As I constantly try to refine the definition of “graphic design” for myself and for my career—because the phrase is becoming more and more vague these days—I recently came up with a more specific phrase to describe what I (want to) do: Communication and Visual Design.
Over the past few months, I’ve learned more about design by myself via the design blogosphere and podcastland and sans the individual biases and influences of my design friends, I realize that I’m really interested in information design. I mean, I kind of already knew that in school, when I saw and fell in love with Josef Müller-Brockmann’s work. He used only data (information) and turned them into pieces of design that emitted its own formal aesthetic radiance, which completely fascinates me and causes me to ecstasize in the multiplicative product of pure simplicity and beauty—it’s the ultimate, perfect design, at least where communication is concerned.
These days, information graphic design seems to have more exposure in the mainstream, especially online, where data visualization has grown beyond bar graphs and pie charts. The advances in programming and data analysis yields infographics that exhibit three-dimensional displays, millions-hue color gradation, viewer interaction, and/or continuous construction of visualization through live import of data from all over the world, all the while still presenting the original information collected.
That is very exciting. Pure and initially styleless data have a chance to shine now. I cringe when I see too much “pretty” design for the sake of audience attraction and for the sake of being “pretty.” However, I don’t want that part of design to completely disappear, because it’s part of aesthetics, and we need aesthetics. I don’t want to look at tables of black-ink data on bleach-white paper or screen for the rest of my life. Style is important in playing a role to enhance the experience of reading the data. Colors, shapes, photographs, and illustrations can fill that role.
So there originated my defense for coining “Communication and visual design.” I am aware that it’s similar to the emphasis of my major in Davis, “Visual Communication (and Presentation),” but that phrase is not specific enough. Also, it doesn’t say “design”; I don’t want people to get more confused when I tell them I’m a “visual communicator.” I want something that says that I (want to) do communication design, and I (want to) do visual design (which is the aesthetics).
Now, I looked up both terms on Wikipedia (I know it’s not completely a legitimate source, but it’s not about the exact definition), and “Communication design” came up, but “Visual design” didn’t. Communication design was basically said to be similar to graphic design, except it involves more of the message, or the information.
Since I want to participate in both areas of design, and that I value the communication and information part more, I put that term first: Communication and Visual Design. Of course, I’ll still tell people I’m a graphic designer because it’s easier to tell people, but on websites and identity stuff and what not, I want to use “Communication and Visual Design,” at least for this point in my career.
While thinking about this topic, I remember that I had two discussions (one on No Name Designers Guild and one on The Collablog) with my design friends earlier this year when Bruce Nussbaum wrote a Businessweek article bashing designers, and I reacted with a claim that maybe he misunderstood the word “design,” which was not surprising since the word’s being thrown around constantly these days. So I suggested calling ourselves something else, something other than “designers.” However, I ended up with a combination of both the clarification and the existing word: “visual communication designers.”
The controversy of this whole shabub (I know, I just made it up) probably won’t go anywhere beyond this blog, but I’m doing this for my own sanity so I know what I do for a living exactly. I know that “communication” and “visual” are just as confusing as “graphic,” so replacing one confusing word with two isn’t that economical and efficient. At least I’ve split up that one word into two manageable categories: data and style, allowing me to get a clearer picture of what I’m for (lots of data with appropriate style) and what I’m not for (lots of fluff and little substance), which ironically is probably the quality of this post.