Everything is Designed: Why Graphic Design is Important in Shaping the World Around Us

by Yvette McKenzie
Posted: November 09, 2015

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By Rebecca Jee

Graphic designers have a huge role to play in the way the world around us looks. Have you ever stopped to think about how much of the world around you is designed?

Everything around us has had design decisions made about it. The sizes, textures, shapes, typefaces, colours and materials used in advertising, signage, packaging, and the media we consume convey all sorts of messages that we often don’t even notice on a conscious level.

Let’s take a quick drive to the shops and have a look at the graphic design of the world around us.

The first thing you might see are billboards on buildings and posters on bus stop shelters. Outdoor advertising needs to be attention grabbing, but not too distracting. It needs to be able to convey its message in milliseconds to a constantly moving audience, so will use huge font sizes and large images, and might have a creative element that ties in to other advertising from that brand that you might have seen on TV or in a magazine. You also notice posters for upcoming music gigs taped to the power poles in the street. They use only the most essential words, fluorescent colours and cheap paper; they will most likely be pulled down or taped over pretty quickly, so they are designed to get their information out as quickly as possible, at a low cost.

As you park, you look at the signs dotted up and down the street. Street signs need to be easy to read, both in daylight and at night time. They need to convey information clearly. They need to be consistent, using the same typefaces and colours across a range of signs, so that when you see a parking sign you know exactly what it means and what you are permitted to do in that zone. The colour palette is usually very limited and eye-catching (red, green, yellow, black and white), and the typefaces used are strong sans serifs with no decorative elements to clutter up the information.

You head into the supermarket and all around you is the chain’s branding, with its particular logo, colours and style repeated again and again throughout the shop. Although all the different supermarkets sell basically the same products, you would never be confused about which supermarket chain you were standing in.

Then you look at the vast array of packaging in every aisle. Each product has been designed to convey a certain feel to the consumer. A brand aiming for a premium feel will use elegant typefaces, a dark colour palette and possibly some metallic elements. A brand that wants to imply it is a bargain, on the other hand, will usually use much simpler design elements; a light background, bold typefaces, and bright colours like red and orange. A product that wants you to think it’s good for the environment will often use a brown/kraft paper look, green colours and typefaces with a hand-drawn feel.

When you get home, you stop at the letterbox to pick up your mail. There is a card from a property developer, showing the latest release of upscale apartments for sale in your area. It uses large, heavily styled photos and is printed on matte stock. It feels substantial, communicating something expensive and worth serious consideration. There is also a catalogue from the local hardware shop, printed on cheap glossy paper and crammed full of photos and prices. It feels flimsy, urgent and as though the information isn’t meant to last longer than a couple of weeks before being out of date.

So you can see, even from such a simple exercise, how much of the world around us has been shaped by graphic designers — and that’s not even mentioning the other kinds of design that we encounter every day without thinking about it, such as fashion and industrial design. As a graphic designer you have the tools to shape and influence the world around you with every design choice you make.

 

Yvette McKenzie

Yvette

Is the content strategist at Open Colleges. She has over a decade of professional experience at some of Australia’s largest media corporations, including Southern Cross Austereo and the Macquarie Media Network. With a degree in Communications (majoring in Journalism), she covers stories on education, new knowledge technologies and independent learning.

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