What is Graphic Communications?

Graphic communications also referred to as visual communications, can be defined in simplest terms as any form of communication that relies on visual cues to transmit a message to people. However, the complex nature of how graphic communications are interpreted by viewers has greater implications than this. The creative minds that create graphic images make use of colors, textures, contours and shapes that communicate not just messages but also emotions, attitudes, experiences, lifestyles and concepts. Like art, graphic representation has the power to reach beyond language, class, sex, education, geography and age so as to reach a much larger audience. Graphics are also easily identifiable and memorable, often leaving a lasting impression on viewers that words alone are unable to compete with.

Graphic representation is one of the most powerful tools available to communicate ideas, concepts, messages and instructions. In any given day a single person will see hundreds, if not thousands, of examples of graphic communication through encounters with advertisements, signage, logos, labels, maps, drawings, diagrams and instructional graphics. Unlike verbal or written communication, which is intrinsically limited by language and dependent on a willing listener or reader, graphics have the unique ability to convey a message with a single image that can transcend language and attention barriers so as to be universally accessible.

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According to the Graphic Arts Education and Research Foundation, the graphic communications industry is a modernized version of the printing industry. Technology has transformed the way people create, distribute and work with graphics, so printers have adapted to this technological evolution by embracing the use of digital graphics and computer generated animation.

Degrees in Graphic Communications 

Some of the more general degrees in graphic communications include:

  • Associate of Applied Science or Associate of Science in Graphic Communications
  • Bachelor of Science in Graphic Communications
  • Master of Science in Graphic Communications

There are also closely related and complimentary areas of study that are more targeted. Many professionals that work in graphic communications hold degrees in concentrations that include:

  • Graphic communications technology
  • Printing production
  • Imaging technology
  • Graphic communications management

Most degree programs in graphic communications will concentrate on processes, techniques, theory and design. Here are some examples of required courses found in graphic communications degree programs:

  • Graphic Communications System
  • Introduction to Digital Publishing
  • Multimedia Production Techniques
  • Computer Ad Layout and Design
  • Digital File Preparation
  • Screen Printing
  • Web Motion Graphics

Careers for Graphic Artists and Others with a Background in Visual Communications

Professionals with a background in graphic communications may become bookbinders, cutter operators, dye cutters, digital press operators, electronic prepress technicians, folder operators, hand inserter operators, inkjet operators or bindery workers.

Although careers in the printing industry are still prevalent, other professionals opt to work in the creative arts side of the graphic communications field. These graphic artists may include graphic designers, photographers, illustrators, art directors, page-layout artists and animators. These artists are typically employed by advertising, marketing, web and graphic design firms or independently contracted by businesses seeking visual representation in the development of promotional campaigns or in the redesign of a logo.

Since all businesses and organizations incorporate elements of graphic communications as a tool to communicate ideas, instructions and concepts, graphic communications specialists serve many different industries including, education, engineering, marketing, research science, film production, human resources and public relations.

The top design firms in terms of reach, revenue and name recognition are:

  • Creative Tomorrow
  • Clikzy Creative
  • White Media
  • Lounge Lizard
  • 7 Strategy
  • MindSmack
  • Venveo Design Solutions
  • Aces 4 Hire, Inc.
  • Glide Interactive
  • Lexcio Media
  • Spinx, Inc.

Computer technology in graphic imaging has opened up new opportunities for those with formal training in digital imaging software. Rarely do people meet face-to-face to exchange images in any capacity; instead they format images digitally and distribute them electronically. This integration of digital technology helps business save on time, money, energy and human resources, as such; most industry professionals seek additional training in digital imaging technology and software.

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Employment figures as published in the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2010-11 Occupational Outlook Handbook represent the number of respective professionals working in the United States (self-employed not included):

  • Graphic designers (286,100)
  • Graphic artists (221,900)
  • Printing machine operators (195,600)
  • Prepress technicians (106,900)
  • Bookbinder and bindery workers (66,500)
  • Desktop publishers (26,400)

Professional Associations

There is an abundance of professional associations dedicated to promoting different facets of the graphic communications community.

These associations help promote occupational integrity by providing members with resources for industry news, events, employment opportunities, evolving standards, certification options, structured courses, salary statistics and educational periodicals. Some of the major professional associations representing the graphic communications industry include:

  • Association of Graphic Communications and the American Institute of Graphic Design (AIGA) (www.aiga.org). The AIGA is the most prominent professional association for design professionals, with a membership base of 22,000 and sixty-six chapters located throughout the United States.
  •  Printing Industries of America (PIA) (www.printing.org). The PIA is the industry leader in promoting the interests, education and research of printers worldwide, centering around their estimated one million employees and thousands of company members
  •  Flexographic Technical Association (FTA) (www.flexography.org). The FTA is the premier association offering education, professional networking and certification services for flexographers. Members include printers/converters, prepress providers, consumer products companies, suppliers, students, educators, consultants, and graphic design firms
  •  Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA) (www.sgia.org). The SGIA is the only international association created solely for the advancement of specialty imaging professionals.