Graphic Design

Your constantly-updated definition of Graphic Design and collection of videos and articles
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What is Graphic Design?

Graphic design is a craft where professionals create visual content to communicate messages. By applying visual hierarchy and page layout techniques, designers use typography and pictures to meet users’ specific needs and focus on the logic of displaying elements in interactive designs to optimize the user experience.

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See an example of what Graphic Design is.

Graphic Design is about Molding the User Experience Visually

Graphic design is an ancient craft, dating back past Egyptian hieroglyphs to at least 17,000-year-old cave paintings. It’s a term that originated in the 1920s’ print industry. It continues to cover a range of activities including logo creation. Graphic design in this sense concerns aesthetic appeal and marketing. Graphic designers attract viewers using images, color and typography. However, graphic designers working in user experience (UX) design must justify stylistic choices regarding, say, image locations and font with a human-centered approach. That means you need to focus on—and seek to empathize the most with—your specific users while you create good-looking designs that maximize usability. Aesthetics must serve a purpose—in UX design we don’t create art for art’s sake. So, graphic designers must branch into visual design. When designing for UX, you should:

  1. Consider the information architecture of your interactive designs to ensure accessibility for users.

  2. Leverage graphic design skills to create work that considers the entire user experience, including users’ visual processing abilities.

For instance, if an otherwise pleasing mobile app can’t offer users what they need in several taps, its designer will have failed to marry graphic design to user experience. The scope of graphic design in UX covers creating beautiful designs that users find highly pleasurable, meaningful and usable.

“Design is a solution to a problem. Art is a question to a problem.”

— John Maeda, President of Rhode Island School of Design

Graphic Design for Optimal UX

Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Graphic Design is Emotional Design

Although to work in the digital age means you must design with interactive software, graphic design still revolves around age-old principles. It’s crucial that you strike the right chord with users from their first glance—hence, graphic design’s correspondence with emotional design. As a graphic designer, you should have a firm understanding of color theory and how vital the right choice of color scheme is. Color choices must reflect not only the organization (e.g., blue suits banking) but also users’ expectations (e.g., red for alerts; green for notifications to proceed). You should design with an eye for how elements match the tone (e.g., sans-serif fonts for excitement or happiness). You also need to design for the overall effect, and note how you shape users’ emotions as you guide them from, for instance, a landing page to a call to action. Often, graphic designers are involved in motion design for smaller screens. They will carefully monitor how their works’ aesthetics match their users’ expectations. They can enhance their designs’ usability in a flowing, seamless experience by anticipating the users’ needs and mindsets. With user psychology in mind, it’s important to stay focused on some especially weighty graphic design considerations, namely these:

  • Symmetry and Balance (including symmetry types)

  • Flow

  • Repetition

  • Pattern

  • The Golden Ratio (i.e., proportions of 1:1.618)

  • The Rule of Thirds (i.e., how users’ eyes recognize good layout)

  • Typography (encompassing everything from font choice to heading weight)

  • Audience Culture (regarding color use—e.g., red as an alert or, in some Eastern cultures, a signal of good fortune—and reading pattern: e.g., left to right in Western cultures)

Typography Play a Crucial Role in Graphic Design

Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Overall, your mission—as far as graphic design goes in UX and UI design—is to display information harmoniously. You should ensure that beauty and usability go hand in hand, and therefore your design can discreetly carry your organization’s ideals to your users. When you establish a trustworthy visual presence, you hint to users that you know what they want to do – not just because you’ve arranged aesthetically pleasing elements that are where your users expect to find them, or help them intuit their way around, but because the values which your designs display mirror theirs, too. Your visual content will quickly decide your design’s fate, so be sure not to overlook the slightest trigger that may put users off.

Learn More about Graphic Design

Take our course, The Ultimate Guide to Visual Design

Our encyclopedia addresses graphic design’s place in the world of UX.

This is a first-hand account on transitioning from graphic design to UX design.

Read this incisive piece that examines the similarities and differences between graphic and UX design.

Questions related to Graphic Design

How much do graphic designers make?

The salary of a graphic designer can vary widely based on several factors, including experience, geographical location, and expertise level. On average, the annual salary for graphic designers ranges between $43,000 and $66,000. This range reflects the earnings of many professionals in the graphic design field, a profession that remains essential and valued across various industries.

While graphic design offers a respectable salary, professionals seeking higher earning potential might transition to UX design. UX designers responsible for crafting user-friendly and functional digital interfaces are in high demand, leading to attractive compensation packages. For graphic designers considering a career change, transitioning to UX design can be strategic. Learn more about the benefits of this transition and how to navigate it in this detailed guide on changing your career from Graphic Design to UX Design.

What do graphic designers do?

Graphic designers are creative professionals who use their artistic skills to create visual content for various mediums. They work on projects such as designing logos, brochures, websites, and advertisements. Using various tools and software, they aim to communicate a message through their visual designs and help businesses and organizations achieve their goals.

What is the difference between graphic and visual design?

Graphic design and visual design are often used interchangeably, but there is a subtle  difference between the two. Both graphic and visual designers rely on design principles and knowledge of color theory, typography and layout to create effective and engaging designs. Graphic designers primarily focus on communication (for example, logos and advertisements) while visual designers focus on product experience (for example, the user interfaces of websites and applications).  Visual designers may incorporate graphic design elements to create a consistent user experience across all touchpoints.

Graphic design is a much older profession and has a strong association with print media. With the advance of technology, graphic designers’ deliverables also became digital. Visual designers have a broader skill set, combining skills of graphic designers along with an understanding of interface designer.

If you're interested in learning more about these important design principles, check our visual design course. Develop the skills you need to create stunning designs that are both functional and visually appealing.

How to become a graphic designer?

In addition to possessing a degree in graphic design or a related field, there are excellent online courses available that can provide you with all the essential visual skills you need. Platforms like Skillshare, Udemy, and Coursera offer a variety of courses focused on developing practical skills and building portfolios. These flexible and affordable courses provide a fantastic opportunity to learn graphic design and grow your skills.

If you're interested in pivoting to interaction design, there are fantastic courses available that can help you change your career to UX or a related field. There are even tailored learning paths available to guide you in your journey. Best of luck on your chosen career path!

Is graphic design a good career?

Yes, graphic design can be a great career choice for those with a passion for creativity and design. With the rise of digital media, the demand for skilled graphic designers has grown. However, it's important to note that the field is competitive and requires continuous learning and development of skills.

Graphic designers can work in a variety of industries, from advertising to web design, and can have a range of job titles, such as art director or multimedia designer. Overall, graphic design can be a fulfilling and rewarding career path for those willing to put in the work.

How do you learn graphic design?

Learning graphic design involves understanding design principles, mastering software, and developing a strong portfolio. Start with online courses or a design school to learn the fundamentals. Practice by creating designs and seeking feedback. Most importantly, build a strong portfolio.

Visual design and graphic design are closely entangled. If you're interested in becoming a visual designer, consider this Visual Designer Learning Path for comprehensive courses and resources.

How to make a graphic design portfolio?

Creating a graphic design portfolio involves selecting your best work, showcasing a variety of skills, and presenting them professionally. Include high-quality images of your work, a brief description of each piece, and the process involved. Make sure to include visuals in your portfolio, as explained by Michal Malewicz, Co-founder of HYPE4.com, in this video about the importance of visuals in your UX portfolio.

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Regularly update your portfolio with new work to keep it current.To learn more about creating an impressive portfolio, consider taking this course on How to Create a UX Portfolio.

Is graphic design hard?

Graphic design can be challenging, requiring creativity, attention to detail, and technical knowledge. However, like any skill, it becomes easier with practice and proper training. Don Norman explains in his video that designers, including graphic designers, need to understand the business, politics, and socio-technical systems to make meaningful changes. 

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This broad understanding and the ability to speak the language of business are essential for a successful career in graphic design. 

If you'd like to learn more, take this course on Design for a Better World with Don Norman.

What is graphic design in art?

Artistic graphic design encompasses the creation of visual elements using typography, images, and colors to effectively convey a message or provide a solution to a problem. It encompasses various disciplines like layout design, logo design, and branding. 

While graphic artists create original artwork, graphic designers use these artworks and other visual elements to create designs that convey a specific message. Learn more about the differences between graphic artists and graphic designers in this article: Graphic Artist vs Graphic Designer: What's the Difference?

What does a creative designer do?

A creative designer is responsible for creating visuals across various mediums to communicate messages effectively. They conceptualize and design graphics, layouts, and visual effects to engage target audiences. Their work includes creating logos, marketing materials, website designs, and other visual content. 

They also collaborate with other team members and clients to ensure the design aligns with the overall goals and brand identity. Read more about the role of a creative designer in this article: What Does a Creative Designer Do?

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Literature on Graphic Design

Here’s the entire UX literature on Graphic Design by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Graphic Design

Take a deep dive into Graphic Design with our course Visual Design: The Ultimate Guide .

In this course, you will gain a holistic understanding of visual design and increase your knowledge of visual principles, color theory, typography, grid systems and history. You’ll also learn why visual design is so important, how history influences the present, and practical applications to improve your own work. These insights will help you to achieve the best possible user experience.

In the first lesson, you’ll learn the difference between visual design elements and visual design principles. You’ll also learn how to effectively use visual design elements and principles by deconstructing several well-known designs. 

In the second lesson, you’ll learn about the science and importance of color. You’ll gain a better understanding of color modes, color schemes and color systems. You’ll also learn how to confidently use color by understanding its cultural symbolism and context of use. 

In the third lesson, you’ll learn best practices for designing with type and how to effectively use type for communication. We’ll provide you with a basic understanding of the anatomy of type, type classifications, type styles and typographic terms. You’ll also learn practical tips for selecting a typeface, when to mix typefaces and how to talk type with fellow designers. 

In the final lesson, you’ll learn about grid systems and their importance in providing structure within design. You’ll also learn about the types of grid systems and how to effectively use grids to improve your work.

You’ll be taught by some of the world’s leading experts. The experts we’ve handpicked for you are the Vignelli Distinguished Professor of Design Emeritus at RIT R. Roger Remington, author of “American Modernism: Graphic Design, 1920 to 1960”; Co-founder of The Book Doctors Arielle Eckstut and leading color consultant Joann Eckstut, co-authors of “What Is Color?” and “The Secret Language of Color”; Award-winning designer and educator Mia Cinelli, TEDx speaker of “The Power of Typography”; Betty Cooke and William O. Steinmetz Design Chair at MICA Ellen Lupton, author of “Thinking with Type”; Chair of the Graphic + Interactive communication department at the Ringling School of Art and Design Kimberly Elam, author of "Grid Systems: Principles of Organizing Type.”

Throughout the course, we’ll supply you with lots of templates and step-by-step guides so you can go right out and use what you learn in your everyday practice.

In the “Build Your Portfolio Project: Redesign,” you’ll find a series of fun exercises that build upon one another and cover the visual design topics discussed. If you want to complete these optional exercises, you will get hands-on experience with the methods you learn and in the process you’ll create a case study for your portfolio which you can show your future employer or freelance customers.

You can also learn with your fellow course-takers and use the discussion forums to get feedback and inspire other people who are learning alongside you. You and your fellow course-takers have a huge knowledge and experience base between you, so we think you should take advantage of it whenever possible.

You earn a verifiable and industry-trusted Course Certificate once you’ve completed the course. You can highlight it on your resume, your LinkedIn profile or your website.

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