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Can a graphic designer design a website?

Can a graphic designer design a website?

Brand owners, quite rightly, have a clear idea of how they want their website or app to look but often this idea is forged over many years of designing for print or other ‘non–interactive’ media.

As a result, the difference between graphic design and UX design is something we regularly find ourselves discussing. They are, of course, related fields but UX design is a specialist area and there are some key differences. 

As someone who worked for many years as a graphic designer in the print and marketing industries, I came to UX design with a level of design skill some new entrants perhaps don’t have. But I also had some preconceptions and habits which I had to challenge to progress in my new career. 

Here’s a quick overview of what I learned as a graphic designer entering the world of UX and UI Design.

What print and UX design have in common

There are a few similarities between print design and UX design. Namely, research, ideation, and development towards a final product. 

Research & Ideation

If, for example, a client needs a series of campaign posters, and the designer is given some free reign within the bounds of an established ‘brand’ look and feel – the first step you might take is to read the brief and have a consultation with the client. 

 

UX Research Group Image

Annie Spratt (image owner), research group meeting. Retrieved from Unsplash. 

It’s important to firmly establish the client’s objectives and any parameters to bear in mind before reviewing their brand guidelines and researching previous visual communications. This would involve reviewing the client’s online presence, including social media channels, to see how they communicate visually with their customers.  

This research is not dissimilar to elements of the UX design process, in that UX research needs to be carried out by the designer to assess the current state of the client’s website to see what works in terms of usability (and what doesn’t!). UX Research will also analyse high–performing competitor websites to see what works well (or doesn’t) for them.  

Development

Creating iterations and information architecture are also common to both disciplines. For example, I might sketch out a design for a poster on paper before doing any final work on a computer application like Photoshop or InDesign to save time and get to the best solution more efficiently. 

Sketching interaction screens for desktop or mobile is not a big jump from this method. However, there is even more analysis and thought put into these – and user research and data analysis needs to underpin the design of interactive screens. In short, they are not just for aesthetic purposes but they determine how the screens will function to make them as easy and efficient as possible for the user.  

Iterative UX Design starts on paper

 Kelly Sikkema (image owner). Editorial Business Work. Retrieved from Unsplash. 

The differences between UX and print design

Although there are similarities in the creation of design for print and UX, there are also differences.

Aesthetic vs data–driven design

Some print designs can sometimes be purely ‘subjective’ in the aesthetic sense (what one person may enjoy looking at may not be another person’s cup of tea), UX is more ‘objective’ in that it focuses on how a product functions, looks and feels to use. 

UX design is based on thorough research of the potential users of that product, in terms of usability tests, benchmarking of similar products, surveys, and data analysis amongst other research techniques. 

Graphic designers have a good appreciation of aesthetic design

Mika Baumeister (image owner). Typography choices. Retrieved from Unsplash. 

Passive consumption vs. interactivity

It is also different in that there are user interactions with the interface as opposed to purely observational consumption of content – be it advertisements or print media for example. UX Design comes with a host of knowledge and best practice examples about the psychology behind high achieving digital products. It’s not just about whether your ‘add to basket’ button is green or red but the wording on that button, its position relative to the product imagery, what happens when you click that button and how it makes you feel.  

UX Design is about more than icon choice

Harpal Singh (image owner), UX Design icons. Retrieved from Unsplash

So, can my graphic designer design my website?

A graphic designer will have lots of transferable skills such as the ability to research comparative products in terms of look and feel, an understanding of information hierarchy and the ability to communicate visually to an end–user. 

Graphic designers also use many of the same design software tools which UX designers use to visualise research data in graphs, customer journey maps, affinity diagrams to make complex data easily digestible to colleagues, clients and key stakeholders.  

And essentially, a graphic designer will be able to distinguish good aesthetics and accessible design from poorly designed or illegible websites.

However, an experienced UX Designer will have all of these skills plus a genuine understanding of data–based design. A UX Designer’s review of your current site or your competitor sites won’t just be based on the look and feel but on a deeper level of understanding of how users interact with what they see on screen. 

Their experience in user research and testing means they will create a website, app or digital product that is more likely to achieve your true objectives from the offset. 

A good UX designer will understand the signals that something is not working more clearly, have access to a toolkit to back up their analysis with clear data and understand how to create a roadmap to resolve your site’s issues and iteratively improve performance over the long term. 

In my experience on both sides of this particular dynamic, working with a UX Designer is more efficient in terms of time, cost and stress. With a UX Designer, there is clear, objective data and a level of experience in interactive product backing up the design rather than one person’s view on what ‘looks good.’ 

When the creation of a new website, its launch initial marketing is such an expensive and time–consuming journey, wouldn’t you want to work with someone who knows the route rather than just an idea of the destination? 

Cover image: UX Indonesia (image owner). Card sorting. Retrieved from Unsplash.

By Kevin Mulvany

Kevin has worked as an Associate UX Designer with Fathom since March 2021.

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