Many species communicate. It’s thought that whales, dolphins and porpoises do it sonically and that bees communicate with each other via some sort of pheromone-driven interpretive dance. Parrots can ‘talk’. But can you name a species other than homo sapiens that’s created and perfected a system of symbology in order to communicate? More specifically, what other species has been able to graphically encode thought or spoken language?
By enabling the recording and transmission of knowledge that was once only passed from person to person via verbal/auditory means, the ability to graphically encode thought transformed us from a species of hyper-intelligent hominids into interplanetary explorers. The development of graphic design essentially powered the development of homo sapiens.
The earliest known graphic communicators created beautiful images that are thought to have served as records of hunting successes or celebrations of survival, or both. Fast forward a few thousand years and we find evidence of the emergence of symbology—abstract images that represent more complex thought. A few thousand years more and we’ve developed incredibly sophisticated alphanumeric systems designed to actually encode human thought and speech in precise detail. (Which of course led to accountants and lawyers, but that’s a topic for another post.) Factor in the development of improved sharing methods like illuminated manuscripts, the printing press and, of course, the Internet, and graphic design’s contribution to mankind is pretty much unmatchable.
In fact it’s arguable that graphic design has made everything we are today (the good, the bad and the ugly) possible.
Stunning advances in science, engineering, mathematics, medicine, social structure, education and the arts have led to the 300%+ increase in human life expectancy that’s occurred over just the last few thousand years. Unfortunately, stunning advances in our ability to kill each other have also occurred, but while some may argue otherwise, it seems for the most part we appear to be getting a little better at keeping that under control.
How much of that would have been possible without the various systems of symbols and other communication methods invented and perfected over the centuries by graphic designers? What would our species be doing today without easy access to archives of knowledge and the ability to participate almost at will in non-verbal storytelling on a global scale? Maybe we’d have moved beyond chasing animals with pointed sticks but I doubt we’d be contemplating private commercial spaceflight, swapping out our vital organs or posting cat pictures on Instagram.
The ability to communicate graphically is now so central to human existence that it’s almost as ubiquitous as talking. Or dancing. Or singing. While ubiquity tends to devalue such capabilities, as with talking, dancing and singing, when it comes to graphic communication some people are just a little better at it than others.
And as it has been since it was first manifested on a cave wall give or take 72,000 years ago, that enhanced graphical sensibility—when combined with intellectual strength, analytical ability and emotional intelligence—is an incredibly powerful tool that’s still helping to move the world forward.
Dave Mason 01.21.15
Image: Licensed under Creative Commons.
Author: Prof Saxx.