The Evolution of Digital Art

Up until the late 20th century, the graphic-design discipline was based on hand-craft processes: layouts were made by hand to create an idea; type was specified and ordered from a typesetter; and type proofs and photostats of images were placed in position on heavy paper or board for photo copying and platemaking. Over the course of the 1980s and early ’90s, however, rapid changes in digital pc hardware and software completely altered graphic design.

Software for Apple’s 1984 Macintosh computer, such as the MacPaint programme created by computer programmer Bill Atkinson and graphic designer Susan Kare, had a majorly revolutionary human interface. Tool icons controlled by a mouse or graphics tablet enabled designers and artists to use computer graphics in a new, intuitive manner. The Postscriptâ„¢ page-description language from Adobe Systems, Inc., allowed for pages of type and graphics to be assembled into graphic designs on-screen. By the mid-1990s, the transition of graphic design from drafting-table action to an on-screen computer action was practically complete.

Digital computers allowed typesetting tools to be placed into the realm of individual designers, and thus a time of experimentation occurred in the creation of new and unusual fonts and page layouts. Type and images were layered, fragmented, and disfigured; type columns were overlapped and run at very long or short line lengths, and the sizes, weights, and fonts were sometimes changed within single headlines, columns, and words. Much of this research occurred in design training at art schools and universities. American designer David Carson, art director of Beach Culture magazine in 1989-91, Surfer in 1991-92, and Ray Gun magazine in 1992-96, captured the imagination of a youthful audience by taking this kind of experimental approach into publication design.

Fast advances in onscreen software also allowed designers to make elements transparent; to stretch, scale, and bend elements; to layer type and graphics in mid-space; and to fuse imagery into complex montages. For example, in a United States postage stamp from 1998, designers Ethel Kessler and Greg Berger digitally montaged John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Frederick Law Olmsted with a photograph of New York’s Central Park, a site plan, and botanical art to commemorate the landscape architect. Interwoven, these images create a rich expression of Olmsted’s life and work.

The electronic revolution in graphic design was followed quickly by public access to the internet. A whole new sphere of graphic design activity mushroomed in the mid-1990s when Internet commerce became a growing sector of the global economy, causing organizations and businesses to quickly establish web-sites. Designing a Web site involves the layout of screens of information rather than of physical pages, but approaches to the use of type, images, and colour are similar to those used for print. Web design, however, requires a number of new considerations, including designing for navigation through the web-site and for using hypertext links to see additional information. An example of strong web design is the Herman Miller for the Home Web site, designed by BBK Studio in 1998. These designers developed a purposeful visual identity, effective navigation, and informational clarity. Attributes that contributed to the effectiveness of this website included a pleasing colour palette, an informative use of pictures of products, and a scrolling montage of products.

Because of the world-wide usefulness and reach of the Internet, the graphic-design domain is becoming increasingly global in scope. Additionally, the integration of motion graphics, animation, video feeds, and music into website design has caused the merging of traditional print and broadcast media. As kinetic media expands from motion pictures and basic television to scores of cable-television channels, video games, and animated Web sites, motion graphics are becoming an increasingly important area of graphic design.

In the 21st century, graphic design is universal; it is the main component of the complex print and electronic information systems. It permeates contemporary society, delivering information, product identification, entertainment, and persuasive messages. The inexorable advance of technology has changed dramatically the way graphic design is created and distributed to a mass market. However, the fundamental role of the graphic designer, providing creative form and clarity of content to communicative messages, remains the same.

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