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Digital Design and Graphic Design: What’s the Difference?

Digital Design and Graphic Design: What's the Difference?

Graphic design and digital design – are two terms that are often used interchangeably. Yet, many people are unaware of the crucial differences that separate the two. 

These are two vastly creative fields in colossal demand; many businesses are in dire need of hiring a digital or graphic design agency that can help them with brand identity and communication through compelling visuals. Business messages, ideas and tone can be conveyed through engaging and evocative design, but many wonder what the differences between a graphic and digital designer are. This guide seeks to explore and answer that question.

What Does Graphic Design Involve?

What Is Graphic Design

Graphic design involves the fundamental principles of creative design, drawing and artistry. Historically, graphic design has been around for quite some time, with designers initially working in print media publications such as newspapers and magazines, creating striking images and logos to sit alongside their text. 

Graphic design professionals typically focus on using kerning, fonts, spacing, typography and colours, often working to – or creating – bespoke style guides for companies. It's common for designers to work in-house with companies across a broad spectrum of industries or for companies to outsource these services to a brand design agency.

Graphic Design Specialisms

It's important to remember that graphic design isn't solely restricted to print media, which, contrary to popular belief, is still vastly important. Nowadays, graphic design has evolved to encompass web-based applications and broader design types with specific focuses. 

For example, graphic design agencies might work exclusively with clients to create visuals for specific marketing purposes or advertising campaigns, depending on the businesses they work with. You could print these visuals, digitally or both.

On the flip side, some graphic designers can work on branding and brand identity, as well as structuring the components of that identity, such as the values, tone and personality. Other designers can also focus on trying to improve user interaction and interface. 

What Do Graphic Designers Create?

Below is a list of some deliverables you can expect from a graphic designer or design agency.

  • Logos
  • Brochures
  • Business cards
  • Advertorials
  • Letterheads
  • Webpages and elements (e.g. buttons and menus)
  • Static social media graphics and banners
  • Leaflets
  • Posters
  • Branding and brand identity
  • Templated mailshots or newsletters
  • Style guides

What Does Digital Design Involve?

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Digital designers, to their namesake, are more focused on many of the same principles as graphic designers but bring those into the digital sphere. Digital designs involve functionality and movement to some degree and may sometimes include sound effects to coincide with the visuals. 

Digital designs involve additional skill sets, such as programming or coding to create animated web pages, interactive banners or 3D modelling.

Digital Design Specialisms

Digital design is a type of visual communication that instructs a digital medium or interface to perform a specific action. 

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For example, this could be an interactive webpage that, when a button is clicked, triggers a colourful and eye-catching alert that communicates a message, such as information about a product or service. The digital design itself could focus on the following:

  • the design of the webpage;
  • the functionality and colour of the button;
  • the colour, sizing and typography of the alert; and
  • the consistency of the overall user experience.

In essence, digital design combines core graphic design skills with other technology and software. Besides graphic design knowledge, digital designers might require knowledge of coding languages like HTML, CSS or JavaScript, as well as knowing how these responsive web elements work in conjunction with website CMS' like WordPress. This will not be as extensive as providing full-scale web design or CRO services to other businesses, but a digital design expert might need some skills that overlap.

Some digital design specialists also have experience with audio recording, compression and mastering.

What Do Digital Designers Create?

Digital design typically involves creating the following as a guide (but might involve additional deliverables):

  • Animations
  • Digital banner ads
  • Interactive web pages or elements
  • Website or UX wireframes
  • Short videos
  • Screen titles
  • 2D or 3D modelling
  • Audio and sound effects (to some degree)

Critical Differences Between Graphic and Digital Design

Digital Design Vs Graphic Designs

There is a significant overlap between what digital and graphic designers do. The main point of agreement and similarity is that both involve creating visual elements to improve user experience and brand awareness

Whether a company brings a designer in-house or outsources services to an agency, these disciplines will involve creating designs to engage that business' target audience.

The most crucial differences between a digital and graphic design company are as follows:

  • Graphic design is primarily for static images that can be used in a print or digital sphere.
  • Digital design primarily focuses on the interactivity and animation of these purely digital designs. 

However, nowadays, it's common to see companies hiring for – or commissioning – designers with the capability and experience to understand both disciplines to a degree. The design covers various responsibilities, including branding, brand identity, etc.

Both specialisms are in high demand, according to CareerFoundry. Considering how technology-driven the world is today, many companies will want a healthy mixture of static and animated content designed to stand out from their competitors. 

Should You Choose Digital or Graphic Design?

The short answer is – that it depends.

Many graphic design projects nowadays have to be considered for digital distribution. For in, if your business creates a printed quarterly newsletter, you may find better results if you distribute that digitally. As such, graphic design can act as an umbrella term when describing a flexible and agile form of visual communication. 

Some businesses may forgo the idea of using print media entirely to conserve resources and save costs. Instead, these companies might prefer purely digital interaction and communication. However, their strategies might only involve the creation of static imagery and nothing animated. Therefore, this involves hiring a digital designer that only uses graphic design skills. 

However, this is purely hypothetical; every single business will have different needs and objectives than the next and might have to consider both options before deciding.

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Stuart Crawford

Stuart Crawford is an award-winning creative director and brand strategist with over 15 years of experience building memorable and influential brands. As Creative Director at Inkbot Design, a leading branding agency, Stuart oversees all creative projects and ensures each client receives a customised brand strategy and visual identity.

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