The first canvas for visual communication was nature, with the use of cave walls and rocks as a place for sharing messages or stories with others through pictures of people or animals, or with petroglyph symbols. We can only appreciate the art and speculate on the meaning.
Pictograms, calligraphy, and heiroglyphs were forms of writing, however if you did not know how to transcribe or translate these letters and words, this code for communication was not clear to everyone viewing it. Sometimes heiroglyphs would be presented on their own; at other times, there would be an accompaniment of pictures. Regardless of the origin – Egyptian, Chinese, Greek, etc., there was a clear structure and flow for the lettering and the image
Visual design, for me, also encompasses how items are arranged or built, such as landscape, interior design, and architecture. The medium here is nature, space, wood, glass, metal, brick, etc. The development of cities and structures such as buildings, temples, pyramids, etc. were designed in a way that was, at that time, following unwritten principles of design but resonated with the people on some level and provided a postive visual experience or impression on viewers. If you examine ancient reliefs, sculptures, pottery or tablets, the imagery carved, engraved, etched or drawn or painted on the surfaces tell a story. Diagrams and drawings are another form of communicating information visually and follow their own rules or structure for displaying content.
Even maps, flags and coat of arms were forms of displaying information and establishing identity. Icons or symbols to represent countries or groups could be considered the first form of advertising and logo creation.
The first books were handcrafted using fancy letting or script and elaborate depictions within a layout planned on papyrus/parchment and imprinted in ink. Prior to this the upper case alphabet that we use today along with the serif typefaces came into existence based on the Greek alphabet. “They refined the art of handwriting, fashioning several distinctive styles of lettering which they used for different purposes.’’
With the printing press, books were able to be produced quickly on a large scale. Books with illustrations, board books or comics were other ways that information or stories could be conveyed through images and words. Words accompanying images aids in ensuring there is no misinterpretation. The graphic novel is another new iteration for books which are bringing new life to stories and engaging other audience members.
With this, the development of print mediums such as newspapers, magazines, posters, billboards, packaging etc. made way for a new world of design and creative visual representations. The transition from black and white to colour was also a key factor affecting impact. Appealing to audience needs and crafting messages (to inform, pursuade, encourage purchase) and stories visually which will appeal to these groups are at the crux of marketing and advertising.
Technology was a driving factor in the progression and shaping of visual design. The introduction of photography and the television brought information to audiences in a visual manner and appealed to various senses. As technology has changed, many other pathways for displaying information visually have become available, for example, computers, websites, animation, or infographics. From websites and email to animation and the ability to create 3D renderings enabling gaming and virtual spaces, display of information has enterted new relams and changed the way people communicate and learn.
Across these mediums though, the basic concepts used to create these pieces and engage and attract users remain the same.