UX Design vs. Graphic Design

By BrainStation February 20, 2020
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Graphic design and UX design have elements in common, starting with their names — but the two roles also have some big differences when it comes to the focus and responsibilities.

Since the dawn of history, people have been using graphic design as a way to get a message across, be it modern logos and branding or ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.

UX design also has its roots in centuries-old approaches for figuring out how products resonate with the public. But it’s also a role that’s distinctly rooted in our high-tech age, where the graphics are just one piece of the equation when it comes to building digital offerings.

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In fact, it wasn’t until 1995 that the job title even existed. Don Norman is thought to be the first “user experience” professional after he asked for the moniker upon joining Apple to help research and design a new line of human-centered products. 

So what’s the overlap between the two roles? And how, exactly, do they differ — and complement — each other?

What is Graphic Design?

Traditionally, graphic design focuses on branding, typography, and the overall principles of design composition: shapes, lines, colors and the overall aesthetic. 

“Through their craft, graphic designers inspire emotions and responses,” writes Designer Farhan Khan on LinkedIn. “A Graphic Designer will know that users will respond very differently to text written in the much-maligned Comic Sans font as opposed to in old-fashioned Courier New font.”

It’s a role that you’ll find at an advertising firm, designing an array of print or digital marketing materials like banner ads, business cards, and flyers. It’s also a job that’s integral to many web design companies, with graphic designers often creating logos or icons that feed into the work of web designers and developers.

It’s also typically about static graphics — not interactive elements on a website or animations.

“Projects typically have a very defined scope and budget in mind,” notes multi-disciplinary Designer Christine Maggi on her YouTube channel DesignGal, with client specifications being clear on the vision and requirements, be it nitty-gritty details like page margins or dimensions or bigger-picture elements like the final deadline.

Graphic design, given its narrow focus, is just one piece of user experience design.

What is UX Design?

While Graphic Designers are typically focusing on individual outputs — say, a newly-redesigned corporate logo — UX Designers are looking at the bigger picture of how all the moving pieces in a product work together and how users interact with it.

For UX experts, it’s also not just about how a product, app or website looks, though that’s an important aspect. It’s about how customers experience it.

“UX Designers tend to be concerned with three primary factors — usability, look, and feel,” writes Nick Babich for Adobe’s blog.

That makes it a “human-first” approach to design that’s all about creating products that people can experience with ease and delight, he adds. “UX design is the process of enhancing user satisfaction by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction between the user and the product.”

Gaining that insight means layers of research, prototyping, and testing, making it a role that often stretches far beyond the straightforward scope of graphic design projects.

“A given design problem has no single right answer,” writes Khan. “UX Designers explore many different approaches to solving a specific user problem.”

The Differences Between Graphic Design and UX Design

They’re very different jobs, no doubt, but the two roles often work closely. 

You can think of it like your experience at a restaurant: A Graphic Designer would make the logo, designed the window displays, and created the menu and branding. A UX Designer would keep an eye on all those things too — while also researching and evaluating the way customers use the space, and how they feel about their experience interacting with all the elements at play.

In other words, there’s lots of overlap. UX Designers rely on the skills of Graphic Designers to make projects come to life, and both approaches are often crucial on modern digital teams.

It’s also not uncommon for Designers to bounce between these job titles over their career, particularly once they’ve expanded their skillset with UX design courses

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