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How Graphic Design Affects Culture Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 2191 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The culture of the world is highly dynamic. The rapid change that is experienced has been attributed to many factors. In order to fully understand the extent to which graphic design influences the culture, it is important to understand what the term culture means. Culture can be taken to loosely mean the way of life for a particular group of people. However, there have been more detailed definitions of the term. This study seeks to provide an insight into how culture inter- relates with graphic design while mainly inclining on the impact of graphic design on culture.

The paper addresses the topic by first understanding the two variables; culture and graphic design, and then reviewing the various instances when the culture has been influenced by graphic design. The study also touches briefly on the dependency of graphic design on the culture of the people.

There exist numerous studies that has been conducted on the issue of the inter-relationship between culture and graphic design. In the studies, various definitions befitting graphic design are prominent. A study by Phill Meggs concentrates on tracing the history of graphic design. In this work, graphic design is traced back to the cave men where there were drawings of the animals they hunted for food. The study also brings out the development of the alphabet as having descended from symbols (Meggs 1998a).

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A paper by Helfand (2001) reviews the work of Richard Hollis who shows that graphic design dates back to the industrial revolution of North America. Further, he claims that the first individual to have used the term ‘graphic design’ was William A. Dwiggins in a 1922 article titled “New Kind of Printing calls for New [Type of] Design” (Soar 2003, page 20). This implies that graphic design has been in existence or rather in practice for a long time and has evidently shaped the human way of life over time.

Graphic design can be attributed to various forms of art. In a study by Helfand (2001), the words of a prominent designer, Milton Glaser stands out. In the definition, graphic design has been interpolated in the particular cultural setting and has been seen as to comprise various disciplines. It places such disciplines as typography, images and other forms of media with the aim of conveying a particular message. The purpose of graphic design is to pass a message with the aim of giving instructions, persuading the targeted group to either perform some activities. “. As emissaries of communication, they visualize solutions for the presentation of abstract data, turning ideas into things: They create books and magazines, posters and packaging, exhibitions and Web sites, logos and film titles” (Helfand 2001, p. 6).

We can therefore conclude that graphic design is a communication form that utilizes the visual aspect of communication to transmit certain ideals or to stimulate particular feelings and emotions from its audience. This message has mainly been put across by a two-dimensional setting that is articulately aimed to convey a specific type of information. A study of Lorenzo London underground attributes graphic design with the attainment of aesthetic attributes of presentations or in construction.

In order to point out how culture has been influenced by the practice of graphic design, we need to generate its definition. In a study by Sun Kang (2007), culture is shown to mean the pattern of human daily activities mainly reflected in their music, art, fashion and food. The study gives culture some different aspects on which we can be able to deduce how graphic design impacts on it. The three aspects of culture are derived from what is referred to as the core of culture. It is constituted of the values which are defined as the “cultural meanings [that] are conveyed through practices which relate to the various communication forms [and] may include human behaviors, actions, and all other visible performances that people create and act in everyday life (Sun 2007, page 08).

In concluding the Hofstede’s theory, Sun (2007) points out that culture cannot be separated from the aspect of conveying the various cultural meanings. He posits that “the core of culture; values, is transmitted through symbols and systems of symbols by different communication behaviors” (page 8). In a different paper by David Carlson in the David Report (2011) culture has been attributed to the more “complex ways of living [that incorporates] value systems, traditions, beliefs and habits; including knowledge, morals, law and customs, acquired by those within that Society” (Page 8).

David (2001) further claims that these attributes are the symbols of the integration of the beliefs of different individuals in a society that shares a common culture. They are therefore used as the cultural values or the cultural objects with which the standard way of living for the society is mirrored upon. We can therefore take the culture to refer to the ordered way of life of a particular society based on their established and accepted values.

In this paper, I will tackle the topic of how graphic design influences culture based on various aspects of the culture. These aspects stand out prominently as defining the culture of a society. They are communication. Consumption patterns as well as the ways in which people present the literary works. In settling for these three aspects, the study aims to capture almost all spheres of human relations as well as their lives. It is important to note that these aspects have been taken as umbrella factors which cover a wide range of other aspects of the human life.

It is true that graphic design has been in existence for a long time in the history of mankind. It has undergone many changes which have been attributed to many factors, the cultures of the society standing out prominently. Many studies have been conducted on the influence of culture on graphic design. The facts that have been presented are able to show that indeed there is a correlation between graphic design and the culture. However, the direction of the causation may not necessarily be in the direction they have dutifully established. It is for this reason that this study is appropriate. The paper does not, however, aims to dispute the established causation theories but rather seeks to indicate the existence of causation in the different direction.

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A study by Forty (1979), points out the impact of graphic design on culture through its influence on visual communication. When designers convey messages through visual media like specialized packaging, business logos and posters they are able to convey information not just to about the product but also about what it means to be associated with the brand. It is therefore common to find people who associate with a particular brand. Political views have also been greatly influenced by graphic designs. The evolution of graphic design has seen many changes in how designers presented their ideas. The Avant-garde movement was however, considered to be the inception of the contemporary work.

Jan Tschichold was one of the designers of the time who is reputed to have used typography and images to stimulate changes in political polarization and instability (Owen 2008). This implies that not only has graphic design shifted the world on how we communicate but also on how we relate with each other which constitutes the politics of a society. Through the use of asymmetrical design as well as sans serif typefaces, he was able to capture the people’s emotions thereby influencing how they lived with each other. In another study, Lavin (2001), as quoted in Helfand (2001) shows how today’s designers have failed to bring out the realities but rather wraps the mess in a clean envelop (page 31). Further, the study points the “historical and contemporary track record of graphics in making powerful political statements, in functioning as intriguing personal creations, and in consciously influencing cultural norms” (Page 31).

There is also the factor that Lavin further blames the designers for failing to use the potential that they have to shift the political attitudes. Additionally, the study also points out the need for graphic designers to critically influence the culture. It is clear that the designers are perceived to have veered away from the course of positively influencing the society’s culture. Perhaps it is time that the designers stopped concentrating on the corporate product designs to creation of art that invokes emotions in the society. As quoted by Helfand (2001), the failure of today’s designers to positively influence the society’s culture can be attributed to “the inherited preoccupations of history and criticism (“analyzing design products, compiling designer biographies, and developing a historical narrative of style influences” (page 31).

Further, as put across by Mills (1963), as quoted by Helfand (2001), “between the human consciousness and material existence stand communications and designs, patterns and values which influence decisively such consciousness as they have. The mass arts, the public arts, the design arts are major vehicles of this consciousness (page 32). With the use of expressions, a designer is able to shift the conscious of their audience through employing various styles of graphics, colors, and material.

The combination of graphic design and advertisement has been seen as the sure way of influencing the culture of the people. In this light, Soar (2002) has looked upon the use of artists and the elite group of the society largely seen as mass consumers with comfortable jobs. When the advertisements are aimed at this group, they employ the use of well known personalities who have been known to have a substantial following. In this way, the artists used are seen as having taken serious mass cultural products and converted them to popular cultures among the people. The end result is that the people adopt behaviors that are in close relation to their favorite celebrated personalities. Consequently, this influences the individual’s way of life and therefore, their culture. “There is a pedagogic function, then, in advertising and design, in which private codes are disseminated to a broader cultural mass via the [creations]. Indeed, their own cultural readings are highly attuned, being “perfect” consumers operating in a particularly rarefied social milieu” (Soar page 14).

As shown by Barchas (2003) there has not been an instance that graphic designing has not inter-related with the culture. He points out the case of Mr. Fary who is able to discredit the purchase Bohee tea especially on account that it was overpriced. By using poetry, he was able to influence the way the foreign Bohee tea was perceived thereafter. Indeed, Barchas points out that the Bohee tea became the new symbol of decay in the eighteenth century. The use of graphic design in advertising such products as the Bohee tea and displaying them as superior will surely influence people’s lifestyles. It was seen to be perpetrating materialism in the society. The retailer took advantage of the great influence that the advertisement had on the society to overprice them as well as to sell them substandard products. The culture is seen to be influenced given that such work influenced not just how people think, but also how they act afterwards (page 4).

When we view the mode of presentation of the various works of art, they also have had an impact on the world’s perceptions of literary work. Barchas shows how the various changes in the print culture affected not just how the text was disseminated but also how it was interpreted. In his review of Eisenstein work, he shows how the changes in the print culture to include the presentation of literary work in book form influenced ‘verification and legitimization’ of the work (Barchas 2003, page 8). This work has been viewed as the artifact that not only has value in its content, but also in the way it had portrayed history and culture. It had influenced how today the scholars present their work as well as the recognition of not just the material used in the presentation but also the layout as well as the design.

Graphic design has been influenced by cultures across the world over time. People from different regions, cultures and ages are mesmerized by the nature of art displayed by designers. Art on the other hand is influenced by different cultures. The artist generates an item based on the environment that they have been exposed to. It is then possible to link different cultures through art. When a graphic designer makes a logo that reflects their culture for an event or for a corporate, then their audience becomes bigger. Such a logo may influence the lifestyles of people from different societies with different cultures.


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