When looking at Graphic Design and Visual Poetry, it’s difficult to parse the difference. Even as someone going into visual arts, I’m having a difficult time. Both encompass a wide range of expression and both use a combination of text and imagery/design to express an idea. Initially, I thought that the main difference could be clarity, since graphic design is usually made for a specific message, whether it’s for an ad campaign or a tote bag. There is an amount of clarity that is necessary in order for it to be effective that may not be found in more experimental visual poems. For example, the 2008 Obama campaign’s “Hope” poster is an iconic piece of communication design that is extremely simple, yet gets its point across quickly. The colors that make up his face are enough to evoke patriotism, while the word “hope” is all that’s needed to summarize his campaign goals. But, when looking at poems like “Silencio,” it’s obvious that graphic design does not have a monopoly on clean, direct design.
You can’t even say that there is a difference in whether or not the piece is commissioned, since there are graphic artists that make design work for their own enjoyment, and it’s definitely possible for a visual poem to be paid for. In the end, the only substantial differences that I can come up with are stylistic variations between the genres, which I wouldn’t count for much. So, I think the only real difference between graphic design and visual poetry is in name.