It’s easy to spot your talent for good design. From the clothes you wear to the way your home is decorated, it’s clear that you have an eye for elements that work together to make a statement.
Now you’re turning your eye for design toward a possible career as a graphic designer. You know that graphic designers use technology to create their work, but that’s where your knowledge ends. What is the graphic design field really like, and what types of graphic design are out there?
We’re here to expand your idea of what it means to be a graphic design professional. Join us as we explore the purpose behind graphic design, recent changes in this evolving industry and the types of graphic design you can consider pursuing for your own creative career.
What is graphic design?
Graphic design is about much more than creating images that are nice to look at. It’s a form of visual communication that provides information, shares ideas and persuades the audience to consider new perspectives.
“Design mediates between people and decisions; whether subtle or overt, design promotes a point of view,” according to the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA). It’s this ability to connect with others and convey a message that makes graphic design such a valuable field.
Designers can use their skills to boost sales in a marketing campaign, create a lovable cartoon character or pioneer a functional product that solves a problem. These creative professionals use their design skills to connect with others through their visual work.
Then and now: How the graphic design field has evolved
Graphic design has been around for thousands of years—the Interaction Design Foundation puts the field’s beginnings to cave paintings that predate Egyptian hieroglyphics! In more recent times, the term “graphic design” was coined in the 1920s by the print industry to describe basic design elements like typography, logo creation and color theory.
Although these foundational elements of design have remained largely unchanged, the field has evolved in plenty of other ways over the past one hundred years—most notably with the advent of the digital age and new design software.
Graphic designers have been marrying their design skills with technology ever since the invention of popular design programs like Adobe’s Photoshop® and Illustrator® in 1987. This evolution toward new technology means that today’s graphic designers have more tools than ever at their fingertips. Designers who stay on top of changes in design software can find themselves in a good place to continue expanding their career, no matter which type of graphic design they pursue.
7 Types of graphic design
These are some of the types of graphic design you’re likely to hear about as you explore this field—but you’ll also notice that these job descriptions have some overlap. Like many professionals, graphic designers can use their skills in a variety of roles depending on which company or industry they work for.
The versatility of your graphic design know-how can be put to work in many different positions. Take a look to see which type of graphic design strikes your fancy!
1. Product design
Product designers use their creative prowess to research, design and develop new products. The types of products they create depends on which industry they work in, but it could include everything from toys to tools to technology. These designers conduct market research to make sure their product will appeal to the target audience and won’t violate competitors’ copyrights. Then they’ll create early illustrations and prototypes of their designs before they’re sent into production.
Type of work produced: Various types of products, product packaging, marketing designs, product illustrations and prototypes.
Skills needed: Market research, prototyping, 3D modeling, Adobe Creative Suite®.
2. Branding design
Branding is a type of corporate design that focuses on the visual identity of a company or product. These designers must be in tune with the marketing message a brand wants to send, as well as the target audience they wish to reach. Every aspect of branding design must align with these goals, as well as fit into the larger aesthetic of the company or organization. Consumers’ perception of a company is often driven by their branding, so graphic designers in this specialty put all their skills to work developing a visual brand that will connect with the target audience and project the right message about the company.
Types of work produced: Logos, website branding, company letterhead, business cards, signage, company brochures.
Skills needed: Adobe Creative Suite, market research, communication skills, teamwork.
3. Website design
There’s a graphic designer behind nearly every website you visit and app you download. These design pros need a strong sense of user experience (UX) design to make sure the sites they design are as user-friendly as possible on both desktops and mobile devices. They use all their skills to design online spaces that are visually appealing, easy to navigate, compatible with SEO best practices and aligned with their clients’ branding.
Types of work produced: Websites and apps.
Skills needed: Branding, UX design, wireframing, SEO, basic coding, problem solving.
4. Print design
The digital age may have changed the world of graphic design, but that doesn’t mean there’s not still a market for print! These graphic designers specialize in creating work that is meant to be viewed in a physical capacity. From billboards to business cards, these designers are able to create digital designs that go beyond the screen and translate well to the physical realm.
Types of work produced: Brochures, flyers, billboards, stickers, stationery sets, T-shirts, mugs and other products.
Skills needed: Layout design, print design, color theory, Adobe Creative Suite.
5. Publishing design
Graphic designers who work in the publishing industry typically work on books or magazines. They’re responsible for creating eye-catching covers that will appeal to the market audience, as well as designing page layouts that present information in a way that’s appealing and easy to read. They work closely with writers and editors to achieve just the right look for a project, whether it’s designing an eye-catching edgy photo spread for a magazine or selecting just the right font for the next bestseller.
Types of work produced: Book and magazine covers, ebook layout and design, magazine spreads, graphs or other images in nonfiction books.
Skills needed: Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign®, market research, attention to detail.
6. Environmental design
Environmental graphic design combines basic design principles with elements of architecture and landscape design to create signs, maps and other visual elements that people use to navigate the world around them. According to the Society for Experiential Graphic Design (SEGD), “It encompasses the broader notion of all communication in the build environment,” including visuals like digital text that appears on the exterior of buildings, museum exhibit layouts, and the upcoming development of “smart cities.”
Types of work produced: Signage, exterior building displays, wayfinding systems, retail store design, museum exhibits, and exterior design elements such as fountains and sculptures.
Skills needed: Creativity, communication skills, urban design, Adobe Creative Suite.
7. Animation design
Animation and motion designers use specialized software to create everything from cartoons to animated social media graphics. The graphics these designers create can provide entertainment via TV shows or video games, draw attention to a corporate social media account or help people learn through animated informational videos. Animation designers work with a team to take their creative ideas from rough sketches to fully animated creations.
Types of work produced: Video games, cartoons and animations for television or movies, brand animation for social media channels, motion graphics for online videos.
Skills needed: Storyboarding, CAD software, video editing software, problem solving, teamwork.
Which type of graphic design is right for you?
You can see from these types of graphic design that there are plenty of options available to aspiring designers. No matter which aspect of this creative career has captured your interest, you’re probably wondering how to take the next step.
So should you pursue a degree in Graphic Design? Find out in our article, “Is a Graphic Design Degree Worth It or Worthless?”
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