Web design vs. graphic design: definition and differences

By Indeed Editorial Team

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.

Many people believe the fields of web design and graphic design to be the same. While these two professions share many common skills and job roles, they also have several differences. As a creative professional, you may not be sure which of these fields is more suitable for your skill set as a career option. In this article, we explore the key features of web design vs. graphic design, discuss how to enter these fields and highlight the fundamental skills these two fields share.

Web design vs. graphic design: what are the differences?

To understand the differences between web design vs. graphic design, looking at the definition, purpose and focus of both these fields can be beneficial:

What is web design?

Web design is a multidisciplinary field centring on the construction and maintenance of websites, apps, software and other visual online content. The term may include duties such as designing user and graphical interfaces, creating web development solutions and even search engine optimisation in some cases. It also extends to duties involved in website appearance and navigation, such as user experience (UX) design, web graphic design and animated content creation. In general, web designers focus more on the visual architecture, system and engineering content to work together rather than crafting individual graphical assets.

Related: 12 essential web designer skills

What is graphic design?

Graphic design typically focuses on producing assets and visual materials for branding and creative purposes and for use in media both online and print. This usually involves working closely with brands and companies to create marketing materials and visually deliver messages to the audience. Professionals often describe graphic designing as the process of encoding and interpreting messages into visual form. Graphic designing is an integral part of business branding, marketing, promotions and the sales process.

Related: 9 types of graphic design jobs to consider

Web design vs. graphic design: how are they different?

These two branches of design have a different focus and may also require slightly different technical skills. Here, we explore some of the key differences in web design and graphic design:

  • Technical specifications**:** Web designers generally use the CMYK colour system whereas graphic designers use RGB. Graphic designers and web designers experience different technical restrictions and conventions for their work that can work compatibly but require different knowledge bases.

  • Dynamic content**:** Web designers can be more involved with creating dynamic content such as sliders, animations and transitions for a website or application. Graphic designers may usually produce more static content of the product such as images, illustrations, banners and type font.

  • Updates and maintenance: A massive part of web design and also a big source of income for web designers is the requirement to update projects regularly to work with new updates and hosting changes. Usually, graphic designers don't edit or update their assets after delivery and these changes are generally much more time-consuming and expensive than in web design.

  • Scope of impact: While graphic design projects are important in defining the visual language of a brand, the visual architecture of a website is the responsibility of a web designer. A failure or error in web design can lead to dysfunctional websites and applications, whereas the poor quality of graphic design may not impact the functionality.

  • Communication focus: Graphic design focuses on the direct communication of messages whereas web design is more about how to deliver these messages and enable engagement with the brand. Web design includes not just direct visual communication but can also include the technical functioning and engagement of a website or application.

  • Knowledge of computer systems: Web designers often require much more comprehensive knowledge of the function and architecture of both hardware and software, including coding proficiency. Graphic designers may find the knowledge of certain coding languages such as CSS and HTML helpful but rarely require detailed computer science understanding.

How to get into web design and graphic design

Despite clear differences in duties, the career paths for web designers and graphic designers follow similar steps. Here is a step-by-step guide to getting into both of these fields:

1. Get a bachelor's degree in a relevant field

While degree-level education is often not necessary in either field, a degree in computer science or graphic design can often be advantageous to your profile. Many web and graphic designers succeed at a freelance level without degree qualifications but usually, a degree broadly related to IT or design is helpful while applying for jobs in established companies. Increasingly companies are also employing apprenticeship trained professionals, especially for UX and graphic design roles. Depending on the particular career path you want to follow in web or graphic design, get the most appropriate qualifications.

Related: Types of degrees and how they can influence your career

2. Consider graduate qualifications

Most high-level management and senior web developer positions may require a master's degree or higher qualifications. Master's and PhD graduates can find their research skills and specialist knowledge useful for troubleshooting and improving the performance of projects. Many companies also offer to fund advanced degrees for employees, so investigate these opportunities thoroughly. Graphic designers may find degree programmes at graduate art schools or master's degrees in marketing helpful for their profile.

3. Acquire relevant experience

Undergraduate degrees often offer sandwich years to allow for a year's work placement to gain on-the-job practical experience. This experience of working in an organisation can be incredibly valuable to both web designers and graphic designers. Outside of institutional support, there are also many competitive design and marketing internships available with web development agencies and established brands. Consider applying to these internships not only to take advantage of the experience but also because companies often extend full-time job offers to successful interns.

Related: Internships vs. apprenticeships: similarities and differences

4. Apply to graduate schemes and opportunities

Another standard route to work with brands is through graduate schemes and highly competitive programmes that train graduates straight out of university. These schemes give full professional support and training and usually offer full-time job positions upon completion of the scheme and approval by supervisors. Both web designers and graphic designers who want to go into marketing roles long-term and work for reputed brands can find graduate schemes beneficial. Other opportunities such as courses, competitions and seminars for both coding, web design, art and design are also excellent additions to your CV.

Related: How to Become A Technical Writer (With 4 Essential Skills)

5. Build up a design portfolio and freelance profile

Applications to any design jobs usually ask for evidence of a design portfolio either in the form of previous projects completed or evidence of competency. Try to build up a portfolio of independent or commissioned web or graphic design projects either while you're studying or before you apply for job opportunities. Many web designers and graphic designers also work as freelancers either full-time or in addition to their regular jobs. Working on individual freelance projects is another way to build your portfolio. You can also consider signing up for freelancing websites to get regular work.

6. Apply to web design and graphic design jobs

Once you have the required qualifications, skills and experience, you can begin to apply to web design and graphic design jobs and contracts. Many companies also advertise employment opportunities on their careers pages or social media accounts in addition to job search websites and boards. So, be sure to check company updates frequently. You can also consider sending big marketing or design agencies queries about relevant job opportunities and share your portfolio and application with them.

Related: How to go about finding a new job

What common skills do web design and graphic design careers share?

Despite the above differences, there are many skills shared by web design and graphic design that connect them. Here we give examples of some skills that both web design and graphic design professionals may use regularly:

  • Market knowledge and awareness: Both types of designers require an awareness of fashion, trends and marketability to keep up with what is successful visual trends in the market. Brands may often provide specific or vague briefs so knowledge of how to use and find references for your work is essential.

  • Visual design skills: It's important for graphic and web designers to be visually attentive to help produce assets and present them coherently. A good visual sense goes a long way to making websites and graphical assets attractive and engaging for companies and audiences.

  • Commercial sensitivity: Designers in both fields would benefit from understanding business priorities and typical restrictions and legislation with which businesses comply. These restrictions and priorities can affect design work significantly and may impact both the development process and the finished product.

  • Time management: Designers usually work on strict deadlines and may often work for unpredictable hours. This can be particularly true for client-based overseas projects, so being able to prioritise tasks and manage time is essential for designers.

  • Freelancing and accounting: Both types of designers usually undertake freelance work at some point in their careers. Freelancing requires a unique skill set to manage projects and finances and both types of designers can benefit from these skills when running their own freelancing business.

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