How Is A Web Designer Different to a Graphic Designer and How Is Web Design Its Own Niche Field?

Often placed under the umbrella term of ‘designer’, misconceptions are commonly formed around the differences between graphic designers and web designers. Graphic designers, a term first coined in 1922 are usually responsible for designing for traditional print media. With the first computer graphic design software only launched in 1980, digital designers came second on the scene, but in no way less important. Used interchangeably, non-creatives may not realise the vast differences in the skill set and tasks of each occupation.

Let’s Start with The Similarities

Ultimately, the main objective of both occupations is to design something that is visually engaging and communicates a message effectively – whether that be a header banner for a website campaign or an A2 poster to be displayed on the streets. According to an award-winning web design Melbourne agency, It is important that both graphic designers and web designers possess skills such as decision making, creative thinking, ability to keep up to date with new technology and use of relevant knowledge to communicate with clients and design for consumers.

They both must follow the general design principles, utilising the same elements of typography, imagery and white space to create a design. They both rely heavily on the Adobe Creative Suite programs, namely Photoshop, Illustrator and Indesign for starters.

What Are Some Key Differences?

The key distinction is that two different mediums mark the foundation of design, one being digital and one being print. Just like you would use different paints or watercolours for different kinds of canvases, so do designers.

Different Mediums

Graphic designers generally work more predominantly on print media, from designing booklets, magazines, annual reports, brochures, pamphlets, posters billboards and packaging. Think of anything that you can pick up or print. Graphic designers may also specialise in advertising, branding, or packaging but overall, the branding material is usually made for print.

Web designers are skilled in creating content for digital devices, which may range from full websites to web apps to digital marketing collateral. Also called User Interface (UI) or User Experience (UX) designers, they are specialists in optimising design for computers, ipads and mobile phones.

What Does Web Require

Working in the colour space of RGB as opposed to CMYK, they don’t only have to consider a different colour space for web, but how to optimise the digital real estate; from simplifying navigation menus to ensure a user doesn’t get lost or confused, to designing responsively so that a website transitions smoothly from a large 2560px screen to a small 376px phone.

Governed by the rules of the World Wide Web, a web designer also must ensure that their designs are web-optimised and don’t hinder loading speeds – a study by Econsultancy shows that 40% of people will leave a website if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. The files that are optimised for this include SVGs and PNGs, whilst graphic designers usually work in JPEGs, TIFFs and PDFs.

Different Software

Digital designers also work in slightly different software, with additions to the traditional Adobe Creative Suite (namely Photoshop, InDesign & Illustrator). These programs include Sketch, Invision, Zeplin and Adobe XD to name a few. They give web designers or web app designers the ability to prototype easily, turning a flat mockup into a relatively realistic moving functional wireframe. This allows designers and clients to better visualise how a design will function when it is live and work out how a user will engage.

One of the most significant differences is that web designers generally also know some coding languages (particularly Javascript, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) ). This is important in turning a flat design into a working website. Good websites are fully responsive and move fluidly when changing to different dimensions. There can also be thoughtful interactions built into the design such as hover states and parallax effects that enhance a user’s experience. These require code. With graphic design, once a design has been approved and is printed in production, it stays the same. It can only rely on the visual design, hierarchy of text elements and the layout to speak to the consumer and there are usually no added ‘effects’ or ‘interactions’ possible with a flat design.

Different Limitations

Whilst a graphic designer is limited by the physical real estate of the size of the piece of paper and usually think in paper sizes (A3, A4, A5 for example), web designers must cater to web browsers and their preferences. Although there are quite a few that are still widely used (Mozilla Firefox, Internet Explorer & Safari), Chrome is by far the dominant web browser, with it taking 62.5% of the market share as of 2015. Thus, digital designers must think of not only how to impress their client and the users, but also how to satisfy all the preferences of Google, to increase the ability for a website to rank and perform better in comparison to its competitors.

A graphic designer’s primary work falls into creating flat visuals for print, branding or packaging and is usually printed.  In contrast web designers create websites, which are visual layouts made up of graphics and written content that is designed traditionally but then followed through with code and web optimisation techniques. Both design fields are still governed by the primary general design principles and are allow for limitless creativity, but result in two quite different skill sets.



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