Visual design vs graphic design: what's the difference?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 29 September 2022 | Published 30 November 2021

Updated 29 September 2022

Published 30 November 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Visual design and graphic design are terms that people often use interchangeably, especially outside of the design industry. There are a number of differences between a visual designer and a graphic designer, with each role carrying different responsibilities and requirements. Both visual designers and graphic designers use creativity and design skills to develop graphics and materials for marketing campaigns and websites. In this article, we compare the similarities and differences of careers in visual design vs graphic design.

What are the roles of visual design vs graphic design?

The first step in understanding the differences between visual design vs graphic design is knowing the difference between these two roles. Visual designers are artists who design a range of marketing materials, including brand imagery and logos, story visuals and visual concepts for products and marketing. Visual designers work closely with their clients to create visuals that match a client's specifications and existing branding while creating design schemes that your team can use across a brand's marketing materials going forwards.

A graphic designer works in digital arts, creating graphics for companies and organisations, including those in the publishing, marketing and advertising sectors. Graphic designers primarily work to design digital images, videos and even motion graphics for use in marketing materials online and in other forms of media. One of the primary differences between a graphic designer and a visual designer is that visual designers are responsible for designing and crafting an entire visual concept, while graphic designers usually work on individual design elements.

Related: 8 Types of Designers (Plus Career Info)

Comparing visual design vs graphic design

The easiest way to understand the differences between graphic design and visual design is to compare the similarities and differences in different aspects of each career, from the qualifications needed to embark upon each career path to the responsibilities and salaries that each career comes with. The clearest differences include:

Qualifications

There is definite overlap when it comes to the qualifications needed to secure roles as a graphic designer or a visual designer. Both careers attract graduates with degrees in visual arts, including graphic design, fine art or visual design. Candidates applying for roles in visual design might also come from a background in digital media or visual communications, which combines the study of visual graphic design with modules on marketing and communication.

Related: Understanding graphic designer qualifications (with FAQ)

Goals

There are differences between the fundamental goals of a graphic designer and a visual designer. The goal of a visual designer is to assess the needs of a client and design a holistic visual concept around these needs. This requires strong communication skills between client and designer and sound knowledge of contemporary design practice. The goal of graphic designers is to create new elements to support existing brand content, including logos, images and infographics.

Related: System Design Interview Questions (With Tips)

Responsibilities

The responsibilities of visual designers and graphic designers might vary between organisations, but in general, the two roles carry quite different responsibilities. The responsibilities of a visual designer might include:

  • discussing branding and marketing goals with clients and building visual design concepts around this

  • creating art, logos and ads for websites, apps and digital media

  • designing company branding and creating materials to clarify visual branding for designers

  • overseeing graphic design submissions to ensure that they are on-brand

Related: A guide to branding vs marketing (plus differences)

The responsibilities of a graphic designer might include:

  • designing individual graphics and design elements for web, print and digital media

  • working with visual designers and other team members to interpret design specifications and briefs

  • developing creative drafts to present to clients

  • editing other designers' graphical elements for use in a range of materials

Related: What is a client brief? (Including steps to write one)

Professional tools

While visual designers and graphic designers might work with some of the same software, the primary toolkit of each role is fundamentally different. Visual designers work with design software, but they might also use a suite of standard office software like word processors and presentation software when compiling presentations and reports for clients. Graphic designers use the same design software that visual designers do with other professional design tools.

Salaries

The average salary for a visual designer is £40,649 per year, while the average salary of a graphic designer is £26,848. As average salaries, both of these rates may rise with seniority and experience. The difference in salary between a graphics designer and a visual designer reflects the additional responsibility that a visual designer has over a brand's entire visual concept.

What skills do graphic designers need?

There is a definite overlap between the skills needed to be successful in graphic design and visual design roles, although graphic design positions can place more emphasis on technical design skills and creativity. We have listed some of the key skills that graphic designers possess below:

Passion and flair for design

As a graphic designer, it's important that you're passionate about good design. This means staying on top of the latest trends in design, which can help you to keep your own design work current. An effective graphic designer also has a good grasp of visual balance and depth, being able to fluently utilise both graphics and white space in design to create a balanced, contemporary result.

Creative problem-solving

Creativity and problem-solving are essential skills in both graphic and visual design. As a graphic designer, you may be responsible for finding solutions and creating visual designs that meet the brief that your clients have given you. This requires an ability to think creatively and come up with solutions and suggestions that are unique and different.

Related: The basics of creative problem solving (with guidelines)

Time management skills

As a graphic designer, you work to deadlines every day, juggling multiple different clients at any given time. It's important that you can manage a busy workload and ensure that you meet all of your deadlines. Colleagues, including developers, designers and writers, rely on you to finish graphic design elements on time so that the rest of the project can continue on schedule.

What skills do visual designers need?

Visual designers require a background in visual design and visual communications, but good visual designers also possess skills in leadership and communication along with this knowledge of art and design. Visual designers work together with both clients and colleagues to bring client briefs to life, which requires a number of soft skills that are less important in graphic design. Below are some of the most important skills that any visual designer can possess.

Great communication skills

As a visual designer, you may work closely with both clients and other designers to assess a client's needs, draw up a detailed brand vision and transform this into a cohesive visual concept. Presenting to and meeting with clients is an important part of the role, and it may be your responsibility to guide and instruct a design team towards creating graphical elements that meet this brief. You might also feedback to clients on design progress and early drafts.

Related: How to give critical feedback effectively and its importance

Marketing expertise

Visual designers are not just responsible for creating a visual concept that connects different elements of a brand together. They're also responsible for connecting this visual design with the brand's marketing materials. This means considering the brand's target audience and unique selling points while ensuring that visual designs meet these requirements.

Leadership skills

As a visual designer, you lead a team of graphic designers and illustrators, acting both as a liaison between your designers and the client. Even if you are not in a managerial position, your role as a visual director typically involves guiding designers and providing artistic direction to ensure that the designs you present to the client match the brief. This requires confidence and leadership skills, along with good communication.

Steps to take to become a visual designer vs graphic designer

If you're interested in a career in visual or graphic design, a good first step would be to apply to university courses in graphic design or digital media. Taking relevant modules to your chosen career path wherever possible, you can use your time at university to develop relevant skills that can help you to get your first job after university. Internships and voluntary work placements can help you to build work experience, so it would be a good idea to write a good CV tailored to the positions you're applying for.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organisation‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌ ‌and‌ ‌location.‌

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Explore more articles