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Visual Designer vs. Graphic Designer: What's the Difference?

Explore the difference between a visual designer and a graphic designer: Discover the key skills that set graphic designers and visual designers apart.

9 min read

November 01, 2022

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Visual Designer vs Graphic Designer

Although visual designers and graphic designers share some of the same skills, each role comes with a unique set of responsibilities. One of the main differences is that visual designers focus on digital design, while graphic designers work on both print and digital projects.

To make it easier to compare visual designer vs. graphic designer roles, we put together this guide to each career path. You'll learn about the differences between the two jobs, find out how to qualify for entry-level positions, and discover what job titles might be available to you once you have several years of experience.

Visual designers specialize in digital experiences while graphic designers work across both print and digital projects.

What Is Visual Design?

The goal of visual design is to influence the way a visitor engages with a digital platform. It goes beyond traditional graphic design by incorporating elements of user experience (UX) design and user interface (UI) design.

What Is Graphic Design?

Graphic design uses shapes, lines, colors, and other visual elements to communicate specific messages to audience members. Although graphic design is an important component of web design and web development, graphic designers also work on many types of print projects:

  • Magazine layouts
  • Book covers
  • Posters
  • Business cards
  • Brochures
  • Signs
  • Billboards
  • Advertisements

Graphic Design vs. Visual Design

One of the key differences between graphic design and visual design is that graphic design focuses on visual communication, while visual design focuses on the overall user experience. Rather than communicating a specific message to users, visual design professionals focus on how users interact with websites and mobile apps.

Neither type of design requires coding knowledge, but graphic designers and visual designers must be familiar with the principles of digital marketing and branding. Visual designers also need to know how to use wireframes, create prototypes, and follow the basic principles of product design.

Graphic designers focus on visual communication while visual designers focus on the overall user experience.

Visual Designer Job Description

The duties and minimum requirements for visual design jobs depend on several factors, including the industry and the employer's needs. If you're interested in visual design, be prepared to meet the following criteria.

Visual Designer Roles & Responsibilities

In general, you can expect to find the following duties in a visual designer job description.

  • Apply the principles of user interface design to video games, e-commerce websites, mobile apps, and other digital media.
  • Develop visual concepts to enhance the user experience and meet the company's goals.
  • Create mockups of design projects, and present them to members of other departments.
  • Collaborate with coders and marketing professionals to launch successful digital projects.
  • Use prototyping, wireframing, and other techniques to help other team members understand how new concepts are intended to work.
  • Define basic requirements for new user interfaces.
  • Improve the user experience by choosing the right combination of design elements for each product.
  • Use HTML, CSS, and other languages to create websites and apps.
  • Ensure that completed projects have the required functionality.

Skills & Qualifications

As a visual designer, you must be able to collaborate effectively with your team members, as well as with marketing and sales professionals, computer programmers, and members of the IT department. You also need to have excellent communication skills to ensure that people understand your design concepts. Depending on your job duties, you may need to have advanced public speaking and presentation skills.

Visual design jobs also require skills in the following:

  • Typography
  • Creating visual layouts
  • Motion design
  • Animation
  • Adobe Creative Suite (Photoshop, InDesign, and Illustrator)
  • Adobe XD, Figma, and other design software

Educational Requirements

You may need an associate's degree or bachelor's degree to obtain a job as a visual designer. An employer may desire a degree in graphic design, visual communication, fine art, or related field.

It may be possible to enter the visual design field with a non-design degree if you have the required skills and experience. For example, if you have a computer science degree and some experience in design, an employer may be willing to hire you for your coding knowledge.

Visual Designer Salary

As of 2022, the average salary for a visual designer is $69,005 per year. You may earn more or less, depending on where you live, how much experience you have, and the scale of your company.

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Graphic Designer Job Description

A graphic designer or graphic artist uses their skills to communicate a specific message to members of the target audience.

Although graphic designers and visual designers share similar skill sets, a graphic designer must understand how to use fonts, colors, shapes, lines, and other design elements to communicate. In contrast, visual designers focus more on creating a positive user experience. Graphic designers also do a combination of print design and digital design, while visual designers focus on digital design only.

Graphic Designer Roles & Responsibilities

If you're hired as a graphic designer, some of your duties will depend on what type of company hires you. For example, if you're hired by a publishing company, you may be responsible for creating book illustrations or designing book covers. If you work for an advertising company, your projects may include posters, signs, and billboards.

In general, you can expect to find the following duties in a graphic designer job description.

  • Determine whether to use print media or digital media to communicate specific messages.
  • Edit images with Adobe Photoshop.
  • Create layouts for annual reports, brochures, magazines, newsletters, and other projects.
  • Arrange typefaces, colors, shapes, and other design elements in visually appealing combinations.
  • Collaborate with members of the marketing team to determine the best way to communicate with members of the target market.
  • Create social media graphics.
  • Explain the design process to other team members.
  • Operate typesetting or printing equipment as needed.
  • Coordinate project completion with outside agencies.

Skills & Qualifications

To build a successful graphic design career, you need to have some basic knowledge, skills, and abilities. First and foremost, you'll need to know how to use your design skills to communicate specific messages to other people. Depending on where you work, you may need to communicate about new products, discount offers, business launches, or other commercial topics. If you work for a nonprofit, your work may be used to raise funds or attract high-quality job applicants.

You should also have the following knowledge, skills, and abilities:

  • Skill in using Adobe Photoshop to edit images
  • Skill in using design software to assemble layouts and perform other design tasks
  • Ability to collaborate with other designers and take constructive criticism from art directors, marketing professionals, and other colleagues
  • Skill in using common design tools to create mockups and finished designs

If you're interested in web design or product design, it's also helpful to have knowledge of UX and UI design principles, skill in using software to create product prototypes, and the ability to update site code created with HTML, CSS, and other languages.

Educational Requirements

One thing the two job titles have in common is that you generally need a bachelor's degree, but it's possible to obtain an entry-level graphic design job if you have the right combination of design skills and experience. If you pursue a degree, majoring in graphic design, visual communications, fine art, or a related field can give you an edge over other applicants.

Average Salary

In the United States, graphic designers have an average salary of $59,970 per year.

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Job Opportunities for Visual Designers

Visual design is a career path with plenty of room for growth. Once you have a few years of experience, consider pursuing one of the following jobs.

UX Designer

UX designers focus on creating positive user experiences. That means they use their skills to ensure that products are visually appealing, easy to use, and packed with helpful features. Because UX designers make products more appealing, companies rely on them to increase innovation and make more sales.

UI Designer

UI designers are responsible for creating digital user interfaces. The term UI refers to all the screens you see on a website or mobile app, along with the elements on each screen. In addition to designing UI elements, a UI designer makes sure each interface is accessible to users with visual impairments.

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Web Designer

If you have advanced coding skills, you may be able to use your design skills to become a web designer. Web designers create site concepts and use their design and coding skills to make them come to life. This may involve uploading videos, editing images, creating custom graphics, and making sure each page follows a specific structure. Web designers must also collaborate with graphic designers, copywriters, and marketing specialists to ensure that each website achieves its stated goals.

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Job Opportunities for Graphic Designers

After gaining experience in entry-level graphic design jobs, a graphic designer may qualify for the following roles.

Art Director

An art director takes charge of all the artists and designers on a team, providing much-needed leadership. Depending on the employer's needs, an art director may be responsible for sharing a creative vision with the design team, determining how long it will take to complete each project, setting the budget for design work, and approving the designs and copy that will be used in advertisements and other materials.

How to Become an Art Director

Creative Director

A creative director oversees a firm's marketing and promotional efforts. This job involves coming up with creative concepts, managing graphic designers and illustrators, collaborating with marketing specialists to determine the best way to approach each promotional campaign, and developing strategies to make each marketing campaign more successful.

Production Artist

Production artists are responsible for turning a designer's work into a finished product. For example, if a graphic designer creates a label for a bottle of lotion, the production artist ensures the finished artwork is formatted correctly, collects the design files, and ensures that every file meets the printer's standards. By performing these duties, a production artist has a direct impact on the quality of the final result.

Animator

Animators create animations and other special effects for websites, movies, television shows, and video games. Depending on where you work and what type of experience you have, you may draw images by hand or generate them with computer software. Once the images are ready, an animator uses 3D models, animation software, and other tools to add movement to each piece of artwork.

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