Web Design vs Graphic Design

Someone who is hiring a graphic designer can get lost with the terms web design and graphic design. There is so much overlap it can get most people confused from the start. In this article we are going to define some terms to help you better understand what one type of person is over another.

What is Web design vs Graphic Design? Graphic design refers to someone who has a background in Graphic Design. They often have degrees in the arts and have specialized in print media. Someone who has specialized in Web Design often has a focus on creating designs for web-based applications. Certain people will specialize in both fields and some will specialize in one. Since design varies so much between both it’s good to ask if the person has a working knowledge.

Let’s look at what separates graphic designer from web designers and what is the biggest differences. We will also discuss why you need one or the other for certain job types.

Why graphic design isn’t web design

A long time ago when graphic design was just beginning designers focused solely on print media. Graphic design is a term that refers to communication through illustration, typography and photography. They coined the term graphic design in the year 1922 but the origins trace back much further.

People have been using print media to communicate for a long time and that lead to the rise of graphic design in the industrial revolution. The world needed people who could manipulate type and graphics to make things like ads, banners and other things.

The problem is people use graphic design as a catchall to describe everything that includes design. In recent years this has become further and further from the truth. Back in the day when design was still young these sub groups of designers where all graphic designers.

Now in the modern age we have very defined subsets of designers which include things like UI/UX (user interface, users experience) designers, logo designers, web designers, web developers, E-book Designers and the list continues to grow.

You can use the term graphic design to define these people but in reality they are so different that it’s like calling an electrician and a plumber the same thing. These fields have become so well developed that these terms mean different things.

Someone just thinking about hiring someone in this field may be confused but we will break it down below. Knowing these things can help you by not mistaking a certain type of person for another.

So what is a graphic designer?

A true graphic designer is someone who has mastery over print media and the printing process. This also may include skill with web design as designer often study broad topics in school to find their niche.

The old way was to focus on all aspects of design to make yourself more appealing to companies who wanted to hire one person to do several jobs.

The new way of design has changed often favoring people who specialize in a certain design over another. For instance, someone who does real estate wants their designer to have knowledge of real estate designs. What size are street signs, what type of files do you need, they can use what colors, and how does it look?

These are examples of someone who could specialize in a certain design field. With a growth of freelancers this specialization is only getting bigger and bigger.

People who hire people no longer want someone who does it all, these people while still useful aren’t specialized enough for certain business people.

This resulted in the niching down of graphic design which changed the face of graphic design for ever.

Why Web Design differs from Graphic Design

With the birth of the internet, it changed the way people do business and how they consume information. Graphic designers who once specialized in print media saw a demand for people who wanted websites, banner ads, web graphics and even things like programming. 

This birthed a different designer who wasn’t focused on print but devices. Now with iPad, Amazon Kindle and every other electronic device these designers have also had to adapt.

Someone years ago would never be a Kindle E-book designer but with Amazon becoming as big as it is people can now specialize in this field and make a living. The number of people doing this niching has only grown with the web.

Ten years ago there was not nearly as many people focusing on the types of designs they focus on now.

Because the web has changed things, it has also shifted designers and made them change with it.

A web designer largely deals with designing websites or graphics that people will view on a screen or device. This design requires a different design than what is involved with print media.

So how do I figure out who is a web designer and who is a graphic designer?

Asking the person can be helpful but there is one sure-fire way. But ask to see their portfolio is a better way.

A portfolio will pave the way for determining. Does the person have one type of design more than others? Does the person have more logos, business cards, letterhead designs then they are a graphic designer more than web. Does the person have more websites, web graphics etc, then they are more of a web designer. 

If they have a little of both, then they are a jack of all trades and likely not master of any.

Keep this in mind when you start wanting to hire one type of designer over another. The portfolio is always the easiest way to determine a person’s skill.

Bonus: So what is a web developer?

A web developer is a term that often gets confused with a web designer but once again they are not the same thing. A designer focuses on making things look great through the use of design.

A developer is someone who uses programming to build things like web applications that run on the internet. Sometimes they build plugins and themes. Just like above, it’s not uncommon for someone to have skill in both web design and web development but just like above the more you know the less specialized you are.

Someone who is just a web developer can most likely build an app without an issue. Where someone who just just a designer will know how to build a website but not an application.

These small details matter because sometimes you will find yourself needing one type of person over the other.

Related Questions

How do I know what type of project needs what type of person? Do you need someone to build an application? Look for a developer. Need someone to design a website? Hire a web designer. Need someone to do a business card or logo? Hire a graphic designer. 

Do prices vary with the difference in the type of field? Yes, they are widely priced differently based upon things like market going rate as well as how popular that service maybe. Developers are highly priced where graphic designers can be found more cheaply. In general you get what you pay for so be careful.

Can you have a subset of web designer? Sure. Just like there are logo designers, sign designers there are a number of people who specialize in certain technologies such as WordPress, Wix, Squarespace or maybe a programming language such as PHP, Javascript, etc. Asking about these technologies can help you understand what you need. Always remember that there is no right way to do something, there are many.

I hope this article has helped you understand the difference better a web designer and graphic designer. I know it’s a bit confusing, I’ve been doing web design for over ten years and I have had a history with graphic design. The more you understand these terms the better equipped you will be to hire someone with this type of skill.

Our website focuses on web design and WordPress which is a nich of design that’s different than graphic and logos. While we may talk about those things, we help people with web design and new technologies that involve websites.

Patrick McCoy
Patrick McCoy

Patrick is a web designer with over 20 years experience in websites and design. He spends most of his days writing content and enjoys tinkering with anything web or design related. When he isn't work he is often watching a good movie.

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