October 26, 2017

The First Graphic Designer

“William Addison Dwiggins” (June 19th, 1880 – December 25th, 1956)

From the earliest alphabet to the modern day Coca-Cola brand, graphic design has played an intricate part of human expression throughout known history. It might stand to reason then, to ask who exactly was the world’s first graphic designer. Some historical buffs may point to early cave drawings and make the argument of some unknown ancestor being the first to express an idea through icons and images, but the truth of the matter is, the world’s first graphic designer is far from unknown. Meet William Addison Dwiggins, the man who not only coined the term in 1922, wrote the book on it, and then proceeded to design over 300 books often with his own type design.

Poster designed by Dwiggins for his marionette theater.

Not one to limit himself, Dwiggins participated in a wide variety of design facets including typography, book design, lettering, calligraphy, and even marionette puppetry.Typeface however, is probably what Dwiggins is most currently known for. Especially since two of his type designs, Electra and Caledonia, are still often used today.

“Layout in Advertising”, by William Addison Dwiggins was the industry standard at the time.

But what can we, as designers, take away from Dwiggins’ work and legacy? Perhaps his commitment to the betterment of his work as one may see from the hundreds of designs throughout his life. However, even more critical may be the various influences garnered in his work. For instance, his love of wood carving not only influenced his marionette theater but also helped inspire the design of several typefaces. From this, one may surmise that as designers, one’s openness to outside influences may be the key to your next work. Happy creating!


Information and Pictures used from:
“Design History: An Anthology” by Dennis P. Doordan

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