Oct 26, 2020

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3 min read

The Differences Between Graphic Design and UI Design

There are certainly some common threads between graphic design and UI design. Fundamentally, both strive towards and are driven

There are certainly some common threads between graphic design and UI design. Fundamentally, both strive towards and are driven by, an aesthetic ideal on the one hand and a business objective on the other. But even this base-level similarity, is characterized by varying degrees of emphasis on factors such as ‘form vs function', ‘flair vs structure’, ‘beauty vs purpose’ and ‘(wild) imagination vs (directed) vision’.

Brief introduction Graphic design

It is really the bedrock of all design disciplines. The focus is purely on imagination, aesthetics and flair. Graphic designers work with colours, visuals, forms, patterns, and typography, to create the right ambience,  feel and flavour.

It is a generalized discipline and therefore enjoys a broad canvas. Its principles can be applied across all other design disciplines and across every conceivable medium – print, out-of-home, audio-visual, garments, devices, automobiles, interior and exterior spaces.

 UI design

Highly specialized design discipline and its canvas are confined to connected digital platforms. It draws on some of the fundamentals of graphic design but focuses on creating user-friendly, instinct-driven, interactive digital interfaces that make for seamless user experience.

There is a far greater emphasis on strategic vision rather than impulsive creativity. It is characterized by elements like customer journey mapping and deep engagement interventions, that make UI design a far more cerebral undertaking than graphic design.

Sheer aesthetics, while desirable, are subservient to functionality and ease-of-use and navigability.

A recap of the key differences
  • Graphic design is more generalized and enjoys a broader canvas, while UI design is highly specialized and dedicated to online platforms.
  • Graphic design is largely static and presentative, while UI design is more dynamic and participative.
  • Graphic designersare generally concerned with creating a contextually relevant and aesthetically pleasing look and feel, while UI designers’ concerns go beyond the mere look and feel. They are more interested in optimizing usability, navigability, engagement and interactivity.
  • Graphic designers work with colours, forms, visuals and typography to achieve the desired effect, while UI designers, in addition to their expertise with colours, forms and fonts, need to have technical knowledge in the use of online layout software like JavaScript, HTML 5 and CSS3.
  • Graphic design is about creation ab nihilo – largely unstructured and minimally iterative before being put on display, while UI design is far more structured and iterative. It is process-driven to the extreme and involves strategic visioning, user journey mapping, wire-framing, prototyping and rigorous quality testing before it can go live.
  • Graphic design is a predominantly right-brained enterprise. It relies mainly on imagination, creative impulse and artistic flair, while UI design requires a healthy mix of analytical left-brained thinking and imaginative and creative right-brained thinking.
  • Graphic design is impulse-driven and minimally directed, while UI design It highly purpose-driven and strategically oriented towards providing highly rewarding user experience. It relies heavily on directed vision, emerging from a deep understanding of user psychology, instinct, and behaviour.
  • Graphic designers create visual displays that can be admired and appreciated, while UI designers create digital interfaces that drive engagement and can be more tangibly experienced.
To sum up

Both graphic designers and UI designers use a combination of their god-given talent, their well-practiced and finely-honed skills and their understanding of consumers, to create a look and feel that will appeal to, and draw in their audiences, so that they can optimally consume the desired message to be communicated to them, in order to achieve the larger business objective.

That their respective methods and effects diverge – subtly at times, drastically at others – has been discussed in some detail above. But just as a parting shot, here’s an evocative way to describe the difference between the outcomes produced by Graphic design and UI design:

Graphic design creates a beautiful destination, while UI design creates a memorable journey.

Graphic design creates a beautiful destination, while UI design creates a memorable journey.


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