If you’re looking for a new website for your service business, – such as accountancy practice, legal practice / lawyer or IT business – you might not understand how the skill sets differ between a professional website design vs. a graphic designer.

How do the skills of the person who works in graphic design and web design differ? And what’s at stake if you choose wrongly? Let’s find out.

If you choose the wrong person, or if you choose the wrong type of design agency, your new website might be too visually designed and not take into account the requirements of a modern website designed with user experience in mind.

A useful analogy might be asking a lawyer to file a tax return. They are both service industries which deal with a significant amount of paperwork, but the jobs are completely different.

Let’s delve a little deeper.

SkillsWeb designGraphic design
HTML / CSS / JavascriptYesNo
TypographyYesYes
Print sizesNoYes
WordPressYesNo
Visual designYesYes
UI designYesNo
UX designIdeallyNo
Design principlesYesYes
IdeationYesYes
Brand identity / brandingIdeallyIdeally
Colour theoryYesYes
Adobe Indesign / IllustratorNoYes
Adobe XD / FigmaYesNo
Adobe PhotoshopMaybeMaybe
WordPress / ElementorProbablyNo
SEOPreferablyNo

As you can see, only 7 out of 14 rows contain the same skill requirements. There are fundamental differences in the two jobs, although they are born from the same skills, like design principles, layout and typography. They also use different design software, and this stretches to the platform. If they are to be producing a WordPress website, which most small websites are based on, clearly they need skills in this area.

Let’s dig a little deeper.

Visual design skills

Both jobs require significant knowledge of visual design, including:

  • Fonts and typography
  • Layout
  • Visual communication (ensuring your message is received)
  • Visual impact

There’s a huge amount of knowledge and experience in visual design. Fitting fonts and colours together so they don’t clash, using white space (or negative space) in order to focus the eye on elements and effective use of boxes and other objects – the list is huge!

However, while both require the same skills, their application is significantly different, as we’ll find out below.

Static vs. continuous improvement

A potential significant difference between the two formats is that, if you’re working on a design job that involves printed materials, once you hit print on your poster or business card, you can’t change it.

You’d better be sure you’ve spelled everything right, or have access to editors who can check it for you!

Print designers don’t have to adapt to different sizes on the fly

A website on the other hand is continually changing; new articles in a blog are uploaded, new pages added and search engine optimisation is certainly a continual improvement task.

Exact sizes vs. responsive

Graphic design works only with exact sizes – whether that’s a number of pixels or inches. If you’re designing a brochure, the size doesn’t need to change depending on whose hands it is in.

Responsive design requires reorganising and repurposing much of the design

Web design visuals, on the other hand, have to cope with different aspect ratios of the pages – a wide desktop monitor vs. a long mobile screen. This is known as “responsive design” and it brings a significant level of complexity to the task of website design.

Different input devices for web design

In addition, mobile and tablet devices are touch operated. This requires the web designer to consider the size of a visitors finger, and therefore the size of buttons and links. This leads to a number of restrictions on how web designs can be put together.

Additional UI considerations

Web designers have additional user interface (UI) considerations since the sizes of objects will be different on mobile vs. desktop and their function should be evident on both.

Wireframing

Wireframing is where design is done without colours or graphics, and possibly without final fonts.

Wireframing leading to the final web design

Both graphic designers and web designers may do an element of wireframing, depending on the job requirements. However, this is most common with UX design (User Experience) where they work on ensuring a web design is easy to use.

Trends & learning

Both graphic and digital designers are subject to visual design trends. In 2020, there was an interesting style that temporarily became popular with UI designers called “Neumorphism”, which attempts to make buttons more 3D.

Neumorphism 2020 UI design trend

It didn’t take off too much because it wasn’t very effective for users – but suddenly every UI designer in the world seemed to be was working on this design style.

However, in web design, the knowledge required is continually expanding at a quite incredible rate, with new tools and skills required every year as times change and new ideas make it to the market. This tends to be less of an issue for graphic designers.

File size & speed

This is really just a requirement for web designers; ensuring that file and compression sizes for images are relevant to download speeds.

Graphic designers typically want the highest quality possible for everything.

Templates

This might seem like an odd point, but it is relevant and important.

Since print design doesn’t change, graphic designers often think of the amount of text or imagery required for that particular design. However, web designers need to take account of differing amounts of content on different pages.

The design templates need to work in all situations.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

There are no requirements for either web or graphic designers to know SEO.

As SEO works, traffic from Google grows

However, we find that a reasonable understanding of SEO is of significant benefit to web designers. The way sites are structured and linked together, how content exists on a page, and more elements can be significantly impacted.

I’ve seen many sites launched and then suddenly the service business realises they’ve lost all of their traffic from Google.

A few questions and answers

Should you get a graphic designer to design your website?

Most definitely, no. While the skills sets might seem similar to outsiders to the marketing industry, they have totally different requirements. Leave the graphic design to graphic designers and web design to web designers.

Do I need a graphic designer, a web designer, or both?

If you’re looking to build a website, this will depend on how competent the web designer is at graphic design. Typically it’s worth having an honest conversation with the web designer. If you feel they can’t get the design elements right, you might want a graphic designer too.

Do I need a web developer for my website build?

A web developer writes code. They are the most technical of the individuals who work on websites.

There are many tasks that modern web design software can do without needing a web developer. However, if your website needs to perform a very specific task, it may be that you need a web developer on the team too.

Can a graphic artist make a website?

A graphic artist is usually someone who draws pictures. They are wholly inappropriate for the job of producing a website.

However, if you’d like a very specific graphic style, they may be required as part of the team.

What options are available in the market? How can I choose?

There are 4 key options which you could choose:

  • A freelance graphic designer; this person isn’t likely to be able to help you complete your project.
  • A freelance web designer; if experienced, this person will help you keep costs down and is likely to be very results-focused, although may lack some more technical skills.
  • A web design agency; they are likely to be able to help you complete the project, but budget will likely be higher than with a freelancer.
  • A general digital agency; they are also likely to be able to help, but will probably want you to take some other services from them too.

Summary

While both web and graphic designers need visual design skills, and they share some tools, this is where the similarities end.

Do graphic designers make websites? No. Graphic design is only one small element of the skills needed to make a website. Graphics designers can be part of the team, but web design requires a much broader skillset.