Unravelling the Origin and Evolution of Graphic Design

Graphic design has become embedded into our modern way of living, so it can be hard to remember a time before its influence. The truth is, though, that visual communication is about as old as the emergence of the first humans, and the industry has grown along with human history. In short, graphic design is embedded into almost the entirety of our history and existence and has now grown to be one of the most powerful forces to inspire and inform people.

However, if we are to truly appreciate graphic design, we must look at its origins and how it has evolved through time.

Early Visual Communication: Cave Paintings

Throughout the history of mankind, visual communication has always been an integral part of society. Over 35,000 years ago, our ancestors began to paint on cave walls; they used their hands and feet to draw symbols and images of their surroundings and to communicate with each other. As time passed, other forms of visual communication were also developed, such as pictographic writing systems, totemism and symbolism. It is through these visual forms of communication that our ancestors understood and interacted with the world around them.

The Rise of the Roman Empire

Those first early forms of visual communication would not be fully developed and refined into the form we know as graphic design until much later. It would be the Roman Empire of ancient Rome who would first apply these forms of visual communication to their own purposes. This can be seen in the way the Romans utilised their own system of symbols. Emperors and other high-ranking members of the Roman government used symbols to communicate with the general public, symbols that only made sense to those who held the same authority.

The Industrial Revolution

Graphic design would not truly take shape until the beginning of the industrial revolution in the eighteenth century. During this time, the printing press began to be more widely used, allowing for the mass-production of printed materials. With the discovery of oil-based inks, the printing process was much more efficient, allowing for more books and other printed materials to be made available in a shorter time.

As a result, literacy rates began to increase, and so too did the demand for reading materials. Companies began to hire graphic designers to create attractive advertisements to persuade people to buy their products. In this way, graphic design was closely linked to the industrial revolution, as it was one of the defining factors in its success.

The First Schools of Design

As the demand for printed materials increased during the industrial revolution, a new model of education was developed to meet it. The first school of design, the École Estienne, was founded by printer Robert Estienne in 1530 and provided training in the fields of printing, bookmaking, engraving and typography in Paris. Like many other schools founded at the time, this education was mostly technical in nature.

The Visible Language

The first schools of design were important in the development of graphic design as a whole, but it was in the second half of the nineteenth century that graphic design really began to take shape. The emergence of books and other printed materials, along with the development of lithographic printing, brought the need for more aesthetically pleasing designs.

The Invention of Photography

A few decades later, photography emerged as the leading form of visual communication. This new technology began to replace drawings and paintings, as it was a much more efficient way of recording and documenting the world. In 1878, George Eastman invented the first Kodak camera, making it possible to take and develop photographs easily. This led to a booming interest in photography, which was a fairly new form of visual communication.

The Birth of Modern Graphic Design

Graphic design, as a profession and as an art form, was truly born in the late nineteenth century. This was when companies and businesses realised that professional graphic designers could help them achieve their goals by creating the designs they needed. It was also during this time that more and more design schools emerged, allowing many people of all ages to have a formal education in graphic design.


Graphic design has played a key role in the modern world. It has influenced and inspired the way we use and interact with technology and has added a new, stylish and creative aspect to the way we communicate with one another. In some ways, it is impossible to imagine life without graphic design.

If you want to know more about graphic design and how it can be effectively used today, you’ll need to refer to a team of highly skilled and dedicated experts. This is where Studio Lore comes in. We are a team of creatives who pride themselves on always thinking outside the box. Whatever story your business wants to tell, from websites to content creation and graphic design in Melbourne, our team can help you realise them. Partner with us today to get started!

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