Illustration by Avirup Basu
Knowing the difference between digital design and graphic design can be a challenge. We tend to use these terms interchangeably, blurring the line of who is responsible for what. If you have ever been curious about digital design and graphic design, this article will explain the differences and how each comes into play within the design process.
What is graphic design?
It is important to understand that graphic design has been around much longer than digital design. Graphic designers originally worked in print, mainly with books, newspapers, magazines, brochures, and other static images.
In the 1990s, however, the rise of the internet called for graphic designers to adapt. Web design became an important skill to know, and many graphic designers began offering web design and logo design in addition to their traditional print work. Since basic design principles remained consistent with both mediums, it made sense for graphic designers to adapt to the latest demands.
What is digital design?
While graphic design focuses mostly on static designs, digital design involves movement, such as animation, interactive pages, and 2D or 3D modeling. Digital designers create images and elements that will end up on a screen, whether that’s a computer screen, a phone screen, a dashboard, or any other digital formats. The design may also include audio and sound effects to complement the visuals.
The commonality between digital design and graphic design is they both create forms of visual communication, often related to an idea, image, or brand. In both instances, the designer’s goal is to transmit information and ideas to the audience using symbols and imagery. This visual communication creates meaning for the viewer. Visuals help to evoke emotions in your audience, which can in turn help with brand awareness and affinity.
Interactivity in digital design
Another key characteristic of digital design is interactivity. Beyond being aesthetically pleasing, your design needs to be usable, with a focus on how your user will interact with it. This is important no matter what medium you’re designing for, from web design to mobile app design and other mediums like wearables. As technology advances, digital designers face the challenge of creating for a variety of screen sizes, all with various uses and contexts.
Analytics in digital design
Data and analytics also play a role in defining digital design, as they allow a designer to gauge the product’s performance. It is difficult to track the performance of a physical flyer or brochure, but a digital design does not face the same problem. By reviewing performance indicators such as likes, shares, downloads, and pageviews, you’ll get a better understanding of how effective your design is.
The introduction of analytics and data also empowers the digital designer to make data-informed design decisions throughout the design process. For example, digital designers often run A/B tests to collect qualitative data about two (or more) designs. This added layer of analytics in digital design is a key differentiator between digital and graphic design.
Diving into UX and UI design
So when we talk about what a UX designer does, are they more of a digital designer or a graphic designer? UX is all about the user and the experience they have with your product or website, so it goes hand-in-hand with digital design. UX designers incorporate user research and analytics into their design decisions, combining qualitative and quantitative data to create meaningful and relevant experiences for their users.
Diving even further, how about UI design? This is the visual communication component of UX design. UI designers focus on visual design elements like layout design, iconography, and user flows. Most UI designers work with a design system in order to remain consistent between pages and areas of their website, app, or product.
UI design is one area of digital design where the line continues to blur with graphic design. Graphic designers sometimes help out in areas of UI design, such as designing logos and icons. The key characteristic is that these are static elements of UI design and do not take user flows or movement into account.
Types of deliverables
Another way to look at the differences between graphic and digital design is with the deliverable types.
Graphic design deliverables include:
- Business cards
- Magazine spreads
On the other hand, digital designers may create:
- Banner ads
- UX wireframes
- Interactive elements
Why become a digital designer?
In the last couple of decades, there has been a massive shift from print media to online platforms. As almost every brand now has a digital presence, the demand for digital designers far outweighs the demand for print designers. A designer without web skills may find it difficult to find an ongoing, stable job.
Besides the increased demand in the marketplace, here are some other benefits of becoming a digital designer:
- You’ll have a broader skillset, making you more valuable as an employee and giving you access to more career advancement opportunities.
- You’ll likely receive a higher salary compared to traditional graphic designers.
- You have the freedom to work for yourself, if you want. Freelancing is common for digital designers, whether as a primary or secondary source of income.
- You’ll be able to combine analytics with creativity to make informed design decisions.
- You’re not limited to one type of work, as you can work in videography, photography, animation, UI design, etc.
As you can see, there are many benefits to focusing on digital design. Not only is it in more demand, it allows you to broaden your skills to create an exciting career path. Of course, it’s also important to note that graphic designers are still in demand. Many organizations still need individuals who focus on brochures, business cards, and logos.
Although the lines have begun to blur between graphic and digital design, it is important to know the key differences of each. Graphic designers tend to work on static images, traditionally in print, while digital designers focus on anything that will end up on a screen. Although these skills can interchange at some levels, there are several stark differences. Both yield exciting and creative career paths and it is up to you to decide which route to take.