Last updated on Sep 11th, 2020 at 10:33 am

From cave paintings & hieroglyphics to traffic signals & desktop icons, visuals are one of the ubiquitous modes of communication in our world…

Did you ever stop to consider how this form of communication evolved? Are you interested in pursuing a career in graphic design and visual communication?

Here’s a brief history, and how you can get started in your graphic design journey:

The power of visual communication

In addition to verbal and non-verbal communication (body language or non-verbal cues like grunting in pain), visual communication is one of the oldest forms of communication around.

There are cave paintings in numerous sites all over the world which point to it being the primary way to transfer ideas using symbols and imagery, pre-dating writing by millennia. These early forms of visual communication were presented in the form of pictograms such as proto-cuneiform, which came before Cuneiform – considered to be one of the oldest forms of formalised writing in history.

Egyptian hieroglyphics are also a great example of a formal writing system which, although it came later, still hearkened to the pictographic roots of earlier civilizations. In fact, their pictographic system was so advanced that 1000 characters can be distinguished.

Nowadays, you may not notice how much you are surrounded by pictograms, let alone more targeted and complex visuals like adverts, TV shows and movies. Traffic signals, data visualisation aids like pie graphs and charts, and common desktop icons are some of the pictograms populating the world today.

Forge a career in visual communications
Forge a career in visual communications (Image source: : jokiewalker

The appeal of visuals

So, being so old, why do visuals still feature so much in our lives?

The universality of visuals as a shorthand for words is what makes them so appealing. Imagine being lost in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and you want to do two things:

  • You need to use a restroom before making your way to the hotel
  • You need to know how to drive yourself from the airport using your rental car

In terms of the first need, the universal sign for showing restrooms is a sign of a man and a woman standing side by side, usually with an arrow pointing in the right direction. Thus, without using a single word, you will have found your way using internationally designated signage.

Secondly, to make your way home, you switch on the GPS, a map shows up and even though the narrator speaks to you, you’re unfamiliar with the street names. You’re relying directly on your ability to look at the map, see the distance and turn where necessary. The visual nature of these actions greatly increases their success. Visuals serve more than an artistic purpose in logos, paintings and the like – their practical purposes also feature significantly in the world.

Completing an online graphic design course can allow you to forge your own path in the realm of visual communication.

The evolution of the visual

The future of the visual is increasingly digital, with Adobe Illustrator as one of the best tools available to a visual arts practitioner. Its key lies in the creation of vector artwork which is a lossless form of digital image not based on pixels.

This means it can be scaled up or down without losing quality. This means today’s graphic designer can be confident knowing her work won’t ever look out of place. To place current visual theory into a neat and tidy box is difficult but you can certainly equip yourself with the necessary skills to critically and objectively apply visual theory to communicate the desired message, whether for a brand or otherwise.

Completing an online graphic design course can allow you to forge your own path in the realm of visual communication. Most online short courses don’t require you to have any formal prerequisites, simply an ability to think laterally and apply yourself using the prescribed tools. An interest in visual design and the holistic application of aesthetic and perceptive theories also wouldn’t hurt.