Graphic design: what it is and how to master it

In this photograph, we see some elements produced by a graphic design professional. It’s a good representation of the subject presented on this page.

Graphic design isn’t a subject simple to define and can vary slightly according to different countries. In Portugal, although both terms are used almost with the same meaning, I’ve learned that there is a significant difference between graphic design and communication design.
In the first case, graphic design was created for printing purposes, while communication design requires industrial production.

As such, communication design implies massive production through a single creation, it’s a reproductive act. As a result, it intends to have an impact on knowledge, attitude, or behavior. 
In most cases, the same can be said for graphic design. The primary objective is to communicate ideas and trigger actions through the massification of a design piece.

So regardless you use the term graphic design or communication design, knowing the fundamental principles is crucial to make it as a designer.

Therefore, on this page, we will see some of these principles, which are (or will be) explored in more in-depth posts. So, if you would like to know more, please check the links on each section.

Graphic Design foundations

Gestalt theory

Gestalt is a psychological theory first introduced by Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka, and Wolfgang Kohler in the 20s.
Their purpose was to understand how we perceive reality and how we manage to find order even when everything seems disconnected.

As graphic designers try to understand and communicate in the best possible way with their audiences, they started using these human perceptions to their advantage.

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Typography is a term used to indicate both a technique and a course studied in graphic design. Its intrinsically connected to Design’s history, and at the same time, it’s a dedicated field. For that reason, some designers – designated type designers – devote their careers to study and master type.

Related Page:
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Color is one of the most interesting and challenging skills to master in graphic design. For once, it’s an area where physiology influences the audience. And secondly, it carries so much meaning and knowledge that it’s hard not to spend a lifetime trying to comprehend it.

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As the discipline and profession of graphic designer evolve with time, so do materials.
Tracing it back, we can say that it all started on a piece of stone or clay. Later, it evolved into paper, metal, and, eventually, plastics.
Nowadays, biodegradable materials are taking over and will continue to do so in the future. To keep up, designers will once more have to adapt to work with materials that can represent new challenges, but also new opportunities.

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Printing techniques

From the Industrial Revolution onwards, designers tried to take advantage of printing devices. Ether they design with press constraints in mind, or now play with 3D printers possibilities, graphic designers are always experimenting with the printing possibilities.

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Graphic design in the present

Although many – including designers, art directors, and teachers – like to claim that graphic design will cease to exist soon, I hardly believe that to be the truth. More than ever, consumers are paying attention to plenty of platforms that require designers who fundamentally are graphic designers. Maybe you want to call them package designers, magazine designers, or some other sort of variation. Aren’t they just specialized graphic designers? Most likely, yes.

Below are some of the many specializations that someone with a background in graphic design can pursue. Regardless of how the world shifts, they will keep on being relevant in one way or the other.


Packaging started as a necessity to preserve goods. However, it quickly became a way to differentiate from the competition and to entice consumers.
Currently, even though we are more connected to technology than ever, beautiful packaging seems to be one thing that consumers cherish and are willing to pay for.
Labels, boxes, and wrapping are some of the things that buyers are keeping an attentive and informed eye on. How brands store and present their products is as important as how they communicate with their audience nowadays.

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Historically speaking, we can say that the graphic design practice started with the book’s development. Then the posters came along, the newspapers, magazines, and everything in between.
In the last few years, there’s an ongoing discussion about paper being replaced by digital. Ebooks, kindles, and audio books are trying to become the next big thing. 
Nevertheless, either it will be digital or on paper, it doesn’t seem that the editorial industry will cease to exist any time sooner.

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Non-profit and activism are nether recent or new. More often than not, designers were at the forefront of injustice, trying to become a voice and raise awareness for horrific situations.
Throughout time, professionals used different platforms and means to showcase reality, whether it was inequality or violence.

Now, more than ever, having an active voice is a powerful tool and one that needs to be used by everyone and especially by designers.

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