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Visual Design vs. Graphic Design: What’s the Difference?

Visual design vs Graphic design
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Graphic designer. Visual designer. User interface (UI) designer. User experience (UX) designer. Web designer.

How many different designer job titles are there? And are they all just fancy names for the same thing?

If you’ve heard these terms thrown around, you might be confused about what they all mean. And more importantly, you might be wondering which one is the right career path for you.

When I got my start in tech (::cough:: a decade ago ::cough::), it was pretty much just “graphic designer” or “web designer.” I was never quite sure what to call myself since I did both web design and print design, so I ended up using both. Now, what I did back then would have more closely fallen under the title “Visual Designer” (even though I did more print work than most visual designers do).

It can all get pretty confusing. That’s why, in this article, I’m breaking down the difference between these 3 common terms we use to describe designers—graphic designer, visual designer, and user interface designer.

Psst! Wanna know how to get started as a web designer? Check out the FREE Beginner’s Guide to Landing a Junior Web Design Job.

What does a graphic designer do?

What does a graphic designer do?
Graphic designers probably have one of the best-known job titles in the world of design and tech. But can you define what they actually do on a day-to-day basis?

Graphic designers often work more with print designs and deliverables, like posters, brochures, invitations, and business cards, among other things. That said, they also occasionally create user interface design assets for the web, like logos and icons.

Graphic designers have to know the fundamentals of design: things like color theory and typography. They also need to know how to build brand assets (like logos) and make sure they’re consistent across all the designs for a brand.

Graphic designers do most of their work in Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign (3 Adobe products you’ll learn to use in the Skillcrush Visual Designer Blueprint!), although some designers are turning to Sketch as an alternative to Photoshop (it’s only on Mac right now!).

One thing graphic designers don’t need to know is how to code. Any coding for a project is left to a developer (likely a front end developer).

Average salary for a graphic designer: $40,666 per year

What does a UI designer do?

User_Interface
User interface (UI) designers are responsible for the “look and feel” of a website, app, or other product. In other words, they’re the ones who add colors, pair typefaces, and set layouts.

UI designers work exclusively on the web, rather than primarily in print like a graphic designer. Because of that, they need to have a very deep understanding of user experience and web design.

They build websites, web apps, and web layouts in general, and need to have strong wireframing skills in their design toolkits. They should be proficient with HTML and CSS so they understand how their designs will work on actual websites, apps, and products, and for the same reason, it helps if they have at least a base understanding of JavaScript (or better yet—be comfortable actually writing JavaScript code).

Like graphic designers, they also need to have a strong grasp of general design fundamentals like color theory and typography.

Like graphic designers, UI designers do most of their work in Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. But they also do a lot of work in wireframing software that allows them to show clients and team members how their design will work in practice.

Average salary for a UI designer: $62,678 per year

What does a visual designer do?

What does a visual designer do?
Visual designers are the problem solvers of the design world. Rather than just bringing brands to life, they play a key role in defining what goes into a brand’s unique style and voice. In addition to creating beautiful designs, they know how to explain design concepts and the decisions behind their work.

Visual designers do a ton of different things in their day-to-day work. It’s a bit of a hybrid between what graphic designers and UI designers do, but with a bunch of other skills thrown into the mix. They have to understand user experience, user interface, and web design. At the same time, they don’t have to know how to code (though as with most jobs in tech, bonus points if you do have at least basic coding skills).

Visual designers rarely work on print products, but they do need a strong understanding of graphic design, identity design, and branding. They need to have exceptional visual messaging and communications skills, too.

They work primarily with web layouts and deliverables, including things like icons, infographics, logos, and presentations. They also have to be familiar with industry-standard software (Adobe and Sketch, primarily), plus they need wireframing skills like a UI designer.

Finally, visual designers need to be aware of how front-end developers work, and the languages they use. While a visual designer doesn’t need to know how to code, they at least need to know how to communicate with those who do, and how to create designs that take into account what is possible in the code.

Average salary for a visual designer: $87,000 per year

So which one is right for you?

Graphic design jobs, while still out there, are dwindling. If you don’t have web skills, it will be increasingly difficult for you to find high-paying work. Practically every brand out there now has a web presence, and many have a stronger presence online than they do in print. To that end, knowing how to design for the web gives you a much stronger position in the job market.

If you’re super interested in coding and the more technical end of design, UI design can be a great option. Some UI designers do at least some coding regularly (though not all of them do).

Visual design is great for those who want a more well-rounded design career, with little or no coding. Visual designers do everything from working on branding to designing websites and web apps. Be sure to check out the brand new Visual Designer Career Blueprint to get started!

Get Our <span>FREE</span> Guide to Landing a Junior Web Design Job

Get Our FREE Guide to Landing a Junior Web Design Job

Learn how to land an amazing junior web designer job with our FREE 29-page ebook.

You can unsubscribe from our mailing list at any time. We won't use your email address for anything else, promise!

Cameron Chapman

Cameron is a staff writer here at Skillcrush, and spends most of her time writing and editing blog posts and Ultimate Guides. She's been a freelance writer, editor, and author for going on a decade, writing for some of the world's leading web design and tech blogs. When she's not writing about design, she spends her time writing screenplays and making films (and music videos for rock and metal bands!) in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom.

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28 comments

  1. Hyra Replied

    Thanks A bunch !!! CAMERON. This is exactly what i was looking for … i use to call myself as a Generic Graphic Designer, since i work for Web, mobile and print as well. Now there is a term for all those … who knows & work in all fields of communication Design ..

  2. Umesh Replied

    Hi Cameron, My son who is studying in 12th would like to pursue the course in animation & vfx. I have found 1 institute which is having a course called as “communication design” that covers the above 2 aspects including graphic design during the 4 year course. Just wanted to ask what are the differences in graphic design/animation/vfx as compared to communication design & what are the likely opportunities in next 5-6 years down the line (when competition will be more fierce)
    Best regards,
    Umesh

  3. P.E Replied

    Is a Visual designer and a visual communication designer the same thing? Just wondering….

  4. Saurabh Replied

    Hi, Very important article especially for me. I am also playing multiple roll in my current company like working on UX, wire framing, UI design, creating micro interaction, application video. Can you please tell me what is the my job title?

  5. Maha Mahesh Replied

    Hi Cameron , This is an excellent article which describes about Design. I was searching about “who i’m? ” What is role name like that.. now i can mention myself as I’m an VISUAL DESIGNER” and i have all stuff.

  6. Kennedy Culver Replied

    Hi, I found out that I would like to enter into visual design once I graduate high school. Do you have any colleges to recommend for this major in the United States?

  7. Sandeep Kumar Replied

    hello great people out there , i want to become a Googler. There is jobs for VISUAL DESIGNERS. Can you guys suggest me which course would be better for my career in the field of VISUAL DESIGNERS Artist .
    Thanks
    Sandeep Kumar ( INDIA )

  8. KarthiK Replied

    I am little bit confused about my career, what i am really .. ? i am working as graphic designer in IT company. but i am working on UI Design, Graphic Design, Prototype, HTML, CSS, Bootstrap, JS and many of my projects are based on Mobile and Web based compare than print and others. so in that case what is my exact profession… could you help me in this regard…

  9. rajess Replied

    Thank you so much. It clears about Graphic designer, UI and Visual designer role.

    My doubt is UX and Visual designer plays almost similar role? Whether Visual Designer needs to interact with clients ?

    • bswanick Replied

      It really depends on how your team is structured, Rajess. When in a freelance role or a small agency setting, you’ll probably work more with clients in either role. As you join larger teams that have people dedicated to those roles, you’ll interact less with the client. UX is certainly one of the areas of expertise that make visual designers stand out.

  10. leonie Replied

    I was so cunfused but after reading this article I understand everything better.

    Thank you :-)

  11. Rodney Crimes Replied

    What about product design where does that title fall between Ui designer and visual designer? What skill set do you need to be a product designer? 

    • Adrian Replied

      As a product designer, you have to learn the basic principles of design, but the most important skills is to innovate based on users’ needs and problems. At the same time, you have to know how to deal with materials and manufacturing processes. It’s another world.

  12. Tejal Replied

    Hi Cameron,

    The article is very nice and so writing to you.
    I work on wire-framing and creating psd files for websites. In which role do I fit?
    According to the given suggestions, I think I am a Visual Designer!
    please correct me if it is wrong.

  13. Ricardo Replied

    Really important article especially for me that I am trying to choose a career path. Thank you so much!! One question though. What are the differences between UI designers and front-end developers? It is like UI designers know how to deal with code but their speciality is design and front-end developers deal also with design but their speciality is coding? Can a UI designer can be called himself a front-end-developer? Thank you!

    • Cameron Chapman Replied

      I think this will clarify: UI designers create the graphical part of a website that people actually see (some also write code, but a lot of them don’t). Front end developers code that design so that it actually works and does what it’s supposed to (they generally don’t create the design).

      • Saurabh Replied

        Hi

        , Very important article especially for me. I am also playing multiple roll in my current company like working on UX, wire framing, UI design, creating micro interaction, application video. Can you please tell me what is the my job title?

  14. Ashoka Replied

    I think this article is the most top article of 2016 for every designer. Thanks a lot Cameron Chapman to sharing such kind of information with us.

    Keep it up :)

  15. lokesh Venkatappa Replied

    It’s a Wonderfull platform to lean more design theory and design industry.

  16. Leigh Replied

    Thanks!! Pretty much the answer to the question I have been searching the answer for a long long time. Looking forward to taking the next Visual Designer course!!

  17. Mer Replied

    Thank you for this really insightful article. Very helpful in understanding the different types of design positions and how they relate to tech. 

  18. Dorothy Replied

    Yes! Thanks, Cameron. I wish COMPANIES knew that this is the type of employee they really need rather than advertising for graphic designers all the time … hopefully this will spread sooner than later!

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