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

Learn six areas of difference between advertising and graphic design—the products each focuses on and their purpose in marketing processes.

Graphic Design
Graphic Design

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Advertising design is one category of graphic design, focusing on visually attractive and effective ads. But graphic design is a much more complex job. In this article, we will talk about the distinguishable differences (and similarities) between the two.

What’s the difference between advertising design and graphic design?

Simply put, advertising is merely one part of graphic design

Advertising design focuses on the creating visuals for ad campaigns, such as print ads, social media ads, email banners, etc. Graphic design, on the other hand, encompasses vastly different areas such as UX/UI design, product design, brand design, illustrations and more.

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Graphic design vs. advertising design - 4 key differences

So, advertising design and graphic design are primarily different in the types of design they produce. However, the differences aren’t just skin deep. 

Here are 5 fundamental differences between advertising design and graphic design.

Artistic freedom and possible constraints

Which field is more creative - graphic or advertising design?

Graphic design doesn’t always have a direct commercial purpose. Sometimes, graphic design is used to raise awareness or improve products and services (e.g. UI design and packaging). 

In advertising, the designer has to comply with many factors and conditions, such as format, size requirements, text to image ratio, color psychology, design elements that inspire action, etc.

On top of that, advertising designers usually work with a much more detailed brief that the designer will base the product on. Let’s say you’re promoting a webinar. The brief would be: put a layout of the speaker, the name and subject of the webinar in legible and professional typography that is no more than 20% of the whole visual, use a stern and professional color palette. Oh, and make it 1,200 x 628 pixels. Not much artistic freedom and space for experimentation, right?

But a graphic designer working on branding will get a condensed brand story, a vague idea and reference of how the logo and other branding assets might look. It’s not that their hands are completely untied, but the artistic freedom here is much greater in graphic design

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Ownership of the product

Both in advertising and branding, the final product belongs to the company or person that commissioned the graphic designer or design studio. A logo is the brainchild of a designer or design team, but the owner is the company that uses it

However, advertising agencies and art directors use their big projects in portfolios and marketing pitches. Sometimes they have exclusive deals with companies to be the only party that provides all design needs to them.

Generally, it is a matter of contract and individual policies. Some companies don’t mind outsourced designers using their products for their portfolios, whereas some might claim complete ownership and copyright protection.

Research and development process

Generally, advertising design is mostly focused on seasonal, campaign, and ad-hoc marketing, which means more, smaller products. The design process is usually a lot faster and involves less research.

In advertising design, the research is more concentrated on current trends and regulations. The designer also has to know the latest updates in rules and regulations, such as dimensions of social media or banner ads, required formats and sizes, usage of logos and other trademarked signage, etc.

On the other hand, graphic designers that work on branding have bigger projects that rarely need to be repurposed or redesigned, so they’ll spend more time researching and developing the final product that can be used for a long time (e.g. logos, packaging, etc.)

Visual communication is extremely valuable for the overall perception of a brand, so graphic designers will spend a lot of time researching and creating a concept. Their research is both focused on the client, and design trends, as well as theoretical knowledge of design.

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Deadlines and timeframes

As we already mentioned, branding design needs more research and time for development, while advertising design can be campaign-focused, ad hoc, and more susceptible to redesigns and changes

For bigger projects and important branding assets, the timeframes and deadlines are usually more flexible, at least if the business expects good and genuine designs. Of course, that means more than one proposed version, variations and reworks, new strategies, and maybe adding new assets, so it is a lot of work. 

For advertising purposes, deadlines are usually shorter because it means creating assets that will be used for a given period of time. It's not uncommon to have a late notice project or to tweak a finished design because it’s not performing. 

What products do they encompass?

Going back to the beginning of this article, we must clear out a common misconception. Advertising design and other types of graphic design aren’t mutually exclusive.  It is very likely that a graphic designer will work on ads in their career path, but might specialize in something else, and vice versa.

That also means that all graphic design created for advertising purposes is also part of the overall visual identity of the company. So, advertising design strictly means visuals that have to provoke action.

All other graphic design assets elevate and nurture the brand as a whole and help boost sales. Here we can sort anything, from website design, and the look of mobile apps to email marketing, images used in public relations, collateral, and social media posts.

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How to design effective advertisements?

Now you know the answer to the question “what is advertising design” and how it differs from graphic design in general.. It’s important to understand this distinction, whether you want to create ads for your brand yourself, or hire a professional designer to do it.

However, it’s also vital to know what makes a good ad design. Here are some actionable tips.

Strong headline and copy

Some of the most iconic ads ever used little to minimal copy. However, in most cases, design and copy need to work together to ensure the effectiveness of your ads.

It’s always better to keep things simple - avoid jargon, and present your offer in a clear and concise way. On the other hand, you should use your ad graphics to complement and enhance your call to action. 

This is a superb example from Norwegian Airlines that shows just how impactful great copy can be. It’s witty and very relatable. Although minimal, the design plays a big role. From the ad layout, to the choice of font and background color - all the elements work together to make the message all the more potent. 

Use your brand colors

You want ads to be eye-catching, so people will click on them. Still, remember that brand awareness is more important than a single sales campaign.

So, even though you might design sale advertisements, focused on boosting your profit, remember to keep design on-brand. Utilize your signature brand colors, and the type of messaging your target audience expects to see.

Appeal to the emotions

Some experts claim all emotions come down to one of the following four variations: happiness, sadness, fear/surprise, and anger/disgust.

In marketing, this insight is used for emotional marketing, one of the most effective marketing tactics to date. Simply put it means that your marketing efforts should aim to provoke emotions with your target audience, rather than push them to take action.

Advertising design can be a great ally in this respect. Just take a look at this example from WWF. Ads like this one inspire a potent sense of fear, which works very well for a campaign meant to raise awareness about one of the most pressing issues of our time.

Source: Visme

Get your graphic and advertising design in one place!

We hope this helps you understand advertising design a bit better. Of course, there are many free ad templates available online. However, these will hardly perform as well as custom-made ads for your brand.

You can hire a freelance advertising designer, however this can be time-consuming and costs do pile up over time. Working with a professional ad agency is always a great option, in case you have a few thousand dollars to spare on each campaign.

Luckily, there’s one more budget-friendly option right at your fingertips! Our unlimited graphic design service provides you with all the designs you need at a flat monthly rate. Whether it’s digital or print ads, landing pages, illustrations, or a complete brand identity design - we’ve got you covered!

Book a free consultation with us to learn more. Or check out our comparison hub to see how our service measures with other design providers.

Journalist turned content writer. Based in North Macedonia, aiming to be a digital nomad. Always loved to write, and found my perfect job writing about graphic design, art and creativity. A self-proclaimed film connoisseur, cook and nerd in disguise.

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