A look at how graphic design has evolved over time and how is today

Blog | Design

May this post aims to help you:

  • Understand how design has evolved in the digital age.
  • Gain an overview of the major contributions of graphic design.
  • Learn the basic definitions of the common deliverables of modern digital products.
  • Grasp the future of Digital Design and the market trend.

I hope it worked out for you.

History and Ethics

The Cave of Hands located in Perito Moreno, Argentina. 13,000-9,000 BP.

Before spoken language, humans developed a system of graphic communication, from writing in sand or mud, cave paintings, symbols, art, and other visual representations to express their primitive ideas.

The exact origin of Graphic Design is unclear. Some theorists trace it back to the civilizations of Greece, Egypt, or Rome. Others link it to the invention of the printing press.

Personally, I believe Graphic Design gained momentum during the Industrial Revolution. This was a major shift from the first human who drew a visual script of a hunt to the late 19th century, when the concept of graphic design began to take shape due to the acceleration of progress caused by the industrial revolution and the accompanying technological development. At this time, transport was faster and mass production increased. In the UK, William Morris, a man of good family and better ideas, stood out. He drove the Arts & Crafts movement, which argued that there should be no difference between fine arts and utilitarian craftsmanship. He sought to rationalize design.

With Morris’ ideas, and those of many other contemporaries, Modernism (Art Nouveau) was born, also known as the Belle Epoque. This movement sought to create a relationship between art and life.

This propelled its expansion and led to the establishment of schools such as the Bauhaus, from which many current designers draw their design principles.

In the 1950s, the process of design, demand, and consumption was accelerated exponentially due to the introduction of television.

In the 70s, the pixel emerged, along with the New Wave, graphical interfaces, and the mouse we know today.

Ray Kurzweil. “The singularity is near: When humans transcend biology”

In 1990, Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore proposed his now famous theory that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit of the same size would double every two years. This would lead to a corresponding doubling of storage and processing power, allowing humans to create smaller, more powerful machines (miniaturization in relation to power). The theory was proposed while the popular Mc Hammer song “U Can’t Touch This” was playing 🙂 ¿True?.

Design for Digital Products was a limited concept about 22 years ago, and was only available to a select few professionals due to the significant technological investment required in both hardware and software. An example of this disruption in the market was the introduction of Photoshop, which is now a widely used software.

An old version of Photoshop (0,63)

“The electronic revolution opened up the possibility of taking stored images from the past and transforming them into something modern through digital manipulation. Advances in new techniques and computer technology enabled designers to gain control over the graphic means of production and reproduction, thus revolutionizing printed communication.”

Eric Satué (1989)

In 2000, being a “Multimedia Designer” required a wide range of knowledge beyond traditional Graphic Design, such as “Multimedia Authoring” and the constructive and programming intricacies of Adobe Flash (formerly Macromedia, now obsolete). This advancement enabled the creation of visual prototypes and final art in earlier stages of production, helping to iterate and make mistakes at a low cost. Coupled with the reduction in hardware costs and the evolution of software, as well as the proliferation of different solutions for the same problem, it raised awareness of Digital Product Design (formerly known as Multimedia Design).

The hardware of the screens had already achieved precision in LUT color spaces and had screen sizes of 1600x1280px. Normal computer equipment was capable of building 3D models and rendering them in a reasonable amount of time. Skeuomorphism was and is a design language that “contains the form”, meaning it attempts to imitate something made of different materials, such as a wallpaper that imitates an old brick wall.

“Design of a digital iOS app that looks like and is comfortable to use like a real calculator.” Great Skeumorphism examples

He helped users transition from paper agendas to digital ones, maintaining a visual representation of the same agenda.

In 2010, Smart Design emerged. New players entered the market, bringing E-commerce, Social Networks, Big Screens, Tablets, Smartphones with 4.5″ screens, and even Smart Watches. Designing for multiple devices became a complex task. Responsive Web Design, with its breakpoints for adapting content to each screen size/device, began to gain traction.

Flat Design eliminates the use of Skeuomorphism and provides designers with solutions and standards to create more user-friendly digital products. It features simple, vector-based, scalable shapes, aiming for synthesis and simplification, with designs based on geometry and optimized performance on the devices where it is displayed.

The relationship between design and technology.

Today the landscape has changed greatly for all Design professionals

  • Practically any graphic designer with minimal technology knowledge can build digital products with a good degree of quality and precision. The tools are democratized and new disruptive actors appear.
  • Displaced: from anywhere, for example with a laptop and an internet connection.
  • Cloud tools allow optimizing processes, delivering designs immediately and optimizing their visualization for multiple formats.
  • The trend is adaptive design, to build designs and experiences of the same digital asset different for each range of people who view it.
  • Incorporation of haptic technologies for user feedback.
  • VR or 360º videos start to be common in advertising campaigns.
  • Conversational bots managed by Artificial Intelligences.
  • Disuse of library images or photographs and investment in new more realistic images.
  • More and more design tools in the cloud such as Figma, Webflow or Miro among many others that bring the code closer to designers and design to programmers proliferate.

I want to look at ideas from great designers, like a guidebook that will help us keep our products consistent when we go to the market.

Here are some lessons from the greats of graphic design

  1. David Carson: Break the rules.
  2. Saul Bass: Design the iconic.
  3. Stefan Sagmeister: Mix inspiring qualities.
  4. Paula Scher: Treat typography as a visual element.
  5. Michael Beirut: Make complex content accessible.
  6. Massimo Vignelli: Seek to convey ideas.
  7. Milton Glaser: Close the gap between seeing and understanding.
  8. Paul Rand: Mix copy with design.
  9. Alan Fletcher: Be expressive with typography.
  10. Hermann Zapf: Change the game.
  11. Lester Beal: Solve problems.
  12. Claude Garamond: Invent the wheel.
  13. Jan Tshichold. Fight for new techniques.
  14. William Golden: Lead and be a pioneer.
  15. Jacqueline Casey: Use two strong meanings in your designs.
  16. Cipe Pineles. Free yourself from limitations.
  17. Susan Kare: Take your designs to the world of technology.
  18. Abram Games: Maximum meaning, fewer means.
  19. Arim Hofman: Mix minimalism, with context and meaning.
  20. Josep Muller-Brockmann: Use grids.
  21. Seymour Chwast: Combine your design disciplines.
  22. Chip Kidd: Be a master of visual language.
  23. Alexey Brodovich: Experiment with trends.
  24. Herb Lubalin: Play with words.
  25. Max Miedinger: Observe to be able to transform.
  26. April Greiman: Pursue new technologies.
  27. John Maeda: Be interactive.
  28. El Lissitzky: Mix colors and shapes in a stylized way.
  29. Ladislav Sutnar: Use design to convey information.
  30. Alvin Lustig: Follow, don’t say it.
  31. Muriel Cooper: Experiment with 3D design.
  32. Lucian Bernhard: Be a master of minimalism.
  33. Otl Aicher: Create wonderful identities.
  34. Erik Nitche: Communicate powerful ideas.
  35. Neville Brody: Design with a unique style.
  36. Ivan Chermayeff: Design logos with abstract shapes.
  37. Adrian Frutiger: Create beautiful and legible typographies.
  38. Bradbury Thompson: Experiment with everything.
  39. Peter Saville: Be bold and expressive.
  40. Wolfgang Weingart: Experiment with typography.

Areas of specialization within Digital Graphic Design

Design Project Management and Production:
Project management is the discipline of planning, organizing, motivating, and controlling resources in order to achieve one or more goals. A project is a temporary endeavor designed to produce a unique product, service or result 1 with a defined beginning and end (usually limited in time, cost and/or deliverables), which is undertaken to achieve specific objectives 2 and which will result in a positive change or add value.

Visual Design:
In the design of digital products is the literal translation of the information architecture, content and low or nevio fidelity prototypes to show users and stakeholders a result very similar to the final product. In many cases this visual design is articulated through software to give it interactivity and even movement, so that it can even bring this visual design closer to the final product.

Diseño visual para BMW. Toño Guerrero.

Digital Editorial Design:
This discipline is a branch of Editorial Design, which itself stems from Graphic Design. It seeks to create the same editorial products, but in a completely digital context. Layout, composition, and structure are adapted to the various reading devices, and an additional layer of interactivity and connectivity is added to the editorial products.

Kindle e-reader. Amazon.

Digital illustration:
The process of creating graphic illustrations using computer technology. Illustrators use tools such as mice, optical pens, graphic tablets, and touch screens, as well as suitable programs, to create an image that is stored in a digital storage device. This process does not involve correcting an image or digitizing and editing drawings created with analog graphic techniques, but rather creating an image directly from a sketch in the digital environment.

Digital illustration. Sergio Mancinelli.

It is a consequence of data processing, to simplify the results and improve the understanding of them by the user. To build these infographics, graphic techniques, visual signs and linguistic signs are used to create a narrative around the data. The objective of the infographics is mainly didactic and in many cases it seeks to be shared as much as possible to accompany an advertising campaign, article, product or even company.

The Graphic Continuum by Jonathan Schwabish

Computer Graphics (CG):
An image generated by a computer is the application of the field of graphics created by computers (through computer graphics, or more specifically, through 3D computer graphics) to create digital images. The term “infographics” is sometimes synonymous with “Computer Generated Image”.

A 3D recreation of the Giza pyramid was created for a documentary. Toño Guerrero.

This technique or discipline translates signs or symbols into a visual and graphic format for easy understanding. It simplifies the message and helps the user or viewer to quickly assimilate it.

Rock Band The Doors. Tata&friends.

A pictogram is a sign that is synthetically constructed and simplified to its most basic form to quickly convey a concept visually. Hieroglyphs are an example of pictograms. They differ from ideograms in that they are more schematic, simplified, and abstract; pictograms are more concrete.

Reticulum Otl Aicher. Pictograms Munich 1972.

Audiovisual Production:
Audiovisual production is the artistic discipline that creates products for audiovisual media, such as cinema, television, and the internet. It is divided into three stages: pre-production (planning), production (shooting or construction of the product), and post-production (editing, color correction, VFX, sound design, etc.).

“Less is More” music video. Artist Wiltay. Toño Guerrero.

3D Design:
Computer-generated 3D graphics (also known as 3D computer graphics) use a three-dimensional representation of geometric data to perform calculations and represent 2D images. These images can be stored for later viewing or displayed in real time. Additionally, the term can refer to the process of creating such graphics, or to the field of study of techniques and technology related to 3D graphics.

Homage Tron Legacy. 3D. Toño Guerrero.

Generative Design:
According to Lars Hesellgren, “Generative design isn’t about designing a single building; it’s about designing the system that creates a building.” Its applications extend beyond architecture, and are used in motion graphics, video mapping, 3D, web design, and any other visual art that involves interaction or movement.

The MIT Media Lab logo was constructed using an algorithm, resulting in 40,000 unique versions composed of the same graphic elements.

Digital Signage:
Digital signage is a dynamic, multimedia system that broadcasts digital content across multiple devices and channels. It is designed to be engaging and informative.

Coca Cola Zero 2015 Transmedia Advertising Campaign.

Do not confuse with signaling. Signage identifies symbols and signs of services, access points, or locations in a physical or digital environment and helps users interpret their meaning. It also helps to improve user behavior.

Projected signage for bathrooms. Multifunctional Saint-Apollinaire Centre

Virtual Reality (VR):
Thanks to devices that transport the viewer to a virtual world with relative realism, this world is generated by computers or computer systems. The viewer has the sensation of being in that environment and can interact with the objects, elements, or characters within it. Most current systems use three senses: sight, hearing, and touch. There are several types: immersive, semi-immersive, individual, and shared.

HTC Vive. Virtual Reality Device.

Augmented Reality (AR):
is a term used to describe a physical environment combined with virtual elements in real-time. It involves devices that add virtual information to existing physical information, creating a “synthetic virtual” part of the real world. AR is distinct from virtual reality, as it allows users to experience a combination of both realities, while virtual reality isolates users from the physical world and immerses them in a completely virtual environment.

Application of AR for real-time 3D illustration. Disney Research.

Artificial Intelligence (AI):
Artificial Intelligence (AI), also known as computational intelligence, is the intelligence exhibited by machines. It is an ideal “intelligent” machine that is a flexible rational agent, perceiving its environment and taking actions that maximize its chances of success in a given goal or task.1 2 3 4 AI is applied when a machine imitates the “cognitive” functions associated with human minds, such as “learning” and “problem solving”.5 As machines become more capable, technology that was once thought to require intelligence is no longer considered AI. For example, optical character recognition is now a common technology and is no longer considered AI.6 AI is still used for complex tasks such as playing chess, GO, and autonomous driving.

Model and AI Scheme for Terminus7. Toño Guerrero 2017.

The evolution to new media

More than foundations, laws, and principles, the objective of this lesson is to introduce designers to what lies ahead: how the designer of the near future will be, and who will have to live in a world different from that of Dieter Rams, Yugo Nakamura, Milton Glaser, Storm Thorgerson, Nigel Holmes, David Carson, Saul Bass, Stefan Sagmeister, Paula Scher, and Alex Trochut.

To do this, I believe that designers will be closer to code than they are now. They will have to design for millions or even billions of people, designs will be variable over time, they will be immediate, and they will be increasingly leveraged on the quantitative data received in analytics. There will be more design data-driven, artificial intelligence, and less qualitative research of experiences and needs. Beauty will be a consequence, not the end of design itself.

The design of the near future will not want to be perfect, understood as reaching the highest quality in a given time, as until now, but it will be unlimited, always evolving and iterating.

Perhaps some of you see how the human being, thanks to design among other disciplines, manages to build a society that can reach Singularity to surpass Homo Sapiens and transform us into “Homo Deus”.

“If you want to survive in Design, you better learn to code ”

John Maeda.
The evolutionary concept of Computational Design together with the two profiles in the Design ecosystem today. John Maeda


  • Eric Satué . “El diseño gráfico, desde los orígenes hasta nuestros días”. Alianza Editorial.
  • Javier Royo “Diseño Digital”.  Editorial: Paidós
  • Yuval Noah Harari “Homo Deus: Breve historia del mañana“ Editor: Debate
  • Helen Armstrong. “Digital Design Theory: Readings from the Field” Editor: Princeton Architectural Press
  • Mary Stribely. “Design Inspiration. Canva.com
  • John Maeda. “The Laws of Simplicity” Editor: The MIT Press
  • Ley de Moore. https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ley_de_Moore

If you’re curious to learn more


A podcast about Business Design and Design Business. From Helfand and Michael Bierut.


Design as a result of relevance and meaningful outcomes, not just Design based on beauty.


This book bridges the gap between print and interactive design, exploring the influence of computing on the design ecosystem from the 1960s to the present. It addresses the most pressing issues of today.

Digital Design Theory: Readings from the Field by Helen Armstrong (Author) Editor: Design Briefs; Edition: 01 (June 20, 2016) Collection: Design Briefs Language: English ISBN-10: 1616893087 ISBN-13: 978-1616893088

This new, revised and corrected edition modifies certain aspects of the first edition and adds an extensive description of the transformation experienced by graphic design: a computer revolution of immense magnitude that, in the first edition, was just beginning and now has a profound impact on visual communication, the primary source of information on the planet.

Graphic Design: From its Origins to the Present Day Enric Satué (Author) Editor: Alianza; Edition: edition (October 23, 2012) Collection: Alianza Forma (Af) Language: Spanish ISBN-10: 8420609501 ISBN-13: 978-8420609508

Yuval Noah Harari (1976) is a professor of history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He specialized in medieval and military history, but after obtaining a PhD in History from Oxford University, he moved to the broader field of world history and macro-historical processes.

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari (Author) Editor: DEBATE (October 6, 2016) Language: Spanish ASIN: B01JQ6YNRE