History Of Graphic Design


Dispilio tablet

5260 BC

This is the oldest know written text. "The Dispilio tablet is a wooden tablet bearing inscribed markings, dated to 5260 ± 40 BC. It was discovered in 1993 in a Neolithic lakeshore settlement near the modern village of Dispilio, in
Kastoria, Greece. To date, it’s markings have not been deciphered."(Dispilio tablet deciphered – a proof of the oldest script in the world?, 2015)

Egyptian Dynastic Period

3200 BC - 2700 BC

Early Sumerian pictographic scripts on clay tablets

Approx. 3100 BC

These tablets shows the development of writing. It is one of the first examples where a use of structure can be seen. The use of grids can be clearly seen as the text is structured into horizontal and vertical columns (Meggs and Purvis, 2006)

King Zet's Ivory tablet

Approx. 3100 BC

This was the earliest Egyptian photographic writing that evolved into hieroglyphics. It is a 5 thousand year old tablet. (Meggs and Purvis, 2006)

Early Surviving papyrus manuscripts

Approx. 2600 BC

Papyrus is a paper like material that was used to create manuscripts and was a major step forward in Egyptian times. (Meggs and Purvis, 2006)

Pyramid Texts in tomb of Unas

Approx. 2345 BC

The walls of pyramids were covered with hieroglyphic texts these included hymns, myths, prayers and many more. The pyramid of Unas was the first pyramid to do this. (Meggs and Purvis, 2006)

Written hieroglyphics simplified

1450 BC

Hieroglyphics were simplified although they didn't loose their pictographic origin. (Meggs and Purvis, 2006)

Early Book of the Dead papyrus scrolls

Approx. 1300 BC

This was written in first person and was placed in the tomb to help protect from the dangers of the underworld. (Meggs and Purvis, 2006)

Early Greek Alphabet

Approx. 1000 BC

The Greeks improved the alphabet majorly and the Greek alphabet also played a major part in the evolution of graphic communication. (Meggs and Purvis, 2006)

Dead Sea Scrolls

960 BC - 1299 AD

The most well-known texts among the Dead Sea Scrolls are the ancient religious writings found in eleven caves near the site of Qumran”
The Dead Sea Scrolls are broken down into three main time periods these are the First Temple Period, Second Temple Period ad Post Second Temple Period. (Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library, 2012)

Phidias research golden ratio for parthenon

500 BC - 432 BC

Phidias researched the golden ratio and then used it for the design of sculptures for Parthenon

Parthenon built in Athens

447 BC - 432 BC

(Meggs and Purvis, 2006)

The Golden Ratio

428 BC - 1900 AD

The golden ratio also known as the golden mean or golden section is a way in which grids are set out. It is the most pleasing and proportionate way of laying out a design. This theory uses a range of rules to try and make the layout is both clear to understand and looks aesthetically pleasing. The rules involved in the golden ratio are relevant to the sizes , position and proportion of each component. The golden mean is a rectangle, the ratio of short to long side of the rectangle is 1:1.618. (Creative Bloq, 2014)
The uses of the golden ratio potentially date back to the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. It appears that the Egyptians used the golden ration in the design of the their great pyramids.
"428 BC – 347 BC Plato created his Timaeus this is considered to be the golden section being the most binding of mathematic relationships in things such as physics.
365 BC – 300 BC Euclid divided a line at the 0.61803999 he said that is dividing a line I the extreme and mean ration. This is where the term golden mean appeared from. He also linked the same number to the construction od a pentagon
It was first called the “Divine Proportion” in the 1500’s
The “Golden Ratio” was coined in the 1800’s
The term “Phi” was not used until the 1900’s"
However the golden ratio is still used today and can be seen in many layouts and designs.
(Golden Number, no date).

Demotic Script

Approx. 400 BC

(Meggs and Purvis, 2006)

Last hieroglyphic Inscription

Approx. 394 BC

(Meggs and Purvis, 2006)

Parchment used for manuscripts

Approx. 190 BC

The pages of manuscripts were made of parchment and took hours to prepare. (Meggs and Purvis, 2006)

Pompeiian wall writing

Approx. 100 AD

(Meggs and Purvis, 2006)

Ts'ai invests paper

105 AD

Ts'ai Lun was the inventor of paper although it I unknown if he truly invented it or perfected an earlier invention. His methods of making paper stayed the same until the method was mechanised in England in the nineteenth centaury. (Meggs and Purvis, 2006)

Trajan's Column

Approx. 114 AD

A the base of Trajan's Column inscriptions can be found. These letters were based upon geometric shapes such as circles, squares and triangles. Each letter was carefully shaped and spaced. Forming a neat grid and structure. (Meggs and Purvis, 2006)

Regular Calligraphy Designed

200 AD

(Meggs and Purvis, 2006)

Wood Block Printing

220 AD - 1900 AD

Wood Block
Some examples that still exist of woodblock printing on cloth originated before 220 A.D. Although this technique became more widely used during the Tan Dynasty. The Tan Dynasty Period was between 618 AD and 907 AD. However this technique was still used up until the late 19th Century (Referece*, 2017)
“A form of letterpress, Wood Block printing is one of the oldest techniques for printing and has a long history or development in both Europe and Asia. It is a relief process in which an image is carved in reverse into a piece of wood, inked up and paper is pressed down on top of it to transfer the ink and image. It is one of the rarest forms of printing in use today, due primarily to time consumption. However, there are many sets of type still in existence that were created from woodblocks and are often used in letterpress poster printing.”
(History.com, no date)

Early Arabic alphabet

Approx. 500 AD

(Meggs and Purvis, 2006)

T'ang Dynasty

618 AD - 906 AD

The first printing is done in china using ink on carved wooden blocks this allows them to make multiple copies of the images to paper (Bellis, 2016a)

Illuminated Manuscripts

800 AD - 1600 AD

Although dating back to before 800 AD Illuminated manuscripts became more known by 800 AD. The texts written before 800 AD featured the common topic of biblical texts. The meaning behind the name illuminated manuscripts. The use of the word illuminated comes from the decoration of some manuscripts. This is because some manuscripts had the use of golden embellishment and bright colours. The colours could be used on individual letters but it was also known for full scenes to be in the illuminated colours. The meaning of the work manuscript is Latin for handwritten which is what was originally the only way of creating books(Wight, 2005).

Silkscreen Printing

906 AD - Present

The earliest known period in which silkscreen printing clearly had been used was from 906. Although it was used throughout it wasn’t mainstream until the 1960s. Part of this is because some of the techniques were kept secret. (Pete, 2013)
“Silkscreen printing, or screen printing for short offers a wide range of brightly colored inks and is often used for printing t-shirts, posters and other promotional materials. The process involves a design being laid on top of a screen (originally made of silk although a variety of materials are now used) which is coated with photo emulsion and exposed to light. The emulsion that is exposed hardens and the rest can be washed away leaving a stencil of sorts that ink can be pulled through using a squeegee.” (History.com, no date)

Pi Sheng Invests moveable type in Korea

1040 AD

Pi Sheng developed the idea of moveable type. It was a new and innovative idea. Pi Sheng make his types out of clay and glue. (Meggs and Purvis, 2006)

Fibonacci Series

1175 AD - 1250 AD

An Italian mathematician called Leonardo Fibonacci discovered that a series of numbers had an unusual set of properties. The sequence of numbers now carry his name. it is believed that Fibonacci never made the connection between his numbers and the golden ratio. The combination of them both resulted 1,1,2,3,5,8,13 this could continue. This combination is used to determine the proportion of page a and margins. (A brief history of Grids, 2008) "This series is invented by Leonardo in an attempt to solve a real life problem. A rabbit farmer wanted to know how many rabbits he can grew in a year from one pair" (Circuits Today, 2012)

Koreans print books using movable type


Koreans print books using movable type. (Bellis,2016a)

Paper mill established in Fabriano, Italy

1276 AD

(Meggs and Purvis, 2006)

Fourteenth-century manuscript Grid Design Example

1301 AD - 1400 AD

fourteenth-century English manuscript show a layout that has a main column and is positioned to the left of the page. It also has a large right-hand margin to be used for notes. All text is ranged left (A brief history of Grids, 2008c).

Europeans firrst make papet

1309 AD

Europeans first make paper. However, the Chinese and Egyptians had started making paper centuries previous. (Bellis,2016a)

Gutenberg and the Gutenberg Bible

1398 AD - 1468 AD

Gutenburg created the printing press. This allowed people o read and have access to reading materials.
While Gutenberg was growing up a new way of making books came into use, which was a great deal better than copying by hand. It was what is called block-printing. (Greatsite Marketing, 1997)
Gutenberg gathered the resources and systems needed to create a print of a typographic book. Gutenberg was an apprenticed goldsmith. This allowed him to have the skills for making type. The skills include things such as developing the metalworking and engraving skills needed. (Meggs and Purvis, 2006)
Between 1450 and 1455 AD the Gutenberg Bible was complete. Documents sates that 230 copies were planned to be printed in total, 200 on cotton and 30 on velum animal skin. Although there was no proof this is what was printed. In present day there are known to be 7 velum and 15 cotton copies that still exists. (Greatsite Marketing, 1997)

Movable Type

1400 AD - 1950 AD

"Invented in the 15th century, movable type is the process of setting type by hand for printing on a letterpress machine. The type can be made of either wood or metal and letters were cut individually by craftsmen called punch cutters. This style of printing was the first developed that could rapidly, a relative term, produce multiple copies of lengthy printed materials and books. It remained the standard printing technique until photo typesetting came about in the 1950s." (History.com, no date)

In Europe block printing is used to print books

1423 AD

In Europe block printing is used to print books. (Bellis,2016a)

Laurens Janszoon Coster explores moveable type.

1440 AD - 1460 AD

Laurens Janszoon Coster explores moveable type by cutting a range of letters and words out of wooden blocks. These blocks were made to be were made to be reusable. (Meggs and Purvis, 2006)


1450 AD - Present

Created by Gutenberg , the “letterpress is still alive today, although it exists on a much smaller scale and usually only in specialty shops. The process often now involves photopolymer plates that can translate a digital design into a raised plate for use with vintage presses. It has seen a revival of success in recent years in the fine art, craft, and design worlds and is often used to create wedding invitations and posters. However, it remains a very flexible and reliable printing method that can be used for almost anything.” (History.com, no date)

First colour printing by Fust and Schoeffer.

1457 AD

First colour printing by Fust and Schoeffer. (Bellis,2016a)

Drypoint engravings invented by Germans.

1465 AD

Drypoint engravings invented by Germans. (Bellis,2016a)

William Caxton begins using a Gutenberg printing press


William Caxton begins using a Gutenberg printing press in England. (Bellis,2016a)

Divine Proportion


See the Golden Ratio point on the timeline

Italic type first used

1501 AD

Italic type first used. (Bellis,2016a)

Wallpaper introduced in Europe

1550 AD

Wallpaper introduced in Europe. (Bellis,2016a)

First weekly newspaper published in Antwerp.

1605 AD

First weekly newspaper published in Antwerp. (Bellis,2016a)

First edition of King James Bible

1611 AD

first edition King James Bible dating back to 1611.
There are believed to be fewer than 200 such Bibles still in existence. (Ward, 2015)

King James Bible published

1611 AD

King James Bible published. (Bellis,2016a)

The first newspaper

1690 AD

The first newspaper is published in America, Publick Occurrences

Multi-coloured engraving invented

1702 AD

Multi-coloured engraving invented by German Jakob Le Blon. The first English language daily newspaper is published called the Daily Courant. (Bellis,2016a)

world’s first journalist

1704 AD

Considered the world’s first journalist, Daniel Defoe publishes the Review. (Bellis,2016b)

1792 AD Manuscript Grid Design Example

1792 AD

In a spread from "The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus" it is clear to see the use of the golden ratio to decide the text area, It also uses the Fibonacci sequence to create the margin sizes (inner margin 3 units; top and outer margins 5 units; bottom margin 8 units) (A brief history of Grids, 2008c).

"golden” for golden ratio

1792 AD - 1872 AD

Martain Ohm was the first person to use the term “golden” for golden ratio (1815 Published book)

Iron printing presses invented

1800 AD

Iron printing presses invented. (Bellis,2016a)

Grid of Manhatten Planned

1811 AD

In the early 19th century most of the 96,000 or so residents of New York City were packed into homes near Manhattan's southern tip “Today the streets and avenues that constitute Manhattan's grid feel like the very bones of the island” (Jaffe, 2011)
"The Greatest Grid" was an exhibit shown in 2011 at the Museum of the City of New York it detailed, the Commissioners' Plan of 1811 that proposed NYC's iconic rectilinear system resulted in many things. This showed that they created real estate in easy-to-sell units this then progressed causing the city's development and wealth.(Shannon, 2013)

Grid of Manhattan planned

1811 AD


Rotary printing press invented by Napier.

1819 AD

Rotary printing press invented by Napier. (Bellis,2016a)

Embossed printing invented by Louis Braille.

1829 AD - Present

Embossed printing invented by Louis Braille. (Bellis,2016a)

beginning of the penny press

1833 AD

The New York Sun newspaper costs one cent - the beginning of the penny press. (Bellis,2016b)

Type-composing machine invented

1841 AD

Type-composing machine invented. (Bellis,2016a)

Electrotyping invented

1844 AD

Electrotyping invented. (Bellis,2016a)

Cylinder press invented

1846 AD

Cylinder press invented by Richard Hoe. Cylinder press can print 8,000 sheets an hour. (Bellis,2016a)

The Post Office starts offering a special cheap newspaper rate

1851 AD

The Post Office starts offering a special cheap newspaper rate. (Bellis,2016b)

The first full-page newspaper

1856 AD

The first full-page newspaper ad is published in the New York Ledger. Large type newspaper ads are made popular by photographer Mathew Brady. Machines now mechanically fold newspapers. (Bellis,2016b)

selling advertising space in newspapers

1864 AD

William James Carlton of J. Walter Thompson Company begins selling advertising space in newspapers. (Bellis,2016b)

Web offset press can print on both sides of paper at once

1865 AD

Web offset press can print on both sides of paper at once. (Bellis,2016a)

The first double column advertising

1867 AD

The first double column advertising appears for the department store Lord & Taylor. (Bellis,2016b)

Paper is now mass-manufactured from wood pulp

1870 AD

Paper is now mass-manufactured from wood pulp. (Bellis,2016a)

First illustrated daily newspaper published in New York

1873 AD

First illustrated daily newspaper published in New York. (Bellis,2016b)

Offset Printing

1875 - Present

Robert Barclay invented the first lithograph offset press in England in 1875. The original offset press the one of which Barclay invented involved using a hard stone or metal to print directly upon metal. By the early 1950s, most of the United States' newspapers were using offset printing to produce their daily copies. “Currently, 50% of printed material in the United States continues to be produced by offset printing presses. While digital printing methods are gaining in popularity, they still cannot maintain the volume of output that offset printing maintains.” (Bowen, 2011)
Offset printing is still the most commonly used method of printing and is often called offset lithography. Offset printing is created using plates generated for each color used in the printing process. Some projects may call for 2 colors, some may use a standard 4 color CMYK process and others can require even more than that with specialty spot colors, varnishes and a variety of coatings also available. There are two kinds of offset printing called Sheetfed, in which individual sheets are fed into the printer, and Web, which prints from large rolls and can be used to quickly produce very large quantities of printed materials such as newspapers. (History.com, no date)

The first whole page newspaper ad

1879 AD

The first whole page newspaper ad placed by an American department store (John Wanamaker) is run. (Bellis,2016b)

First halftone photograph published in a newspaper.

1880 AD

First halftone photograph (Shantytown) published in a newspaper. (Bellis,2016b)

Linotype composing machine invented

1886 AD

Linotype composing machine invented by Ottmar Mergenthaler. (Bellis,2016a)

Printing Presses Improve

1891 AD

Printing presses can now print and fold 90,000 4-page papers an hour. Diazotype invented (print photographs on fabric). (Bellis,2016a)

4-color rotary press invented

1892 AD

4-color rotary press invented. (Bellis,2016a)

First ever issue of Vogue

1892 AD - Present

The first ever issue of Vogue was released in December of 1892. (Lloyd, 1986)



See the Golden Ratio point on the timeline


1900 AD - Present

Although it is not exact Flexography printing was In the first stages of printing in about 1900 (admin, 2013)
Flexography is the printing of text and images onto materials such as foil, plastic film, cellophane and much more. (The Flexographic printing process, no date)
"Typically operating with web presses, flexography does not use the standard plates of offset lithography. Instead it uses rubber plates and water based inks which dry quicker and allow for faster production times. Faster drying times also allow for more effective results on materials like plastic which does not absorb ink like paper does." (History.com, no date)

The first tabloid style newspaper

1903 AD

The first tabloid style newspaper, the Daily Mirror is published. (Bellis,2016b)

Offset lithography becomes common.


Offset lithography becomes common.(Bellis,2016a)

The first comic book is published.

1904 AD

The first comic book is published. (Bellis,2016a)

first use of a photograph in Vogue

1929 AD

Vogue included its first use of a photograph it was in black and white and used on a content page. (Lloyd, 1986)

Invention of cellophane

1930 AD - Present

The invention of cellophane in 1930 started a revolution in modern packaging and influenced the invention of flexography

Vogue’s first photographic cover

1932 AD

Vogue’s first photographic cover was published in July 1932. (Lloyd, 1986)

War breaks out between the newspaper and radio

1933 AD - 1954 AD

1933: A war breaks out between the newspaper and radio industries.
1954: There are more radios stations than there are daily newspapers. (Bellis,2016b)

Vogue's sales figures showed...

1936 AD

Sales figures showed that Vogue’s photographic covered magazines sold much better. (Blackman, 2007)

Vogue started experimenting with mast heads

1944 AD

Vogue started experimenting with mast heads. They tried to continue linking masthead and image but found it much more challenging with photographic images. (Lloyd, 1986)

Vogue's first magazine with overlaying masthead

1944 AD

January of 1944 Vogue first published a magazine with the image overlaying the masthead. (Vogue, 2015)


1946 AD - Present

In 1946 René Higonnet and Louis Moyroud, invented the first successful phototypesetting or photo-composing machine in 1946 they called it the Lumitype. The first Lumitype machine was produced commercially in 1949 it was called the Lumitype Photon. (Norman, 2004)

Phototypesetting only became practical in 1947 (Bellis, 2016a)

“Phototypesetting has all but been rendered obsolete by the personal computer and digital typesetting, but for several decades it enjoyed a success as the standard in typesetting and printing. It is a process in which the type is generated on a photographic piece of paper. The paper was processed and ready for paste up, which is the process of creating a layout. When a layout is camera ready it was photographed to create a negative that could be used for offset printing.” (History.com, no date)
Phototypesetting made practical (Bellis,2016a)

Vogue stopped using illustration

1949 AD - Present

Vogue stopped using illustration. (Taylor, 2006)
Prior to photographic covers the logo and illustration for Vogue were both considered a piece of art. The masthead design was connected the each image. (Lloyd, 1986)

Inkjet Printing

1950 - Present

The idea of inkjet printing was first developed in the early 1950s and by the end of the 1970s inkjet printers could reproduce digital images generated by computer. There was no single inventor however a number of companies including Epson, HP, and Canon were main leaders in the creation. However it wasn’t until the 1980s that inkjet printers reached the consumer market. (Ink, 2016)
“The common household printing solution, inkjet is a feasible solution for small print runs and is available to the general public at an affordable cost. The process involves a printer which communicates digitally with a computer of some sort and physically sprays the ink onto the paper. It normally is used with 4 to 8 inks in a CMYK process and can produce richly saturated colors on a variety of materials.” (History.com, no date)

Teletypesetting is used for newspapers.

1955 AD

Teletypesetting is used for newspapers. (Bellis,2016b)

Newspapers use digital production processes

1967 AD - Present

Newspapers use digital production processes and began using computers for operations. (Bellis,2016b)

Use of offset presses becomes common.

1971 AD

Use of offset presses becomes common. (Bellis,2016b)

Digital Printing

1990 - Present

The first digital printing presses came onto the market in the early 1990s and they are continuing to grow today. (printed, 2011)
Digital printing is a process that uses toner, rather than ink, which sits on top of the piece of paper instead of being absorbed by it. While the quality has increased dramatically since its inception, it still can not match the quality of offset lithography, especially in small details, typography and color-matching. The fact that they do not require unique plates means that they can create individual designs that may have varying details quickly and at a lower cost. (History.com, no date)

Josef Müller-Brockmann 1999 Grid Design Example

1999 AD

A spread by Josef Müller-Brockmann the book it is from is called Grid Systems in Graphic Design, the book explains how multicolumn and field-based grids can be used in many ways to achieve any number of different layouts, in both 2-D and 3-D work(A brief history of Grids, 2008c).

Worst year for newspaper as far as advertising revenues

2009 AD

This was the worst year in decades as far as advertising revenues for newspapers. However, newspapers are moving into online internet versions. (Bellis,2016b)