How the Renaissance shaped graphic design as we know it
“The world is getting faster, more complicated and more fucked up, so there are always larger problems to solve and new frontiers to make accessible,” said Jack Kornet, Stamps School of Art & Design junior.
Kornet uses his graphic design skills to address challenges he or his clients face. His work ranges from creating event branding for startup Ann Arbor SPARK to freelancing for Systematic Vision, a high speed camera supplier and system integrator based in Boston.
“My favorite part about design work is that it's not work,” Kornet wrote in an email interview with The Daily. “I have an unreasonable amount of fun solving problems with creativity. There seems to always be more to learn about design. I have never gotten bored with it, and I’m not sure I ever will because there are so many potential projects.”
A significant reason for the rise of graphic design is the mass amounts of information we have access to and consume on a daily basis due to smartphones and social media. In an age where we’re simply seconds away from sharing or reading information, the manner in which we display text and visuals becomes important.
“If you’re trying to portray information, then graphic design is the best medium of art to do so,” said Stamps School of Art & Design sophomore Eliana Harrison in an interview with The Daily. Harrison has created posters for Ann Arbor’s “Shakespeare in the Arb,” designed promotional flyers for student-run theater group RC Players and more.
But while we may think of graphic design work as being an art form born from the modernization of technology, it’s been around for much longer, starting from the Renaissance as the invention of movable-type printing allowed for the rapid spread of ideas.
“In the Renaissance, artists began to value gaining knowledge of materials and subject matter and their effects on the viewer which I see to be on the same train of thought as modern designers,” Kornet wrote. “The main connection I see between Renaissance art and modern design is the role of a cultural influencer. In the Renaissance, art could be used to represent important people. Artists would create lasting relics of identity and reputation for their “clients” which is very similar in my mind to corporate branding (logos, the look and feel and messaging).”
Just as the printing press allowed for the Renaissance in Europe, the Internet has allowed for a revitalization of graphic design throughout the world.
“Everything came from the Renaissance,” Harrison said. “Even if you look at art nouveau, which was almost a very early form of graphic design — they did a lot of posters for the world’s fairs — they drew from the styles of the Renaissance. And I think that has evolved into modern graphic design.”
The main difference between design work from the Renaissance compared to today is the purpose behind it.
“Where Renaissance art involved itself with political, religious and intellectual promotion, design today is used in the construction of public infrastructure, consumer products and basically everything,” Kornet wrote. “This adds a tremendous amount of possibilities for creative projects because the range of people who value design is much broader than that during the Renaissance.”
This added creativity and purpose behind graphic design work is what appeals to many artists like Harrison. Harrison started out training in contemporary realist art before shifting some of her focus towards graphic design work.
Harrison thinks creating work for a client is what distinguishes graphic design from other forms of art. She’s fond of learning people’s visions and thinking about the overall message they hope to convey as she makes her work.
“I love the fact that graphic design is such a practical use of art in order to advertise, market and brand companies and people,” Harrison said. “I think it’s awesome I can do that for people.”
No matter what the message or vision is for a design, it often circles back to the people themselves.
“Design is a deeply human practice, and it takes a lot of empathy to design things that other people will love,” Kornet wrote. “The process is both gratifying and eye-opening.”