Graphic Information Design: Introduction

This is a rudimentary introduction to the field of graphic information design, which when well done can communicate complex knowledge clearly from one person to others. Georgias was the second most noted of the ancient Greek teachers known as the Sophists. In Gorgias’ formulation of knowledge, there is a gap between objects and the mind, and another gap between the mind’s knowledge and the language which would express it.


He believed that these gaps were unbridgeable, therefore each individual is shut up within walls of their own life and that human experience plays upon the surface of things. Hence ‘sophistry’ has come to mean the superficial treatment of any matter and the making of verbal distinctions that are of no real importance.


This is the point of departure for the following work which explores the value and practice of Graphic Information Design.  As a practice, the way we lay out and present information makes a huge difference as to how meaningful it is to others; it thus determines how much information someone gets out of a piece of work…


From this viewpoint there is an obvious aesthetic component to knowledge.  We could have the answers to life the universe and everything, however, if it is illegible, it is inaccessible.  That knowledge is diminished and held back from being a part of conversations between people and scrutinized by a wider group of peers similarly interested in the knowledge.  Making something accessible, from Gorgias’ point of view, is an essential component of achieving knowledge.


Exploring what makes something accessible can take many different forms.  We can ask ourselves how successfully we have used language which is understood by everyone.  It is not uncommon to find accusations of impenetrable language levied at academics and managers.  Jargon and specialized language can be used to obfuscate (hide) the true meaning of what is being spoken about, but it can also emerge as a helpful shorthand between people who are immersed in a subject area.


Although this discussion of language and grammar is an interesting one, it is not the line of exploration which I am going to take in this series of articles.  Instead, the arts and practices which make knowledge visually accessible are of particular interest in this series as I try and get at an understanding of how to make knowledge accessible by presenting it in a simple, beautiful and useful way.  This is what I am broadly aiming at.


In trying build this understanding, I will take people through short studies of print history, graphic design, typography, information design, and information graphics.  These essays will hopefully take the reader on such a path as will allow them to encounter well established conventions and appreciate how they have come to be conventions.  Part of it will be by enjoying insights into histories that relate to us intrigue in such a way as to make it pleasant to learn the substance of the study sufficient enough to then go on and apply it in your own practices.


This work is the result of a necessity for me, as over time, I have come to realise that in trying to learn deeper knowledge about complicated subjects, I have had to develop a process of reading other people’s work, creating a set of notes, arranging those notes and then presenting the information back to myself.  This is for two main reasons – so that I work with more information than I can hold in my memory at any given point in time, and also that I can have a store and reference to the work which I have done.



There is a blurred distinction and over-lapping of advertising art, graphic design and fine art throughout history. All these share many of the same elements, theories, principles, practices and languages. In graphic design the essence is to give order to information, form to ideas, expression and feeling to artifacts that document human experience.


To insist that, or to prescribe how, graphic design need be taught in any particular way is to unnecessarily limit the field in both methodology and pedagogy. It may also limit its innovation and application in fields traditionally less focused on these issues. One of the fundamental debates in art and graphic design is between form and function.


Although this is a simplistic binary way to frame the way we see things, these categorical lenses can help us see certain qualities of something before going on to see different qualities of the same thing after. Ultimately I perceive this as a process of working towards developing an understanding of one quality being related to and a function of another, i.e. form and function interact.




Form is the shape or visual quality of something. It refers to aesthetics of how a piece looks and what it evokes through this quality. Much of graphic design centers on how to make a work appealing. Function relates to utility and is the faculty of being purposeful, pragmatic and efficient in achieving these goals. In producing a design project, an individual should consider the circumstances and break or follow the rules of tradition appropriately.


A common mistake is to break too many formatting rules. The purpose of graphic design is to merge optimal form with efficient function. Pictograms and ideograms from some five thousand years ago represent the earliest known forms of graphic design. Graphic design’s purpose through history has been the communication of ideas through the use of graphic elements like typography, illustration, and photography.



Pictograms of Tadrart Acacus in Libya
Pictograms of Tadrart Acacus in Libya


A good layout is one that shows good use of the elements and principles of design, and one which manages to effectively communicate the knowledge which is it’s aim. A designer should use the principles of design to take the readers through the work easily. Elements of design include color, texture, shape, form, space, and line. The specifics of both the principles and elements vary from source to source, but the idea remains the same.



Graphic design is the art of visual communication and involves the use of images, words, and ideas to give information to the audience. Graphic design can be conceived of as utilitarian aesthetics. Some of the most commonly acknowledged axioms of design are alignment, balance, emphasis, contrast, proximity, repetition, and white space.



These are all principles of graphic design composition. Compositions can be evaluated based on the use of harmony, emphasis, gestalt principles, pattern, movement, rhythm, proportion, and unity.



The following essays will continue this exploration of graphic information design:



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