Graphic design and visual arguments: about dialogues, persuasion, and common sense?
What is graphic design?
Graphic design is – like most professions – changing continuously. In order to monitor this change, it is necessary to observe and describe ‘graphic design practice’. About 150 interviews with graphic designers showed that they always combine ‘visual argumentation’ and ‘reflective practice’.
Visual argumentation: Graphic designers seem to execute three activities: they consider visual elements (type, illustrations, schematic elements), they consider a visual strategy (how to relate the message of a client to a specific group of people), and they consider a longer term visual dialogue between clients and people, because graphic design is always part of a longer conversations.
Reflective practice: Apart from considering the visual structure of a message, eight other activities are necessary to facilitate the development of a visual argument: presenting, testing, implementing, organisation, evaluating a position, and considering a situation, a problem, and a perspective.
Not all projects contain all activities, and not all activities are equally important, but this is what graphic designers say they do.
Who decides what is good design?
There are at least six groups who can decide if a visual argument is suitable. Designers, clients, standards and legislation, professional peers, people/users, and society can all provide legitimate opinions about the quality of a design. These groups use different kinds of value systems, use different criteria, and all weigh arguments in different ways. It is always difficult to satisfy the expectations and needs of all six groups and a balance need to be found.
How to find this balance?
One way to look at graphic design as the ‘development of visual arguments’. Every design makes a claim that it is improving a situation, and thereby implicitly stating that the current situation is not satisfactory. Every claim need to be supported by evidence, reasons, and research findings. One of the major challenges for graphic design at the moment is to find this evidence, and to present it in such a way that all relevant value systems are dealt with.