Hugocreate, March 2009

Contemporary Trends in Graphic Design

Graphic design is universal. Graphic design is all around us - it touches everything we do; everything we see. It communicates and it persuades, it identifies and it informs; imposing meaning on our world. Graphic design is in everything we read, it is on the streets of our cities, on the screens or our TVs and PCs, on the myriad of products that line our supermarket shelves. From road sign to record sleeve, from billboard to skateboard from newspaper to new media - it surrounds us.

Graphic designers vie for our attention – in this increasingly media-saturated global village we have become more visually literate and culturally aware. We can register and distinguish the arresting and meaningful graphic messages from the bland and meaningless; we can identify the visually and intellectually engaging communication from the never-ending hum of background noise. To captivate beyond the mediocrity of the mainstream, graphic designers present us with thought-provoking concepts, cutting-edge and distinctly authentic methods of expression utilizing an array of modern modes of communication.

For a generation of designers, having grown up with a computer in the playroom, bedroom and the classroom – the digital has democratized the discipline. Never before have so many practitioners had so many opportunities to communicate in increasingly cross-disciplinary ways across our wired, networked and connected planet. The Digital Age has empowered the graphic designer – free from the constraints of print, the pixel has revolutionized working processes and communication methods – the designer’s screen is now a window to the world.

The very best contemporary graphic design has a persuasive power. The discipline, across every aspect - branding, packaging, signage and web-design, while looking towards art, film, music and fashion for inspiration, has become its own unique, relevant and vital cultural barometer; an arbitrator and purveyor of style and content united as one.

If graphic design is universal then illustration is certainly global, yet the discipline continues to elude formal identification - remaining tricky to describe, classify, typecast or pin-down.

Existing somewhere in the no-man’s-land between graphic design and art; illustrators make a choice as to which side of the divide they align themselves and their work. They are mavericks and nomads, often operating as freelance guns-for-hire working across a range of communication media, equipped with an extensive armoury of methods and mediums.

The first mark that man made was drawn in the dirt with a finger or a stick. Alongside the spoken word, the drawn image has played a vital role in the communication between humans - before the development of written language drawing was the only method of recording stories and tales. Illustration came into existence to help us make sense of our world - to allow us to record it, describe it and communicate the intricacies of life.

Drawing once at the heart of illustration, and still an important component of the illustrator’s toolbox, is now just one aspect of the illustrator’s craft – digital photography, collage, hand-rendered type, stencils, pattern and ornamentation all now fighting for recognition as primary ways of working. It is this inherent flexibility of working methods, styles and approaches that ensures the illustrator escapes formal classification.

Sitting beneath the radar, today’s contemporary innovators in illustration surface from within a counter-culture of urban image making to face an ever-demanding and complex set of tasks. Charged with combining pictorial representation, in order to convey complex ideas and messages, with personal expression - illustrators assimilate and articulate an artistic vision for brands and products that require a visual signature. Illustrators are called upon to communicate, persuade, inform, educate and entertain and are expected to achieve this mission with clarity, vision, style, and from a unique personal standpoint.

The Digital Age has enabled a newly found geographical freedom, allowing illustrators to work outside of normal formal constraints; studio location determined more by lifestyle choice than the commercial requirements dictating to the rest of the creative industry.

Wherever and however they choose to practice - the most successful illustrators, across the globe, fuse artistic excellence with the highest levels of creative thinking and intellectual rigour, whilst being culturally and socially aware practitioners and commentators positioned outside of a hum-drum nine-to-five existence along the blurred boundaries between the art world and the creative industries.

© Lawrence Zeegen - 2009