Defining Graphic Communication Design

Defining Graphic Communication Design


Around 90 students and staff in Central Saint
Martins MA Graphic Communication Design speaking around 30 languages… We all share an interest in common, and this
impacts how we talk about the course and subject in the first place: Graphic Communication
Design. In China we call it ping mian she ji. It’s called Grafik- und Kommunikationsdesign
in German. In French it’s design graphique et communication
visuelle. To translate graphic design design to Italian:
progetto grafico e comunicazione visiva. In Greek it’s schediasmós grafikís epikoinonías. And my classmate from India said in Tamil
it’s toṭarpiyal vaṭivamaippu. It could translated into two different words
in Dutch: ontwerpen and vormgeving. In both Chinese and German, the names used
for the field point back to the early development of graphic design in context of printing.
The Chinese character pronounced ping means flat. Mian means surface. So together, ping
mian she ji means to design on a two-dimensional flat surface. Which is also what most German
speakers would associate with it—meaning the design of posters, packaging, typography,
illustrations, books, and logos. Whereas in Tamil, graphic does not have a
translation. The closest translation means painting. Then how do they distinguish between
painting, which is fine art, and graphic design in conversation? They simply use the English
word. Things get really weird when it comes to a
Greek translation. It means graphic or picturesque, but it can also describe an eccentric or quirky
person with a slightly negative connotation. How about Dutch? One is vormgeving. Literally,
it would mean shape-making. And the other is ontwerpen. It kind of means the opposite
of throwing, but not catching. It’s like undoing a throw. Unthrowing. So what’s the
difference between these two? If there’s a river and you want to cross the river, the
ontwerpen would decide that you need to be a bridge instead of a tunnel, and the vormgeving—the
shape-maker—would decide what the bridge would look like. (Sigh.) With all these definitions—the bridge,
the quirky person, the flat surface, and more—doesn’t it get confusing when you’re trying to work
together as a group of students and staff? What I like about these different inflections
of the term graphic communication design is that it really starts opening up the possibilities
for the discipline when it’s continually being redefined by our multilingual, global
communities. The communities of Graphic Communication Design.

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