hornall Anderson in 1982.

Right from the inception, Hornall Anderson has followed the principle of practice based business and did only those projects which fascinated and challenged them. Craft was always the primary consideration whenever any project was signed on and not the turnover it would generate. Initially it was a bit tough when they had fall back on their personal contacts to get their presence registered in the minds of prospective clients, but two decades later things have improved beyond what they could have ever dared to dream when they first set out.

According to Jack the single most important reason for the phenomenal success of Hornall Anderson is that the team is not only supremely talented but also has leaders capable of leading the group through rough and tumultuous times. He says though it is important to be around intelligent creative people, it is far more important to have leaders capable of coaxing, cajoling and of course motivating the team to achieve success. Unless there are leaders, no team, however creative it may be, would ever become successful. (


  • DWIGGINS, William A. An Investigation into the Physical Properties of Books. New York, Alfred A Knopf, 1919.
  • FLAGG, James Montgomery. Roses and Buckshot. New York, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1946.
  • KRASNER, Jon. Motion Graphic Design and Fine Art Animation. Boston, Libri, 2004.
  • MEGGS, Philip. A History of Graphic Design. New Jersey, John Wiley & Sons, 1998.
  • MEYER, Trish, and Chris Meyer. Creating Motion Graphics with After Effects. Gilroy, CMP Books, 2000.
  • Success Secrets of the Graphic Design Superstars >> Interview with Mike Salisbury. (accessed October 23, 2008).
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Graphic Design as it was Before Computers Came to the Party. (2017, Jan 09). Retrieved from

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