As a foreigner it's normal for me to use graphist, calling a graphics designer. But it's odd for me to find out it's not used very much online. Why is it so? Is graphist a valid English word? Do you easily understand it or is it odd for you? Do you use it?
While there is a Wikipedia entry for "graphist" (given anyone can add or edit Wikipedia), I would state that it's not a valid English word, at least not American English.
It does not appear in the Meriam-Webster dictionary.
In my (quite lengthy) career, I've never heard anyone use that term. Sounds similar to someone calling a plumber a "plumbist" or a doctor a "doctist". The English language is a living breathing thing though. 5 years ago the use of "prolly" for "probably" would have brought scorn in many situations. Now, its use is understood (although it still grates on me). So... who knows.
I would actually tend to equate the term with someone who makes graphs and charts, not a graphic artist or graphic designer.
I've never heard the term... but if I did, a "Graphist" would—to me—mean someone who in some way works with and/or creates graphs. Which could be a narrow sub-field of graphic design, but is not the same thing.
The fact that you use the term and that it has an Urban Dictionary definition (referenced in this answer) implies that it's at least used somewhere (maybe, I wouldn't really classify Urban Dictionary as a reliable reference)... but if it is used in that way then it is a colloquialism that I am (and evidently others are) unfamiliar with, so I wouldn't use it unless you're talking to someone who you know will understand the term.
According to the OED it's not a word on its own, only a combining form
-graphist, comb. form
Pronunciation: Brit. /ɡrəfɪst/ , U.S. /ɡrəfəst/ Origin: Formed within English, by derivation. Etymons: -graphy comb. form, -ist suffix.
Etymology:-graphy comb. form + -ist suffix. Compare French -graphiste.
Formations are found from the 17th cent., e.g. orthographist n., cosmographist n., biographist n. Formations typically have (often more common) parallels in -grapher comb. form.
I cannot say that this is a generally accepted word and would suggest it exists as suffix only. I asked Google to define "Graphist" and it immediately corrected me and shot back with "Graphic Designer".
The closest usage I can recall is "telegraphist", indicating someone who is proficient at telegraphy.
Yes, it is a valid English word, and it's not new:
The use of graphist seems to have reached peak popularity around 1800:
Note that it means vaguely the same thing as it does today, though its meaning has been overloaded with technology that now exists.
They were written or engraved on bricks, burnt in the fun, which was probably the earliest rude tablet of the graphist, though afterwards he committed his thoughts to the more durable substance of marble, brass, and copper.
Indian Antiquities: Or Dissertations Relative to the Ancient Geographical... by Thomas Maurice, Inigo Barlow, 1800
This is my favourite use, circa 1860:
In the first place, then, the mere power to represent words to the eye in written -- made with pen and in -- letters, is but a portion of this branch of education,--the whole of which is equally essential, though parts of it are not as frequently used as mere word-writing. The whole branch has been well termed "GRAPHICS", and embraces the ability to present to the eye, by means of the pen, pencil, or crayon, on paper or other surface, letters in combination so as to fork words, arithmetical figures, the mathematical and other signs and diagrams, and the forms or natural and artificial objects, so far as can be done by mere lines. To do all this rapidly, neatly and accurately is to be a graphist, while to be a good writer of words, is to be but partly a graphist.
The Pennsylvania School Journal, 1860, Volumes 9-11, pages 130 - 131.