Graphic design uses visual compositions to solve problems and communicate ideas through typography, imagery, colour and form. There’s no one way to do that, and that’s why there are several types of graphic design, each with its area of specialization.
Though they often overlap, each type of graphic design requires a specific set of skills and design techniques. Many designers specialize in a single kind; others focus on a set of related, similar styles. But because the industry is constantly changing, designers must be adaptable and lifelong learners to change or add specializations throughout their careers.
Whether you are an aspiring designer or seeking design services for your business, understanding the eight types of graphic design will help you find the right skills for the job.
A brand is a relationship between a business or organization and its audience. A brand identity is how the organization communicates its personality, tone and essence, and memories, emotions and experiences. Visual identity graphic design is precisely that: the visual elements of brand identity that act as the face of a brand to communicate those intangible qualities through images, shapes and colour.
Designers specializing in visual identity graphic design collaborate with brand stakeholders to create assets like logos, typography, colour palettes and image libraries that represent a brand’s personality. In addition to the standard business cards and corporate stationery, designers often develop visual brand guidelines that describe best practices and provide examples of visual branding applied across various media. These guidelines help to ensure brand consistency throughout future applications.
Visual identity design is one of the most common types of design. Visual identity graphic designers must possess a general knowledge of all types of graphic design to create design elements that are suitable across all visual media. They also need excellent communication, conceptual and creative skills, and a passion for researching industries, organizations, trends and competitors.
Companies depend on successful marketing efforts to tap into their target audience’s decision-making process. Great marketing engages people based on their wants, needs, awareness, and satisfaction about a product, service, or brand. Since people will always find visual content more engaging, graphic design helps organizations promote and communicate more effectively.
Marketing designers work with company owners, directors, managers or marketing professionals to create assets for marketing strategies. They might work alone or as part of an in-house or creative team. Designers can specialize in a specific type of media (vehicle wraps or magazine ads, for example) or create a broad assortment of collateral for print, digital, and beyond. While traditionally print-centred, this type of design has grown to include more digital assets, especially content marketing and digital advertising.
A user interface (UI) is how a user interacts with a device or application. UI design is the process of designing interfaces to make them easy to use and provide a user-friendly experience.
A UI includes all of the things a user interacts with—the screen, keyboard and mouse—but in the context of graphic design, UI design focuses on the user’s visual experience and the design of on-screen graphic elements like buttons, menus, micro-interactions, and more. It’s a UI designer’s job to balance aesthetic appeal with technical functionality.
UI designers specialize in desktop apps, mobile apps, web apps and games. They work closely with UX (user experience) designers (who determine how the app works) and UI developers (who write code to make it work).
Publications are long-form pieces that communicate with an audience through public distribution. They have traditionally been a print medium. Publication design is a classic type of design—think books, newspapers, magazines and catalogues. However, there’s recently been a significant rise in digital publishing.
Graphic designers specializing in publications work with editors and publishers to create layouts with carefully selected typography and accompanying artwork, including photography, graphics, and illustrations. Publication designers may work as freelancers, creative agency members or in-house as part of a publishing company.
Publication designers must possess excellent communication, layout and organizational skills. In addition to graphic design expertise, they need to understand colour management, printing and digital publishing.
Most products require some form of packaging to protect and prepare them for storage, distribution, and sale. But packaging design can also communicate directly to consumers, making it a unique marketing tool. Every box, bottle and bag, every can, container, or canister is a chance to tell a brand’s story.
Packaging designers create concepts, develop mockups and create print-ready files for a product. This requires expert knowledge of print processes and a keen understanding of industrial design and manufacturing. Because packaging design touches so many disciplines, it’s not uncommon for designers to find themselves creating other assets for a product such as photography, illustrations and visual identity.
Simply put, motion graphics are graphics that are in motion. This can include animation, audio, typography, imagery, video and other effects that are used in online media, television and film. The medium’s popularity has skyrocketed as technology improved and video content became king.
“Motion graphics designer” is a somewhat new specialty for designers. Formally reserved for TV and film, technological advances have reduced production time and costs, making the art form more accessible and affordable. Now, motion graphics is one of the newest types of design and can be found across all digital platforms, creating new areas and opportunities.
Environmental graphic design visually connects people to places to improve their overall experience by making spaces more memorable, fascinating, informative or easier to navigate.
It is a multidisciplinary practice that merges visual, architectural, interior, landscape and industrial design. Designers collaborate with people in these fields to plan and implement their designs. Because of that, designers typically have education and experience in both graphic design and architecture. They must be familiar with industrial design concepts and able to read and sketch architectural plans.
Wayfinding is a specific type of environmental graphic design that consists of strategic signage, landmarks and visual cues that help people identify where they are and where they need to go so they can get there without confusion.
Graphic art and illustration are often seen as the same. However, they’re very different from each other. Designers create compositions to communicate and solve problems, graphic artists and illustrators create original artwork. Their art takes many forms, from fine art to decoration to storytelling illustrations.
Even though graphic art and illustration are not technically types of graphic design, so much is created for commercial use within the context of graphic design that you can’t talk about one without the others.
Graphic artists use any combination of media and techniques to create their work as they collaborate with writers, editors, managers, marketers and art directors across all graphic design types. They’ll often have a foundation in fine arts, animation or architecture. Overlapping skills and apps make it possible to find graphic designers who also work as graphic artists and illustrators (and vice versa).
Graphic Design is an ever-growing field, and the demand for specialized and skilled designers is on the rise. When you’re looking for the right person to take on a design job, knowing the different types of graphic design will help you identify the specialist you need.
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