Design scholars have rightly asserted that graphic design is a byproduct (a cousin, if you prefer) of the printing trades (and particularly advertising). Origins are also traced to sign painting and lettering as another chapter in the history.
Many claim to know the identity of the first graphic designer—at least the first artisan to use the moniker. But do we know for certain?
The long-held (although questionably incorrect) credit goes to W.A. Dwiggins for having coined the term “graphic design” in 1922 as a way to suggest the various multitasking jobs he did as a commercial artist, including advertising, lettering, typography illumination, editorial page composition, and so much more. But maybe “graphic design” began in another place, time and person …
After days of decidedly superficial investigation, I am adding a new name and unheralded genre to the mix of theories and speculation of what is and where did graphic design come from. While I am the first to admit that there is no concrete evidence whatsoever to support this claim, let me introduce the heretofore unknown T. Oliver from Manchester, England, a master of the art of “illuminated addresses”, which to paraphrase Wm. Shakespeare is graphic design by any other name. I would also throw out the idea that this could be the beginning of modern brand identity.
Thanks to Adrian Wilson for bringing this discovery of an 1894 advert to my attention and raising the specter of a new wrinkle in the riddle of what came first in the evolution of what we consider two dimensional communication design from graphics to graphic.
Stay tuned for further developments. (Or ignore this entirely) I will follow up in my spare time.