The Graphic Designer’s Guide to Web Design – Differences & Similarities

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For seasoned graphic designers, web designers and online marketers, you’ve worked closely enough on website projects to understand the responsibilities that fall on graphic designers and web designers both similarly and separately. For those that are looking to get into the graphic design profession or have yet to work with both a graphic and web designer on a project, it’s important to understand where these experts can and can’t overlap and how you can benefit from leaning towards a graphic designer or web designer.

As graphic design work becomes more and more digital, the likelihood of graphic design overlapping with web design continues to increase. This means that graphic designers need to work hard to understand how to collaborate with a web designers for seamless project completions without overstepping. If you know how to communicate and respect web designers as well as understand the typical workflow and timeline of web development work, you give yourself the best chance of a successful collaboration.

Respecting the importance of web design work and how it enhances graphic designs, allows for web designers to respect your goals and input as a graphic designer. Both web designers and graphic designers feel as though they are opposing forces. The reality is that both are necessary to create a successful user experience. Every gap that exists for web designers and graphic designers when creating a website can be filled by working together.

Animation vs. solid graphic design

As a graphic designer, the majority of your experience relies on solid graphic work (images, banners, buttons, etc.). Web designers are comfortable enough implementing the necessary coding to manipulate graphics and images to create animations. Certain graphic designers may have taken the time to self-develop their own skills in order to learn the necessary elements of coding in order to generate animations, but for the most part, animated graphics are going to fall under the responsibility of a web designer while it is best to lean on the strengths of a graphic designer to create solid web graphics.

Visual vs. usability

This is where graphic designers and web designers collide most frequently. The simple understanding that graphic design and web design are complementary professions, rather than conflicting roles will alleviate this tension. The purpose of web design work is to create a highly functional and user friendly website. The purpose of graphic design work is to convey a message.

Be patient with your web designer to understand that though you have the ability to create captivating graphics, web designers are limited in their abilities to generate the necessary canvas to support your efforts. Between coding restrictions and functional and SEO best practices, it’s not always practical to focus too heavily on graphic work.

Unrestrained creativity vs. restricted by technical best practices

The knowledge that graphic design work is extremely creative, flowing and unrestrained, while web design is very technical and limited to coding rules and particular best practices, accounts for much of the tension generated between the two professions. It can be frustrating working under such different circumstances for both parties. This is especially the case when each side knows how important their work is to creating an engaging website.

It’s best to go into a web design project with patience and understanding. For graphic designers, it’s important to voice your opinion and push for a website that is visual captivating and engaging for its users. However, you have to understand that users will not continue to use the most beautiful and exciting website in the world if pages don’t load instantly and information is not easily findable.

Search engine optimization and graphic design

graphic design seo

Perhaps the most detrimental aspect of beautiful graphic design work is the weight that it places on the backend of websites. This unfortunately slows down site speed and the user’s overall ability to interact with the site. Slow load speed is a major knock for SEO, especially for mobile search.

Other design choices may not be the best decision for search engine optimization. Just as you would factor design best practices into the initial build of a website, it’s equally important to factor in SEO best practices into the infrastructure of a new website. If a site isn’t able to be found in search engines, all of your design work won’t have the same impact. Keep this in mind when a web designer or SEO specialist makes suggestions to page layout, menu items and overall content flow.

Conveying a message

graphic design messaging

For a developer, conveying a message will often come down to giving users a quick and highly functional site experience. For graphic designers, conveying a message is a more visual experience. In the end, the messages that are sent to various site visitors will be the same from page to page. This is, again, where graphic and web designers need to collaborate productively to give users the best possible online experience.

Page layout

As a graphic designer, it’s likely best to lean on the guidance of a graphic designer when putting together a page layout. If you’re comfortable with web design and have a good understanding of UX, heat mapping and SEO (many graphic designers do have these strengths), then you may move forward with page design with little to no input from a developer.

This is often an instance where unique and interesting page designs and layouts can excite users initially, but once information becomes hard to find, bounce rates tend to increase and the overall purpose of the page falls short.

Working within the confines of web design best practices and the client’s wishes to generate bold and inspiring designs is the best way to compliment page layout as a graphic designer.

Don’t get frustrated or feel left out in web design projects. The truth is, for the end user experience, your input is equally as important for website builds. Understanding your own strengths and how they can enhance the overall usability and aesthetic appeal of a website will make for seamless collaborations on web design projects and make you a great hire for marketing and design agencies.

Knowing where you can lean on graphic designers and web designers both separately and in tandem, will make for more efficient website builds. Utilize the information from this article to enhance your employee/freelancer satisfaction and generate seamless and success web design projects that your clients will love.

Kayla Naab
Kayla is deeply familiar with web design principles, UX, editorial layout, marketing collateral and photography. She is also passionate about all facets of web design, visual branding, and the entire digital experience.

2 thoughts on “The Graphic Designer’s Guide to Web Design – Differences & Similarities”

  1. You are right both have different point of views as their field requirement, but there must be SEO element because it provides with facts and figures on what works and what not as it is not always about outlook or the functionality of the website. For instance, if you have page loading time more than 3 seconds, then 70% of the visitors would quit. On the other hand, if your CTA’s are not placed properly where the heatmap is then again your conversions would be quite low despite having good website traffic.


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