Among the myriad definitions of graphic design, one of the most illuminating is by the American designer and writer Jessica Helfand. According to Helfand, graphic design is a 'visual language uniting harmony and balance, colour and light, scale and tension, form and content. But it is also an idiomatic language, a language of cues and puns and symbols and allusions, of cultural references and perceptual inferences that challenge both the intellect and the eye.
I like Helfand's definition. Her first sentence is a conventional summary of graphic design; few would argue with it. But her second sentence throws a punch: it alludes to design's expressive power and higher intent. Even as a recalcitrant teenager I sensed graphic design's emotive potency. I didn't even know there was such a thing as graphic design, but I lovingly copied lettering from album covers, magazines, cereal boxes and comic books. I didn't copy other elements; only the lettering. I liked the way that particular letterforms gave words added meaning. I noticed that the same words in a different typeface were not necessarily as beguiling. Copying letterforms is a common enough occupation among bored teenagers — it seems to have a calming effect on to hormones: it was used memorably as a trope for disaffected youth by Geoff McFetridge in his title sequence for Sofia Coppola's film The Virgin Suicides.