What is Visual Design? Graphic Design, UI Design, Web Design — What’s the Difference?

Graphic Design, UI Design, Visual Design, and Web Design—read this guide to learn what makes each field distinct.

If you’re interested in working in tech as a designer, you’ve likely noticed something: tons of different terms appear on job listings, such as UX, UI, graphic design, web design, and more. What might not be so obvious is how to pick the right specialization for you — especially if you’re not quite sure what the difference is between all of these niches within the field of design.

Graphic design, for example, is one you’re likely more familiar with, since it’s been around a while — since before design went digital! But what about the term “visual design”? What, exactly, does a visual designer do, and how is it different from web design? Well…web design is actually a subset within visual design. So all web designers are visual designers!

Still confused? I don’t blame you.

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at some of the most common niches within the world of design: graphic design, UI design, web design, and visual design.

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What Does a Graphic Designer Do?

Traditionally, graphic designers work more directly with print design and deliverables (things like posters, brochures, invitations, and business cards). That said — as printed media continues to transition into the digital realm — the graphic design field has had to adapt, which means today’s graphic designers are often qualified to create digital assets (logos, icons, etc.) for websites and applications.

The line between graphic designer and web designer has blurred in recent years, so that graphic design often serves as an umbrella term for other design roles. Think of it like this: web designers know and use graphic design, but graphic designers may not always be web designers.

Graphic designers have a deep understanding of the fundamentals of design. This includes things like color theory and typography. They also need to know how to build brand assets (like logos) and make sure those assets are consistent across all designs for a brand.

Graphic designers do most of their work in software programs like Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign (three Adobe products you’ll learn to use in the Skillcrush Visual Designer Course). Mac users may also use the Mac-only program Sketch as a design software alternative to Photoshop. Figma is another popular tool used for graphic design, since it’s especially convenient for teams to share in-progress work.

Do graphic designers code?

One skill graphic designers don’t necessarily need is coding. The coding work for digital projects typically gets assigned to a front end web developer. That said, as the fields of graphic design and web development increasingly intersect, it doesn’t hurt for graphic designers (and especially web designers — more on that in second) to add HTML & CSS to their skillset.

If you have experience with print graphic design but feel intimidated by the prospect of transitioning to digital design work, don’t be! Yes, you’ll have to familiarize yourself with some new tools and terminology, but core design skills remain the same, regardless of the medium. If you’re looking for help in making this transition, our Visual Designer Course (mentioned above) is a perfect way to ease yourself into the new skills you’ll need. If you’re looking go all-in, our comprehensive Break Into Tech program, with a fast-track for designers looking to start working in tech ASAP, could be a great fit for you.

How much money do graphic designers make?

💰 Average base pay for a graphic designer: $47,200 per year
(Based on Indeed search at time of publishing)

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What does a UI designer do?

User interface (UI) designers are design professionals responsible for the “look and feel” of websites, apps, or other digital products. They perform design tasks like selecting colors, pairing typefaces, and setting web page or app menu layouts. This is all in service of creating a design experience that is both aesthetically pleasing and easily navigable for users.

UI designers work exclusively on digital projects (rather than primarily in print like a graphic designer). Because of their digital focus, they need to have a very deep understanding of user experience (an understanding you can pick up through Skillcrush’s User Experience Course) and web design skills (covered in our Break Into Tech program).

Since UI designers design website and web app layouts, it’s important to include strong wireframing skills in a UI design toolkit. Like graphic designers, UI designers need a strong grasp of general design fundamentals like color theory and typography.

Also like graphic designers, UI designers spend a lot of time working with Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign.

Do UI designers code?

Yes, UI designers need to have fundamental coding skills. UI designers should be proficient with HTML and CSS so they can understand how their designs will work on actual websites and apps. For that same reason, it also helps to have a basic understanding of JavaScript (or better yet—be comfortable writing JavaScript code).

If you’re interested in learning more about how to break into UI Design work, our User Experience Course is a great place to start. And if you want to complement UX skills with coding basics, our Front End Developer Course is a great option. Or try our comprehensive Break Into Tech program can teach you everything you need to start a career as a designer or developer.

How much money do UI designers make?

💰 Average salary for a UI designer: $85,715 per year
(Based on Indeed search at time of publishing.)

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What does a visual designer (and/or web designer) do?

First Up, The Difference Between a Web Designer and a Visual Designer

Visual designers are the problem solvers of the design world. Rather than just bringing brands to life, they play a key role in defining what goes into a brand’s unique style and voice. In addition to creating beautiful designs, they know how to explain design concepts and the decisions behind their work. A lot of their work overlaps with graphic design and UI design, but they go beyond working on individual designs and are responsible for the whole visual brand of a company.

“Visual design” is a newer term in the world of design, and when it appears in a job title, it usually implies the role entails everything from making individual designs to owning the visual brand in a more comprehensive way.

Visual designers rarely work on print products, but they do need a strong understanding of graphic design, identity design, and branding. They need to have exceptional visual messaging and communications skills, too.

Web designers are a subset of visual designers, focused exclusively on website design work. Web designers work primarily with web layouts and deliverables, including things like icons, infographics, logos, and presentations. They also have to be familiar with industry-standard software (hello again, Adobe and Sketch), plus they need wireframing skills like a UI designer does.

Do visual designers code?

Visual designers do a ton of different things in their day-to-day work. It’s a bit of a hybrid between graphic designer and UI designer, but with an extra layer of skills thrown into the mix. Visual designers have to understand user experience, user interface, and web design. At the same time — while they don’t have to know how to code — knowing the fundamentals of coding (like HTML, CSS, and a little JavaScript) would likely help you get hired and be a huge benefit while on the job.

Do web designers code?

While web designers don’t necessarily have to code, they need to be aware of how front end developers work, and the languages they use. While a web designer might not be coding on a daily basis, they at least need to know how to communicate with those who do, and how to create designs that take into account what’s possible via coding. In other words, they have to at least understand what it means to translate their designs into code, even if it’s not their main skillset.

If you’re ready to get serious about visual design, our Visual Designer Course will walk you through everything from wireframing basics and fundamental tools like Photoshop and Illustrator, to branding strategies and intermediate UX/UI skills. Or check out our comprehensive Break Into Tech program, with a fast-track for designers looking to start working in tech ASAP.

How much money do visual designers make?

💰 Average salary for a visual designer: $70,491 per year
(Based on Indeed search at time of posting.)

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So which one is right for you?

Traditional graphic design jobs, while still out there, are dwindling. The fact of the matter is, if you don’t have web skills in 2021 (and beyond), it will be increasingly difficult for you to find high-paying work. Practically every brand out there now has a web presence, and many have a stronger presence online than they do in print. To that end, knowing how to design for the web gives you a much stronger position in the job market.

If you’re interested in coding (and the more technical end of design), UI design can be a great option. Some UI designers code on a regular basis as part of their job (though not all of them do).

Meanwhile, web design is great for those who want a more well-rounded design career (with little or no coding required). However, even if you do zero coding as a web designer, you’ll still be qualified to immerse yourself fully in digital design, working on websites and web apps.

If you’re still not sure, getting a strong understanding of visual design will help you succeed in whichever niche you end up, even if you specialize later on down the line.

Additional Skillcrush staffers contributed to this post. This post has been modified since it’s initial publication.

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Scott Morris

Scott Morris is Skillcrush's staff writer and content producer. Like all the members of Skillcrush's team, he works remotely (in his case from Napa, CA). He believes that content that's worth reading (and that your audience can find!) creates brands that people follow. He's experienced writing on topics including jobs and technology, digital marketing, career pivots, gender equity, parenting, and popular culture. Before starting his career as a writer and content marketer, he spent 10 years as a full-time parent to his daughters Veronica and Athena.