History of Graphic Design: A Brief Rundown

Today, graphic design can be found nearly everywhere we look. From branded social media content to logos, flyers, ad spreads, product packaging, and more, graphic design is a medium that we're used to seeing all around us. But how exactly has graphic design become what it is today? Let's take a look at a brief timeline of the history of graphic design.

Advancements and inventions that contributed to graphic design through the years

As graphic design is a form of visual communication, some of the very first advancements that can be credited include the milestones in which language, art, and mass-produced distribution were made possible:

  • 38,000 BCE — Cave paintings are the earliest form of visual communication in human history
  • c. 3300-3000 BCE — The Sumerians develop pictographs, the earliest form of writing
  • 200-1040 CE — In China, woodblock reliefs are used to print designs onto silk clothing and paper, and the first moveable type printing press is created
  • c. 1100 — European heraldry is the earliest form of what we know today as logos
  • c. 1389 — in England, alehouses are required to have a sign outside to mark the building, the earliest form of storefront signage
  • 1440 — The Gutenberg Press is created
  • 1620s — The first mass-produced ads are seen in corantos, the early forms of newspapers
  • 1796 — Lithography is invented
  • 1837 — Chromolithography emerges, making multi-color lithographs possible
  • 1903 — Wiener WerkStätte, the first graphic design agency, is opened in Austria
  • 1919 — Bauhaus, the first graphic design school, is opened in Germany
  • 1920 — Frederic Goudy becomes the first full-time type designer
  • 1922 — William Addison Dwiggins coins the term "graphic design"
  • 1947 — Paul Rand publishes his ideas and design principles in Thoughts on Design
  • 1968 — The first digital typeface is created by Rudolf Hell
  • 1973 — SuperPaint, the first image editing program emerges
  • 1974 — Vector fonts are created for digital typefaces
  • 1980s-1990s — Graphic design starts going digital
  • 1984 — Apple releases the Macintosh desktop computer
  • 1994 — The first online ad appears
  • 2002 — The Adobe Creative Suite emerges

A brief history of graphic design styles

While a long history of developments and technological advancements has made graphic design possible, another area that has greatly contributed to modern graphic design is the various trends and art styles through the years. Some notable art trends include:

Art Nouveau

Emerging around 1890 until about 1910, this style is characterized by fluid curves, ornamental designs, and elaborate typography.


Popular in the 1950s, this style is characterized by simple shapes, minimalist fonts, and bold colors.

Art Deco

Popularized around the 1920s-1930s, this style is characterized by symmetrical patterns, geometric shapes, sleek and sophisticated designs, and contrasting color palettes.

Swiss Style

Originating in Switzerland in the 1950s, this is a style focused on simplicity and readability using sans-serif typography.

Digital Era

From the mid-1980s to today, the rise of computer technology, software, and the internet has transformed graphic design into a versatile industry encompassing many styles and tools. Modern graphic design is highly efficient with the widely available technology and resources available today. Rather than following one particular art trend, there is a wide assortment of styles, and graphic designers tend to create designs that match a brand's personality and individual style.


The art of graphic design has roots extending back through many different periods of time and has changed and evolved immensely through the years as new inventions, technological advancements, and art styles have emerged. While graphic design has changed a lot over the years, the modern use of graphic design is a wonderfully versatile and complex art made possible by all the advancements, inventors, and designers that paved the way.

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