So, you’ve been puzzling over the difference between graphic design and web design, huh? You might be thinking, “Aren’t they just…well, design?” And hey, we get it. They’re like two peas in a pod—similar, but not identical twins.
Before you fret, let us clarify—there’s no Design Police out there issuing tickets for getting these mixed up.
Seriously, who has time for that? 😉
But let’s get down to brass tacks. How do graphic design and web design really differ from each other?
Buckle up, because we’re about to dive deep into the nitty-gritty of these two career paths.
We’ll walk you through their typical workflows, favorite tools, and even the occasional road bumps. By the end of this guide, you’ll be able to tell which of these design paths is calling your name.
Ready to roll? 🚀 Let’s go!
Table of contents
- What is web design?
- What is graphic design?
- Graphic design vs. web design: key differences
- Can a web designer be a graphic designer and vice versa?
So, what exactly is web design?
is the art of creating visually stunning websites. You get to plan, ideate, and organize content and design elements.
Think of web design like throwing the most epic digital party. Your job? To make sure your guests (aka users) have a stellar time. You’re the planner, the decorator, and the host all rolled into one.
You’ve got to make sure the website:
- Has a seamless user experience (UX).
- Looks fabulous (and is functional) on desktop and mobile versions.
- Gives users an engaging and immersive experience.
Now, there are two parts to this website shindig — the design and development phases.
If you’re a web designer, you’re the mastermind behind the look and feel of the site. You’ll be sketching out the blueprint of the proposed web design using wireframes, mockups, and prototypes.
Once everyone gives a thumbs up to your design, it’s time to turn your vision into reality. You’ll team up with web developers (the party setup crew) to bring your design to life. Check out this website from Curious & Company for a taste of a web designer’s magic. 🪄
Now, to pull off a smashing web design, you’ll need a cocktail of UX design, coding, and graphic design knowledge.
Speaking of graphic design, let’s delve into what that’s all about. ▶️
What is graphic design?
Graphic design is also an art like web design. But in this case, visuals are static. You blend typography, icons, and colors with photos to convey an idea.
Some examples of graphic design include:
- Printed materials like flyers and posters.
- Social media content.
- Marketing materials (e.g., banners and product packaging).
To produce a design, graphic artists first need to understand the client’s ideas. Then, they produce mockups representing the message.
If the clients approve it, graphic designers can work with printers to finalize the design and get it ready for production.
To help you understand better, think of graphic design as Giuseppe, Pinocchio’s creator, without the wish-granting fairy.
So Pinocchio never becomes a real boy.
Web design, on the other hand, features the wish-granting fairy. Here, the designer’s creation comes to life when the project is done.
But the presence of fairies isn’t the only way web and graphic design differ. Here are other major differences between them.
Graphic design vs. web design: key differences
Going through the definitions of both types of visual design, it’s clear that they both share some similarities.
But at the same time, they happen to be two different fields, and here’s how:
Type of technical skills required
Graphic and web designers use different skill sets when working on a project.
To create bad-ass web designs, web artists need the following design skills:
- User experience (UX): This skill simplifies the way web users interact with the site. Designers create wireframes, templates, and prototypes to help visualize how users will interact with the web pages.
- Visual design: This involves using grid systems to create appealing looks by applying color theory, typography, and proportions.
- HTML and CSS: Knowledge of both HyperText Markup Language and Cascading Style Sheet programming language is needed when designing a website. While HTML helps structure the site’s content, CSS styles and formats and knowledge of CSS let you edit the site’s backgrounds, colors, and typography.
- Software knowledge: Web designers need to be familiar with design tools such as Sketch, Adobe Illustrator, or Figma to create wireframes, mockups, and prototypes.
Skills needed for graphic design, on the other hand, include:
- Design principle: Graphic designers need to know how to deal with white space and hierarchy (controlling visual information in order of importance).
- Typography and fonts: Be able to arrange words in an appealing way and use fonts that can improve the appearance of the design.
- Photo editing: Taking pictures and editing them is another skill required in graphic design.
- Design software: Familiarity with relevant tools like CorelDRAW is also helpful in producing designs.
Software tools used
While graphic designers only need to create mockups and designs, web interface designers need to produce wireframes, mockups, and prototypes before finalizing their designs.
To do that effectively, both professionals have unique software tailored to meet their design requirements.
Here are some tools graphic designers commonly use.
- Adobe Photoshop: A leading design tool, Photoshop is ideal for photo editing and creating graphic designs, logos, and icons. You have access to a wide array of drawing and typography tools for any design project. There are also different layer styles, brushes, and filters for visual effects.
Photoshop’s pricing plan costs $20.99/mo.
- CorelDRAW Graphics Suite: Wanna create vector shapes and curves? You should consider this design software. CorelDRAW can help you create smooth transitions between shapes and edit design photos.
CorelDRAW offers a 15-day free trial version but it costs $36.50/mo.
- Canva: This template-based design software is a great starting point for beginners and non-designers. You have access to several templates you can edit. Canva also has a color palette generator to ensure your colors match the images or visual elements you select.
It’s free for individuals but costs $199.99/ year for the premium version.
- Affinity Designer: With this graphic software, you can create print projects, concept art, logos, icons, mockups, and more. It has a remarkable brush system for creating artistic illustrations.
Affinity Designer has a one-time universal license that costs $169.99.
And for web design? There’s a plethora of apps for this field but here are a few of them.
- Figma: This tool is great for creating UX/UI design systems, mockups, prototypes, and templates. Figma features tools like a modern pen for drawing vectors, a dynamic overlay for creating interactive content, and an auto layout for responsive designs.
Figma has both free and paid versions starting at $12 per editor, per month.
- Penpot: This open-source design software is used for building web and mobile user interfaces. You can create different design variants and hand off design projects to developers with ease.
- AdobeXD: XD doubles as a graphic and web design tool. You can build front-end designs, mockups, prototypes, and design systems for web pages and mobile apps.
AdobeXD’s pricing plan starts at $9.99/mo.
With these tools, web and graphic designers can easily work on design jobs. And when it’s time to share mockups or prototypes with clients or stakeholders, they can use a collaboration tool like MarkUp.io.
Aside from helping them share files, they can also use MarkUp to request and receive client feedback.
Web design is interactive; graphic design is static
The end product of both design fields is another key difference between web and graphic design.
For web design, the final result is a functional web app or mobile app users can interact with.
Visitors can click on an icon and be taken to another page. It’s like the design is having a conversation with the user.
Well, not literally in this case, but you understand.
And if you throw in motion graphics on the site, the experience gets more engaging for the web user.
But that’s not the case with graphic design. Here, the deliverables are static.
It’s like when you walk into a museum full of expensive art. You can admire the artworks but you can’t touch them. If you do, sirens will start blaring and you’ll be on your knees in no time.
With graphic design, you can see and touch, but can’t interact with it. And if it’s a digital design, you probably won’t be able to touch it.
Typography limitations in web design
Even though there’s a lot of flexibility, appeal, and interactivity in web design, there’s a limit to what kind of typography you can use. That’s not the case in graphic design.
If standard type fonts aren’t used when designing a website, the end user might see a font different from what you used. And as you can probably imagine, that anomaly could affect the overall web design.
These limitations are usually imposed by different web browsers.
In graphic design, on the other hand, there are no limitations. What you see and use will be what is displayed, as long as the designer has the fonts installed on their computer.
Web design requires continuous involvement
Ever visited a website and seen an “undergoing maintenance” notification instead?
That’s because a web design project doesn’t truly end when it goes live.
Websites require constant updates and maintenance to stay relevant.
You might need to:
- Add new web pages.
- Include payment gateways if it’s an e-commerce site.
- Rearrange the layout.
- Delete old pages.
But that’s not the case with graphic design.
Once the project is done, that’s it. If you want to make any changes to the original design afterward, you may have to start afresh.
For instance, imagine you’re about to send out printed magazines to customers’ mailboxes when you spot a mistake.
What do you do?
You’d have to create a new design and reprint it again.
Types of professionals they collaborate with
You know how architects design the overall look of buildings but have to work with builders, surveyors, electricians, and other contractors to actually build the property?
Web designers are like that too. They work in collaboration with a web development team consisting of copywriters, content writers, developers, project managers, and more.
How about graphic designers?
Well, depending on the project, they partner with copywriters, content writers, art directors, or marketers.
So, can a graphic designer work on web designs?
You’ll find out in the next section.
Can a web designer be a graphic designer and vice versa?
As mentioned earlier, web designers need to know the fundamentals of graphic design to create appealing designs.
And that includes skills like problem-solving and knowing how to insert images into design.
They also need to be familiar with color theory, composition, and typography.
So yes, a graphic designer can be a web designer and vice versa.
After all, their skills form the foundation of designing a website.
However, what differentiates web designers is their understanding of web design technologies and user-experience design.
If you’re a graphic designer, you just have to adapt your design work for websites.
You need to be familiar with web design trends and principles and be able to adapt designs for multiple formats.
And It’s a wrap!
Hopefully, you now know how both fields differ. No more arguments about how they’re the same design process, right?
Just one more point and you’re good to go.
Level up your design workflow with MarkUp.io
Whether you’re a web or graphic designer, it’s one thing to create eye-catching designs and another to get clients or stakeholders on the same page.
And an inability to do that can result in a delay in the project timeline.
Well, that’s where MarkUp.io comes in. With our collaboration tool, you can:
- Share designs via a live URL or email.
- Request and receive pixel-accurate feedback on the designs.
- @mention team members, stakeholders, or clients to sections on the design.
- Track changes as they’re being made.
Essentially, MarkUp.io can help you streamline the project’s review-and-approval process so you can meet deadlines.
You can see for yourself if you sign up for a free 30-day trial with MarkUp.io.