Updated: Jan 16, 2020
A long time ago (for the sake of argument let's say about 10 years) there were only two types of designers. You had a graphic designer and a web designer. Each had their own area of the design sandbox. Graphic designers worked with print designs, while web designers worked with digital projects. Somewhere along the way the sandbox started to get crowded. New designers started coming in and taking the toys. UI & UX designers, motion designers and brand designers started playing in the sandbox. So, what is the difference? Let me start by stating that I identify as a Visual Designer.
What does that mean? I enjoy working with print and branding. It is great to receive a print project, because I care about the quality of paper and the production of the piece. However, I really like working on digital projects too. Creating email marketing, designing websites, thinking about how users will interact with my digital projects, developing display ads and creating digital point of purchase graphics makes me happy too. The main difference between a graphic designer and visual designer is the ability to solve complex visual problems in an analytical manner. I know that graphic designers have the same ability to solve complex problems that is one of strengths of being human. However, it is the approach that separates the visual designers from the graphic designers.
HOW MANY DIFFERENT DESIGNERS ARE OUT THERE?
The design industry is very large. I wanted to focus on the difference between graphic designers and visual designers. When I was collecting my thoughts and starting the notes, I saw that this was going to be difficult to do since many of these designers are subsets of another designer. This is not a family tree. It is more of a spider's web. They are all connected by the fundamentals of graphic design, but they are also interconnected with each other. A visual designer can work on motion graphics. A graphic designer can develop a brand. A brand designer can design a website. What exactly do these professions do? I am not going to dive into great detail about the subsets. That information would be overwhelming and would make you lose interest in this post. So, I am going to write a brief synopsis about some of the different designers.
GRAPHIC DESIGNER: This is the most familiar title in the design industry. Primarily, a graphic designer works with printed materials. They will develop posters, brochures, invitation, business cards and any other piece that needs to be printed. Graphic designers will venture into other realms. You can go to a graphic designer to have a logo developed and many are able to work on digital advertisements and web assets. Graphic designers are experts in color theory, typography and the principals of design. One skill a graphic designer doesn't necessarily need is coding.
VISUAL DESIGNER: This is a relatively new title in the design industry. These designers are problem solvers. They do the research in order to define the brand's unique visual style and tone of voice. They have the ability to explain design concepts and the decisions made concerning their work. Visual designer can work on print products along with web projects. They are experts in graphic design, identity design and brand design. Visual designers also have a strong understanding of the principles of UI and UX design. Visual designers are focused on ensuring that the finished product looks good and if it solved the client's problem.
WEB DESIGNER: A web designer is responsible for the layout, visual appearance and the usability of a website. They normally do not code the site. It is a plus if a web designer has knowledge of programming languages and how to implement the interactions of a website with a database system. This is normally the responsibility of a web developer. A web designer has an understanding of design principles because they must utilize them when working on the layout of a web site.
UI DESIGNER: This is an over simplified explanation of a user interface designer. A UI designer focuses on the visual interactive experience for a user. They determine and develop a plan for an interface and implement that plan. UI designers are responsible for developing a positive interactive experience as a user navigates through all of the designed screens. No tap, click or gesture is ignored. They create the visual elements along with their interactive properties which creates a pleasant experience.
UX DESIGNER: User experience designer is not the same as a user interface designer. Honestly, I should have written about the UX designer first, because UI is a subset of UX. UX designers make sure the product solves a problem and it is easy to use. They are also concerned with the process of integrating a product's design, usability and function into the company's brand. These designers are an important tool for a brand. They ensure that the brand's product provides the appropriate brand experience.
INDUSTRIAL DESIGNER: This is a straightforward description. Industrial designers develop physical products. They work on projects from the inception through testing and completion. They are concerned with every detail, such as color, size, weight and functionality.
BRAND DESIGNER: A brand designer is a subset of graphic design. These designers enjoy creating brand identities. Mainly because they have a passion for typography, color and problem solving. Brand designers listen to the client's problem and work on a possible solution based on the problems. This sounds like a visual designer, but brand designers are extremely specialized and do not work on the variety of projects that a visual designer does.
MOTION DESIGNER: The motion designer is another specialty designer. First, they were exclusively used for the TV and film industries. With the explosion of social media motion designers are prospering. They can work on a variety of products from the big screen to the small screen of your mobile device. A motion designer is a trained graphic designer that has learned to integrate the elements of time, sound and space into their existing skillset. Put simply, they design graphics that are in motion.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE DESIGN INDUSTRY AND THEIR CLIENTS?
Designers are specializing and catering to their strengths in order to create the best work for their clients. There are a constant stream of projects and that means there is plenty of work for those that know how to capitalize on the opportunity. Designers and agencies are willing to speak to you about your projects. They love solving visual problems. These problems fuel creativity. A designer can have the freedom to be creative but there are limits. They need to listen to the client and understand the nature of the problem. Without clients, designers are starving artists that need to get a 9 to 5 office job.
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