The art and impact
of graphic design

If it can be read, it’s been designed. People are continuously interacting with graphic design through marketing and other forms of visual communication. It is seen every day, and the psychology behind graphic design influences how people think about and engage with the world around them.
When done right, graphic design can be a powerful mechanism for societal change, shaping perceptions, influencing behaviors, and fostering global connections by turning complex concepts into visual works that engage and educate viewers.

When we see an advertisement and it causes us to pause, laugh, cry, or reevaluate our emotions in some way, then that message has been successful on some level,” says Dawn Sees, Nichols Career Center’s graphic design instructor. Ultimately, successful designs are guided by the audience and purpose. I always ask my students when we are creating projects, ‘Who is our audience, and what is our purpose in what we’re creating?’” 

To create content that communicates effectively, graphic designers must possess a unique blend of creativity and technical finesse. 

“Successful designers need to be good listeners and self-reflective,” Dawn says. “They need to be aware of their environment, think flexibly, and be willing to change and grow as the profession changes and grows.” 

These days, graphic design is no longer limited to the printed page. As the world becomes increasingly interconnected through the internet and multimedia platforms, the field of graphic design finds itself in a state of constant evolution. With the addition of online content, designers now must make sure their red, green, and blue (RGB) colors and cyan, magenta, yellow, and black (CMYK) colors are in check. 

“When we talk about RGB, we are designing digitally for viewing websites and online platforms,” Dawn explains. “When we design in full color (CMYK), we are designing for printed items. One of our challenges as designers when creating work is ensuring our colors match in the end so that what we see on our screens in RGB for a particular brand looks like the printed items for that same brand when using CMYK.” 

While designers must be precise with their color application, they must also be experts in utilizing color theory to ensure their designs resonate with viewers on a subconscious level. Sir Isaac Newton, who understood that color is based solely on human perception, established color theory when he invented the color wheel in 1666. By systematically categorizing colors, the color wheel gives designers the ability to use color combinations with different hues, values, saturation levels, and temperatures to catch a viewer’s attention and evoke an emotional response. 

“When we see an advertisement and it causes us to pause, laugh, cry, or reevaluate
our emotions in some way, then that message has been successful on some level.”

Dawn Sees, Nichols Career Center, Graphic Design Instructor

“Color has a lot of significance in terms of psychological associations,” says Jack Brix, a designer for Jefferson City Magazine and recent graduate from William Woods University. “You can use color as a communicative element. Red, for example, is associated with energy, passion, and hunger; and that’s why you see a lot of fast food places using red in their branding. Blue, on the other hand, gives off a sense of calm, and is often used by medical professionals; green symbolizes nature and growth and is usually used for natural products and things about the outdoors.” 

Throughout the last few decades, technological advancements have made a big impact on the field of graphic design. Just as computers and the internet have changed how people communicate, work, and socialize, they have also changed the landscape of marketing. Brands now have more exposure online, where they can interact directly with consumers while also analyzing real-time data to see what is most appealing to those consumers. Rather than following one particular art trend, which was often seen in the older styles of marketing, graphic designers have now shifted to creating designs that match a brand’s image and individuality to grab viewers’ attention and convey a message. At the same time, the invention of computer programs like Adobe Creative Cloud has allowed designers to be more creative with the use of easy-access editing tools and unique applications. For example, designers can create illustrations in Illustrator, edit their photos in Photoshop, collaborate with teammates within the Adobe apps, and then place text and images into InDesign to create a publication. Of course, as with most technological advancements, there is some concern within the design industry about how the most recent advancements focus more on easing the design process rather than enhancing design quality, specifically with the integration of AI technology.   

“I’m cautiously optimistic about certain applications of AI within graphic design,” Jack says. “A good example is the generative fill tool in Photoshop. It’s incredibly helpful as a supplement to my usual process, and it makes dealing with smaller photos much easier. What I don’t care for are designs and assets that are entirely generated using AI. They’re visually off-putting, and they encourage a laziness that has no place in the graphic design field. Tools like these should enhance and supplement your workflow, not replace it.”  

Although the technology used for graphic design will continue to evolve, a designer’s ability to balance creativity and psychology remains paramount. Through strategic color choices, thoughtfully crafted layouts, and a deep understanding of visual communication, designers like Dawn and Jack are dedicated to helping transcend barriers by utilizing the necessary tools for artistic, economic, marketing, and architectural expression.

Page  Margins: When working with binding publications, designers don’t want content to get lost in the page gutter, which is the space where two pages are bound together. This means designers must account for generally .05 inches of blank space for each page. 

Bleed: For a page to print with no borders on the edges, designers must add ⅛ of an inch of content that extends past the trim line on each side of the page where it is intended bleed. 

Typography: With over 200,000 fonts to choose from, designers must make sure text is clear and easy to read. Generally, text should be no smaller than 4pt in order to be legible. 

Thumb Zone; When designing for mobile use, designers consider the thumb zone, which are the areas of the screen that users can reach with their thumb while using one hand.

Right Side: When reading, viewers follow  a predictable reading path, which is from left to right in Western culture. Since the eyes travel to the right, designers place main articles and impactful visuals on right-hand pages for maximum exposure and impact.