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Western Graphic Design History

Gd Timeline Detail

This work came out my studies in graphic design history and foundational theory, a large and intricate network of ideas and practices. As I was trying to make sense of this massive body of information, I began developing a timeline to help me understand the various movements and contributors in relation to each other. It quickly evolved into being a study in itself - how to best represent a history that is overlapping, simultaneous, and is the result of a time and place specific contexts?

Designed for a large format print, the timeline features major western graphic design movements, notable contributors, notable contributions, and cultural & technical events that affected the field of graphic design [1]. The information is organized chronologically and by location. The colours reveals shifts in style over time.

Download the High Res Poster

The colour of the lines and movement blocks is determined by their position on a style matrix that I developed (below). Both axis are set up as a spectrum between two stylistic opposites: The x-axis as organic style to geometric style and the y-axis as decorative style to minimalist style. The graphic design movements are then be plotted within the matrix according to their stylistic tendencies (relative to each other).

Western Graphic Design History Style Matrix
Western Graphic Design History Style Matrix (2014)

What information does the timeline provide?

Design Movements

  • Prominent years
  • Country of origin
  • Theories & Practices

Their Aesthetic Qualities

  • geometric vs organic
  • minimalist vs decorative

Notable Contributors

  • Name
  • Nationality
  • Lifespan
  • Contributions to the field
  • Movement affiliations

Notable Contributions

  • Title
  • Country of origin
  • Date of occurrence
  • About the contribution
  • Movement affiliations

Cultural & Technical Events

  • Name of event
  • Year(s) of occurrence
  • About the event
  • It’s effect on graphic design

This timeline project ultimately lead to my fascination with information visualization. I realized that if this much information could be made accessible in a static (and somewhat clumsy) information graphic, the interactivity of infovis would expand such possibilities exponentially.

A couple other gd history studies:

Arts and Crafts vs Victorian Era

Stop the Presses! is a graphic representation of the Arts & Crafts response to the rapid production of low quality design that emerged during the industrial revolution, known as the Victorian era [2].

Graphic Design History Typography Study

Typographic History explores the evolution of typography since 1600 through one of my favourite quotes by Arts & Crafts designer and writer, William Morris:

"The past is not dead, it is living in us, and will be alive in the future which we are now helping to make."


[1] [2] Cramsie, Patrick. The Story Of Graphic Design, From The Invention Of Writing To The Birth Of Digital Design. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2010. Print.
[1] [2] Eskilson, Stephen. Graphic Design, A New History. 1. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007. Print.
[1] [2] Heller, Steven, and Seymour Chwast. Graphic Style, From Victorian To Digital. New Edition New York: Harry N Abrams Inc, 2000. Print.
[1] Hollis, R. Swiss graphic design, the origins and growth of an international style, 1920-1965. Laurence King Publishing, 2008. Print.
[1] Armstrong, Helen. Graphic Design Theory, Readings From The Field. New York: Princeton Architectural Pr, 2009. Print.