Design is often described as ephemeral; architecture as durable. Graphic design is a “young profession”; architecture is a truly “venerable calling”. On top of that, buildings do often last awhile, and often architects seem to radiate greater star-power than their designer counterparts.


All that said, is graphic design really the little sibling of architecture?

I ask partly because designers so often look to architects as guiding luminaries, and because the two fields are seen in some ways as allied, or at least related–just check out the number of architecture-related posts on leading design blogs.

But my response? I have to say no.

The ephemeral nature of graphic design is, I think, misunderstood and graphic design’s cultural impact is (again, in my opinion) greatly underestimated (especially as compared to architecture).

After all, can you bring to mind Coca-Cola’s world headquarters (or even its star-designed museums in Atlanta)? Or perhaps IBM’s greatest buildings? Or, let’s say, the layout of the Celtics’ Boston Garden, or the facade of Fenway Park for the Red Sox (since we’re here in Boston)?

Probably not, but I bet you can conjure up their logos, colors, and mascots.

Okay, not fair! Those aren’t iconic buildings. What about , say, the capitol building in D.C.? Yes, we all know that; but don’t we know the flag even better? And, isn’t the symbolism of the flag similarly better disseminated and understood?

And what of other buildings that persist in the zeitgeist–the Sydney Opera House, Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘Falling Water’, or even Norman Foster’s ‘Gherkin’ tower in London? We know the forms, but how many of us know the organizations those buildings house, or what the architecture ‘means’?

But since we live and work in architecture; we’re often left with the question: “what do we DO with graphic design?”

It’s true, we spend most of our time in the creations of architects. But more and more, we interact with the creations of graphic designers. After all, the visual interface is the principle tool of most commerce and much recreation.

All that said, buildings will last, whereas a printed item won’t; and websites change every day.

But the accumulated cultural weight of a sustained brand campaign can outlast all but the most impressive architecture. I’ll concede that more people would probably recognize the pyramids before the Egyptian flag. Still, we’re not building much on the scale of the pyramids these days. What we are doing is communicating value across cultures and oceans, and over longer periods of time.

That’s why I believe design has proven its staying power. Sure, design objects may not last as long as your average building…

…but as a cultural force, graphic design can last longer, travel farther, and communicate more.

Photo credits: SanctumSolitude and and {justjennifer} on Flickr.