Critical frameworks for graphic design: graphic design and visual culture

Michele-Anne Dauppe

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The paper considers an approach to the study of graphic design which addresses the expanding nature of graphic design in the 21st century and the purposeful application of theory to the subject of graphic design. In recent years graphic design has expanded its domain from the world of print culture (e.g. books, posters) into what is sometimes called screen culture. Everything from a mobile phone to a display in an airport lounge to the A.T.M. carries graphic design. It has become ever more ubiquitous, forming part of the visual landscape. As the subject extends its range it is appropriate to ask: how might we approach the study of graphic design in ways which account for the context of screen culture as well as print culture? Graphic design, as has long been recognised, is relatively under-theorised. The paper takes account of the history of interventions and debates regarding the relationship of graphic design with theory. This paper positions itself within this tradition of questioning how best to approach the theory/practice relationship, and explores how we might usefully position graphic design within a framework of visual culture. Visual culture as a discipline is relatively young but has had a significant impact on theoretical approaches to the study of culture. Its range is broad “from oil painting to television to the Internet” (Mirzoeff,1999,p.3) and interdisciplinary. Its attention to the historical conventions of visual communication, technologies of vision, ways of looking and contexts for engaging with the visual all make it potentially highly relevant and meaningful for graphic design. In addition to discussing the relationship between visual cultural theory and graphic design the paper contributes to a better understanding by exploring its relevance through an example.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)489-498
Number of pages10
JournalDesign Principles and Practices: an international journal
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2011


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