Graphic design vs. web design — the differences you should know

A man in an office uses his laptop to learn the difference between graphic and web design.

Unless you’re a designer, you might not know the difference between web design and graphic design. While they’re similar and there’s some overlap of skills, web design and graphic design are fundamentally different disciplines — in terms of both the tasks they perform and the role they play in portraying your company to the world.

Whether you’re a marketer, project manager, or business leader, it can be tricky to understand the distinctions between graphic design and web design. But learning about the characteristics of each specialty will better equip you to decide which one is right for your needs.

In this article, we’ll break down the specific skills, processes, and tools of web design and graphic design to help you determine which is right for your project and goals. This post will explain:

Graphic design vs. web design

Graphic design and web design share some similarities but are two different practices that require different approaches and techniques. Graphic designers use images, text, and other media to convey information through things like print advertisements and marketing materials. Web designers plan, conceptualize, and arrange content and visual elements on websites.

Generally speaking, while graphic design involves the creation of visual elements, web design is about the organization of visual elements. For businesses, both types of designers are essential for creating content that makes visitors want to stay on your website.

What is graphic design?

Let’s take a closer look at what each design practice brings to the table before exploring their differences in detail.

Graphic design is the art of creating concepts with visual and textual elements. It is communication through visual content — either physically or virtually — to convey the story behind a product or campaign. From company logos to billboards on the highway to the featured graphic in an article, graphic designers are tasked with telling the story by visual means.

Graphic design aims to present complex topics and information in a simple way. With so much competition for their attention, people can easily flip a page or click somewhere else. A good graphic designer leads viewers into the design and holds them there to let them think a little longer about the product or service that’s being depicted. Graphic designers need a deep understanding of design fundamentals — such as color theory, typography, layout, and visual hierarchy.

What is web design?

Now let’s examine web design and its impact on the creative process as a whole.

Web design is the practice of arranging and planning content on a website so that it can be accessed by and shared with visitors. By combining aesthetically pleasing and functional elements, a successful web designer guides visitors to the content they want to view while arranging page elements in such a way that visitors want to stay on the page rather than click away.

The brand WKND's online website is an example of web design.

Web designers are responsible for coding, designing, and building the user interface (UI) and navigation for websites. They also develop the visual layout of desktop and mobile website designs. Designers will test and optimize layouts to ensure they meet business standards.

Just like graphic designers, web designers must understand the fundamentals of design to create the best possible UI for websites. Elements such as visual hierarchy, color, layout, and typography are essential to designing a usable website.

The differences between graphic and web design

Now that we’ve covered the basics of each, we’ll explore the differences between graphic and web design. Both design practices are essential to the user experience and the audience’s relationship with a brand. But the skillsets required for each are not the same.

Graphic design and web design use different skills

Both web and graphic design require creative thinking but in different ways. Web designers need to know how to program as well as how to use applications that support web development. Coding is required to be a successful web designer, but it’s not a necessary skill for graphic design.

Graphic designers need to have knowledge of color theory, visual hierarchy, typography, and more. They spend a lot of time in creative applications using different tools and techniques to paint a picture for the intended audience.

Successful design must move the user through the design and ensure it’s interesting and engaging. Company designs may change over time, but the goal to engage and inspire should remain the same.

Web design is dynamic, while graphic design is static

Both graphic design and web design draw viewers into a layout to tell a story or convey a message. But there are differences in how users interact with each design.

Web design is interactive. Users click buttons and navigate through websites. A web designer’s job is technically never done. Websites need to adapt and change, so web designers have to make sure a site reflects modern layout principles while maintaining a brand’s unique style preferences.

Graphic design creates a permanent image that’s usually unchanged unless updates are needed. Typically, featured graphics that accompany published articles remain untouched. For printed media, once the piece of content is sent to the printer, it’s considered complete. Company logos usually remain a staple for a long time, though they can be redesigned to keep up with contemporary trends.

Graphic design and web design have different technical limitations

Within nearly every practice, there are technical limitations, even in more creative ones such as web and graphic design.

Web design is concerned with loading times and file sizes to ensure websites function properly. Web designers need to consider the fonts they use because if a user doesn’t have the particular font, the website may not display correctly. This is why web designers will sometimes use a font stack, which gives the browser numerous font options to choose from.

Graphic design for the web needs to consider pixels and dots per inch (DPI) rather than file size. If you’ve ever printed a photo from the internet, you’ll notice the quality changes — a printed image needs more pixels than a computer device does to display an image. But because graphic design is static, designers can use any typeface or visual element they want and it will display properly. They just need to ensure they have purchased the correct license for the fonts they use.

These designers have to create meaningful content while staying within the boundaries of web pages. To put together engaging designs, different types of software must be used.

Generally speaking, while graphic design involves the creation of visual elements, web design is about the organization of visual elements.

Graphic design and web design use different software

Creating elements that can easily change requires different tools than a design that will remain the same for a long time.

Web designers use programming and web-building tools. They need to have knowledge of HyperText Markup Language (HTML) to properly structure a website’s content. Understanding how to use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) is essential for formatting content in HTML web pages, and knowing JavaScript is also valuable.

Graphic designers mainly use visual design tools like Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, and Adobe Illustrator to create, modify, and lay out content. Having some knowledge of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript can be helpful for graphic designers, but most of their work will take place in creative, editing, and design applications.

Both types of designers typically work on a team of other creatives. However, their participation, responsibilities, and roles differ.

Graphic designers and web designers collaborate differently

Web designers frequently need to work with web developers, who help designers understand the guidelines and technical limitations of their work. Developers help make web designers’ ideas a reality through code.

Meanwhile, while other people may have input, graphic designers are usually the only ones creating and designing their work. They conceive of and carry out the vision for the visual content.

Graphic designers and web designers may collaborate differently, but the ideas they come up with are often united in the end to convey your company’s message. Providing both designers with background knowledge on projects and creating mood boards ahead of time can encourage cohesive ideas and help the team see the bigger picture that will be created from their work.

When hiring a graphic designer or a web designer, it’s important to supply all the tools they need to hit the ground running. While the two collaborate differently, their efforts join together in the end to create designs that help bring your brand to life.

The perfect solution for web or graphic design

Both web designers and graphic designers have the ability to create memorable content and great experiences that can help your business reach new heights by building brand loyalty and engaging your audience in effective ways.

Having a clear understanding of the difference between graphic design and web design will help you decide which one is right for your needs. Whether you’re designing flyers for a campaign or making an interactive website for an event, Adobe Experience Cloud has everything you need to create and manage your content.

No matter your project, Experience Cloud has a wide variety of tools to help you create dynamic experiences and deliver your assets across multiple channels. Adobe Experience Cloud gives you everything you need to create the perfect content for your audience — from analytics to customer journeys to content management.

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