Graphic design is a term we often use to describe anything from creating a brand identity to simple posts for social media. But graphic designers can specialize in many different fields, and we’re here to explain them through simple examples.
When you think about graphic design, what comes to mind? Do they design ads? Do they create logos and branding? Maybe signage and visual elements? Typography perhaps? Retouch photos in Photoshop? The answer is all of that. We like to put all types of graphic design under one umbrella term, but in reality, graphic designers usually have a field of expertise.
Good graphic design has many perks and brings a huge value to any business, so it’s important to know how to establish a strong visual identity and tone.
So, without any further ado, let’s get to explaining.
Brand identity design
Every business has its own unique story and a visual communication strategy that shares that story with a wider audience best. The designers who shape the identity of a brand through a specific visual language, color palettes, shapes, forms and symbols are brand identity designers. They are also researchers who spend a lot of time learning about the tone of voice, mission statement, people and goals of a brand’s corporate design and put a “face” to their story. They create a brand guide that the company can use as a reference point in producing any marketing or branding assets in the future as well.
The branding of a company is communicated through many design elements and deliverables, such as logo design, typography, signage, brand colors, all the way to business cards, stationery and uniforms. As the internet folk calls it today, everything has to be “on brand”.
Here is an example of a branding project for Stash Fine Gin by Julia Masalska.
Packaging design and labels:
Crest and additional decorative elements:
As you can see, a brand identity is more than just a logo or value propositions, so a graphic designer specializing in branding needs to research the brand and base its identity on the perceptions they want to achieve in the audience.
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Advertising design is the most common type of design we think of. And even though we usually spend a few seconds looking at it, there’s usually a team of art directors, creative directors and graphic designers behind even the simplest marketing visual.
Advertising graphic design in the past was mostly focused on print ads: newspaper ads, billboards, flyers, brochures, etc. Nowadays, graphic designers find innovative ways to capture the attention of a person online too, and advertising design spreads to email marketing, social media marketing, search engine marketing, as well as hybrid advertising campaigns, like scannable QR code stickers that lead you to a business’s website.
Every year, the attention span of an average person is smaller, and advertising design changes to catchier, colorful, and more straightforward by the day. But ads prevail as the most important marketing tool.
Still, just as the Mad Men-era of advertising, advertisements today are based on evoking emotions to get people to make an action (buy, reserve, book, learn more…). Those emotions are fear, anger, affirmation and disgust. Some people also argue that all ads are based on a basic human need: hunger, fear, sex and love.
The role of advertising graphic design is to l inspire action in the audience and embed these feelings into a design based on basic principles.
Publication graphic design
This type of graphic design is mostly focused on publishing: books, magazines, newspapers. Publication designers work on layouts, cover and additional graphics that are suitable for the content they represent and convey the story and tone of voice of the author or publication. They also have another important task, and that is making the layout easy to read and focused on the most important elements.
Book covers and magazine covers are some of the most notable examples of the skill and ingenuity of editorial graphic designers. Apart from having design skills needed to create an aesthetically pleasing and effective visual, they also need to know and understand print design and color management, no matter if they work in hard copy or digital publishing.
User Interface, Web Design & other digital design fields
In the modern world, one of the most important characteristics of design that make a product sell better or be widely used is the user interface and user experience of the finished product.
User interface design, or UI for short, is focused on research and development of interface, or the look and navigation of a certain product, such as an app or website. UI designers need to ensure that all the elements of the interface are easy to navigate and understand and that they are noticeable enough for the average user. They also use findings and data from previous interface designs to create a better, problem-solving design in the future.
UI design is often tied with UX design, or user experience design, on which we will elaborate more in the chapter Product design.
For a full understanding of the concept of UI and UX design of an app, check out the Planner App project by Vladimir Ulyanov.
Web design, on the other hand, focuses on the visual aspect of websites and web pages. Developers are in charge of making them responsive, easy to use and functional.
Web designers need to make them look good and put the focus on the right places. Most of the time, the website design has to be “on brand” as well, so the designer, whether in-house or a freelancer, has to make sure they stick to the brand guide. Web design is also often linked with UX/UI, since a well-designed website needs to have a good interface and user experience too.
Since mobile apps are also incredibly important today, app design is another branch of digital design, similar to web design.
Product design is the prototyping, creating, and re-iterating products that are meant to solve problems or specific needs for their users.
There are four types of product designers:
- UX designer
User Experience design, or UX, is the bridge between the interaction between human users and everyday products, technology, or services. It combines design, psychology, business, market research, and technology. To give you a more tangible example, a good UX design of a mug is putting a handle so the user doesn’t get burned, hence making the product user-friendly. Or doors without knobs or handles that can be pushed in both directions in a surgical ward in a hospital.
UX and UI are often inseparable, so a common cross between these disciplines created one of the most wanted professions in the digital creative industry today, UX/UI designer.
- Data analyst
Data analysts in design are more focused on researching the users and the market, as well as other data. Their goal is to find improvements on the aesthetic, functionality and layout of products based on this data.
A prototyper is a part of the product team that has the task of producing a tangible product from blueprints and briefs. If they work on prototyping a tangible, physical product, they create hand-crafted mockups and models. If they work on a digital product, they create virtual mockups and wireframes.
- Product designer
The role of a product designer is somewhat a combination of all of the above. They need to know how to research, prototype, reiterate and test products, from a beginning phase to the marketable product.
According to the West Rock 2018 white paper, 81% of people have tried something new because of packaging, and 63% have purchased a product again because the packaging was aesthetically pleasing. So you can see why a packaging designer is incredibly important for any brand that sells a product.
Packaging design focuses on creating an aesthetically pleasing, creative, sometimes even engaging or sell-sustainable wrapping or container for a product. Packaging designers need to understand the brand and its visual identity, but also the audience and what it wants to get out of a product.
Typeface designers create fonts, font families and typefaces. Lettering can have multiple variations, heights and weights. For example, variations include bold, italic, extra bold, condensed, light, extra light, etc.
Typefaces might seem like a simple graphic element, but they are expanding in multiple anatomies and styles. The type designer has an important role when creating a new font because they have to infuse a different character, aesthetic and style in their creation, but also make it legible.
Different fonts are also suitable for different types of text: letterheads, subheadings, body text, logo design fonts, etc.
See more about the creation of the Fabrica Typeface by Studio Faculty in the pictures below.
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Environmental Graphic Design
Environmental design incorporates human creations in natural surroundings without disrupting or changing the environment drastically.
The designer’s role is to address the surrounding environmental parameters in the creation of plans, programs, policies, buildings, or products.
It often collides with architecture, landscaping, interior design, and urban planning.
The big picture of environmental design is to create innovative and sustainable products that use environmental factors as benefits in their functioning, like wind-electricity generators or solar-powered cars, with the end goal of solving ecological and sustainability problems.
Human-centered design or design thinking is a philosophy more than a process of design, focused on empowering the individual to designing products, systems and experiences that address the core need of the person that experiences a problem.
Herbert A. Simon, Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences is considered the father of this discipline. It was later taught in the Stanford University Design School and used in companies like DC Design, which describes it as a science that has the main goal to design effective and impactful solutions to challenges that are concentrated with a small group of people and those that are systemic.
Design for good
If human-centered design focuses on the user, design for good focuses on change and innovation towards social change.
The Professional Association for Design includes four strategic initiatives of design for good:
- Design for Democracy
- Diversity & Inclusion
- Gender Equality
- Design for Communities
Examples of design for good innovations include the Braille alphabet in art exhibitions, wheelchair ramps, adjustable height in furniture, inclusive wayfinding signs, and all kinds of everyday products and services that aren’t accessible and practical for everyone.
Motion Graphic Design
This very recent type of graphic design is gaining popularity and becomes more and more needed. Motion graphic design focuses on creating motion design for websites, television, film and video games. By using animation and visual effects, they bring life to their design and get it in motion, as the name suggests. Animation and motion graphics designers work in advertising, video game production, film studios, software companies, etc.
However, motion graphic design requires much more than sketching, drawing and digital design platforms. You need to understand anatomy, lighting, 3D modeling, animation perspective, procedural animation, texturing, among others.
You can see the whole process behind a simple animation in After Effects Illustrator & Photoshop in this video from freelance motion designer Ben Mariott.
Different graphic design jobs fit different design services, and often they are intertwined. From creating ads and branding for marketing purposes to innovating and reshaping the environment and societies, graphic designing is everywhere around us.
If your graphic design needs are in the realms of marketing, advertising, web design, UX and UI design, check out how our service works. Our all-star team of graphic designers will surely find a way to materialize your design ideas and needs.