How to Break Down Graphic Design: Complex Ideas Made Simple

by Melinda Martin

“Graphic design, also known as communication design, is the art and practice of planning and projecting ideas and experiences with visual and textual content.” - AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts)

Wait. What? Can you imagine saying that to a group of first graders on career day? I can imagine the blank stares and the “when is recess?” looks. As an often misunderstood and broad concept, graphic design can be an intangible, abstract concept for younger ones to comprehend.

However, when tasked with a new design project, I always ask the client to tell me in one sentence what they want to communicate. This makes it easier for me to visually depict the core of their message, and then we can collaborate from there.

Same principle. That’s what graphic design is often about. Graphic designers try to make complex things easier to understand by breaking it down into “pretty” (a request I hear often) pieces for easier consumption.

Dean Vipond

Using real world examples and group interaction, designer Dean Vipond came up with a great way to explain what it is that designers do. He discussed the importance of signs and how they need to be easy to read (also referred to as legibility and visibility). He showed a group of

Stop signs

youngsters this example and asked them what to do with the letters to make the sign better. All of the kids agreed that the letters should be bigger. Why? Because then you can see the message from a distance and the size gives the word greater visual importance. You can read more about his interactive examples here .

Red trailer and truck wrap

Another way to explain the concept and importance of design would be to present before and after photos. Eye-catching graphics and color can really make an impact. The unwrapped example on the left is more likely to go unnoticed in traffic, but the wrapped example would more quickly grab attention .

Lastly, I would convey to my audience that design is all around them in their everyday life. Someone designed the lunch box that students take to school, decided how that lamp would turn on, or suggested what color the science room walls should be to provide a conducive learning environment.

Chip Kidd

Mr. Kidd recently wrote a book on this very subject: Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design. He shows every day, real world examples of design and challenges the child with visual puzzles to encourage them to think differently about the world. As a Graphic Designer, that’s what I aspire to do: to engage the audience, show them the world in a different way and hopefully even inspire them.

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