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UX Designer VS Graphic Designer: Exploring the Differences

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 Graphic and interaction design are everywhere; just take a look around you. Look at the milk carton, the unfinished book on your bedside table, the subway posters you see on the way home and the website you spend all day browsing. 

Even the most boring objects you could think of—manhole covers, benches, plain plastic bags—are born out of design thinking. The question is, who is behind all these designs? Who are the people influencing what decisions you make based on an image or a button, especially in this digital age?

You may think of graphic designers, given they have existed far longer than you may think (even before Photoshop was invented). However, the meteoric rise of the Internet has paved the way for a new kind of designer: UX designers. 

Both professions are design-centric and can be learned through graphic design courses, but they are vastly different in many ways. Although they are both concerned with beautiful designs and aesthetics, they’re not exactly interchangeable.

UX designers vs. graphic designers: two important pillars of design. Let’s further discuss their differences, which career path to choose and how to shift from one type of designer to another!

Understanding The Roles: Defining UX Design and Graphic Design

Before we delve deeper into the UX designer vs. graphic designer discussion, let’s first try to understand each role. Take a look at their definitions below:

UX Design

ux design

User experience (UX) design is the process of improving user satisfaction by developing usability, design, functionality and branding. It mainly focuses on making a product or a service easier and more enjoyable on the user’s end, leading to customer retention and loyalty.

It means that when you design an experience, you’re not only making software or a website easy to use, but you’re also creating other interactions related to the product. This includes the entire marketing strategy, the presentation and the after-sales assistance. 

In a nutshell, UX design’s primary goal is to establish a positive interaction for users when using a product. 

Whether the interaction provides important information to customers, solves pain points or simply makes someone’s day, it should give a sense of satisfaction and happiness. 

And in terms of the workflow of UX design, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach since internal processes and products vary. However, here’s a basic UX design process that serves as the groundwork for designers to help you make sense of their work:

Stage 1: Research and Understanding

Intensive user research is the first step before designs are mocked up and polished. You have to know who your audience is, identify pain points and understand user behaviour when navigating a system or a product. This can be conducted through focus groups, surveys and interviews.

By the end of this stage, you should have journey maps and user personas to define guidelines for making a product with a great user experience.

This is also where you conduct historical analysis, market research and competitive analysis, among other things.

Stage 2: Designing Mockups and Prototypes

Once the user research is done, UX designers define how the product would look and create a sequence of how users navigate from feature to feature. They will design mockups and prototypes that have the same look and feel as the final product. 

These prototypes will help you know what works and what doesn’t based on valuable user feedback. That way, you don’t waste time and resources developing the wrong features.

Stage 3: Usability Testing

This is the stage where the UX design team tests mockups and prototypes with real users to address design issues, validate ideas and evaluate accessibility. 

For instance, UX designers might learn that a huge chunk of users aren’t interested in certain features or the UX keeps customers from finishing the buyer’s journey. If the first is the case, UX designers will redesign their mockups and prototypes.

Stage 4: Launch

When the usability testing is complete and the final touches are added to the final product, it will be handed over to the development team for implementation. 

This is also done in stages. For example, you can start by releasing a beta version to a limited set of users before introducing it to your entire user base. 

Stage 5: Iteration

The design process doesn’t just end when the product is launched. Whether it’s a website or an app, the team continues to apply changes and updates to improve the user experience. 

Using the iterative method ensures that your product remains relevant, user-friendly and usable for years ahead. 

Graphic Design

graphic design

When someone says ‘graphic design’, people usually think of magazine covers, posters, infographics, billboards—the list goes on. They come in different shapes, sizes and forms but they all have one thing in common: visual communication. 

Graphic design involves using forms, colours, visuals and words to craft visual materials we see on a daily basis—in print and digital forms. These visuals can be as simple as an announcement flyer, or as detailed and complex as interactive media. 

What makes graphic design important in a business’s success is that it hugely influences perceptions and emotions. Even the simplest banner design, when done in an impactful way, can resonate with your audience and establish trust. 

The best example of this is Lysol’s visual metaphor:

lysol's visual metaphor

This graphic design taps into the motherly instinct of keeping your loved ones safe and sound. And to help mothers fully show their act of love and protection, Lysol is here to be their right hand.

Moreover, to help you understand what graphic design means, you have to know the elements and principles used to create visually appealing work. This includes:

  • Colour
  • Lines
  • Shape
  • Space
  • Scale
  • Typography
  • Texture
  • Balance
  • Dominance and emphasis
  • Harmony

Of course, you always have the choice to break these rules. Keep in mind, however, that a good graphic designer can only effectively break them if they understand and know these principles like the back of their hand.

UX Designer vs. Graphic Designer: Breaking Down the Differences

Now that you’ve read a quick overview of UX design and graphic design, you may have noticed that they’re not really the same. They involve different skill sets, but a lot of firms still make the mistake of making one job description for both roles.

To finally separate these roles once and for all, take a closer look at their differences below:

Key Differences

Type and Focus of Design

One of the biggest differences between UX designers and graphic designers is the focus of the design. UX designers design interactions, while graphic designers focus more on visual elements. 

Imagine you’re building a house. The UX designer’s job is to make sure everything is functional, from light switches to outlets and pipes. You know where to find the cupboard, the stairs and the shelves like everything was built in your presence.

The graphic designer, on the other hand, acts like the interior designer. They choose the decor, furniture and colour that give the house its unique look. They design the house in a way that reflects your brand and style.

To do their jobs, the former needs to master a multidisciplinary set of skills including wireframing, prototyping, user research and information architecture. On the other hand, the latter involves a specialised range of design skills such as typography, colour theory and computer-aided design. 

Day-To-Day Tasks and Responsibilities

Although they are both involved in the product development process, UX designers and graphic designers typically spend their time working on different elements. 

For UX designers, the daily tasks might include:

  • Conducting user research to pinpoint user needs, objectives, behaviours and pain points
  • Creating user journey maps and user personas
  • Evaluating user designs through testing and implementing new features or updates
  • Making wireframes and prototypes
  • Working with developers, product designers, UI designers and stakeholders to build a cohesive user experience.

For graphic designers, their responsibilities include:

  • Crafting illustrations, visuals and logos
  • Choosing the right fonts, images and colours required for layouts
  • Working with clients, team members and art directors to determine the scope of a project
  • Revising and editing designs as requested
  • Using photo editing and digital illustration software.

Tools and Software

Aside from their day-to-day responsibilities, the tools and software they use also differ.

During the several stages of the design process, graphic designers commonly use a stylus and graphics tablet, pen and paper, and a computer. Some of them even use a high-end DSLR camera if they include original images and videos in their work. 

While software preferences vary among designers and companies, common choices include graphic vector editors, layout editing software, photo editing software and illustration applications. This includes:

Meanwhile, UX designers rely on a different set of tools tailored to their tasks including wireframing, low and high-fidelity prototyping, usability testing, and making questionnaires or surveys. 

UX design tools often help designers validate ideas and get a deeper understanding of user behaviour. Here are the most recommended UX tools and their features:

  • UserTesting: Diverse demographics, remote usability testing and real-time feedback
  • Figma: Real-time updating of projects, intuitive and straightforward prototyping, design templates and UX prototyping
  • Overflow: Preserved prototyping links, integration with Adobe Photoshop, Sketch and Figma, and interactive/playable user flows

Salary

Your salary as a graphic designer or a UX designer will ultimately depend on your educational background, years of experience, industry and location. But generally speaking, the average UX designer pulls in a bigger income than a graphic designer according to different sources.

PayScale (Singapore)Glassdoor (Singapore)JobStreet (Singapore)
UX Designer SalaryS$49,207 yearly salary S$10,380 monthly salary S$4,600 to S$5,000 monthly salary
Graphic Designer Salary S$32,613 yearly salary S$6,150 monthly salaryS$2,700 to S$3,200 monthly salary


Design Process

A graphic designer’s process is typically linear. They come up with creative concepts, work with team members and design something based on client briefs. Their very first step starts with focusing on an initial vision until it becomes a polished product ready to be posted and shared.

However, a UX designer’s process is the exact opposite—it’s a loop. Since it involves a lot of research and testing to create the best user experience, UX designers would take on an iterative approach and make improvements until everything looks just right.

UX Designer vs Graphic Designer: How Are They Similar?

While both roles differ in many aspects, they’re actually like two puzzle pieces that fit perfectly together. They both rely on fundamental design principles like colour theory, layout and visual hierarchy to make visually appealing designs and prototypes.

UX designers and graphic designers also collaborate when developing branding and identity. They work together to ensure that a brand’s message is consistent across all touchpoints, resonating with the target audience and aligning with the client’s objectives. 

This is why you tend to instantly recognise a brand when you browse the Internet, see billboards and watch advertisements on television. 

In short, they both require a creative mindset, critical thinking and developing innovative ideas. Despite their differences, they have to balance each other out—especially in terms of aesthetics and functionality.

UX Designer vs. Graphic Designer: Choosing The Right Design For You

When considering a career in design, it may feel overwhelming to choose between being a UX or a graphic designer. However, deciding between these two design paths depends on your strengths, interests and career trajectory. 

For instance, if you like manipulating fonts, colour palettes and layouts to make a graphic look perfect, graphic design jobs might be the best choice for you. But if you enjoy problem-solving through research and data analysis, consider UX design.

Being a UX designer can even be in the cards if you’re interested in human psychology. Given that UX design’s conceptual roots can be traced back to cognitive and behavioural psychology, it provides a framework for how humans interact with machines. 

 From Graphic Design To UX Design: How To Make The Shift

It’s not surprising that lots of people—even the ones without design backgrounds—are making the shift to UX. Thanks to the low barriers to entry, global demand and affordable UX certifications, the field has become more accessible to anyone planning for a design career.

Not to mention that a UX designer’s salary is above average, attracting professionals to change their career paths. 

And if you’re at that point in your lifllpe where you’re considering making a design career change, you might feel compelled to shift to UX. But 8 ow exactly do you make the transition from graphic design to user experience? What steps should you take to get started?

Check out these tips below:

Learn The Necessary UX Skills

Now that you know the skill sets you need to be a UX designer, take lessons to get you started. You can take online courses, attend a design and art school or go the DIY route, depending on your preference. 

Keep in mind that UX design is multi-disciplinary, involving human psychology, interaction design, user research and information architecture. Since it’s impossible to learn every discipline, you can focus on your strengths first. 

You should also take stock of your current skills that you can transfer to give you an edge in the UX field including emotional design, ideation and creativity. 

Bluild a UX Design Portfolio

Here’s a secret: you actually don’t need a college degree to become a UX designer. What’s necessary is that you have an impressive UX design portfolio to prove you can do the job with little to no supervision. 

To build a UX portfolio, you can:

  • Find internships or sign up for online UX design challenges
  • Browse project ideas on the Internet and start from there
  • Create and complete personal projects
  • Reimagine new features within an existing app

As you build your portfolio, take it as an opportunity to expand your network, earn money, learn from the experts and showcase what you can do. 

Choose User-Focused Instead of Pixel-Focused Design

UX designer VS Graphic Designer

When you’re a graphic designer, you strive for pixel perfection through typography. You want every text and image to match and fit while trying to find colours that conform to brand guidelines. 

However, when you make the shift to UX design, you have to tone down these habits. Your primary focus should be on the users instead. You’re not just fixating on aesthetics; you’re also making sure your design solves problems and helps users accomplish their goals.

Apply For UX Design Jobs

There comes a point when you just have to take a risk, take the plunge to get to the next step. Don’t be afraid to apply for jobs and use your skills to help companies enhance their product’s user experience. You can prepare by practising UX design interview questions, tailoring your resume and getting involved in design communities. 

Remember, there are UX skills that you only learn on the job. No matter how much time you spend perfecting your portfolio, nothing beats the magic of mastering UX when you’re officially in the industry. 

Final Thoughts

Some people firmly believe that UX designers and graphic designers are just the same, while others think that one is superior to the other. 

But like what we’ve discussed, these roles have distinctions and overlaps in the type of design, skill sets and day-to-day responsibilities that make each of them unique.

Besides, both of them are highly in demand in job markets as the need for digital products and services continues to increase. They are both rewarding career paths in their own right, allowing creative people to catch up in the ever-evolving digital landscape.

It’s never too late to become a UX or a graphic designer. You can sign up for our graphic design courses like communication design and interaction design to kickstart your design career.  Take the next step with Orita Sinclair—we’re here to help you.

FAQs

What is the difference between a UX designer and a graphic designer?

The main difference between a UX designer and a graphic designer is the focus of what they design. Graphic designers focus on creating visually appealing designs to convey or enhance a message, while UX designers improve user satisfaction through usability and positive interactions—whether on websites or apps.

How can I make the shift from graphic design to UX design?

To shift from graphic design to UX design, you have to learn the necessary UX skills, build an impressive portfolio, focus on user design and expand your network.

Will my background in graphic design help me succeed as a UX designer?

Yes! There are graphic design skills that you can transfer to UX such as design principles, visual hierarchy, creativity and visual communication, to name a few.

About Orita Sinclair

Founded in 2002, Orita Sinclair is one of the oldest music and design schools in Singapore. We are committed to fostering a love of design and music in our students by encouraging them to be bold and imaginative in their endeavours.

Here at Orita Sinclair, we believe that theoretical and practical foundations are equally important with the music and graphic design courses that we offer. For that reason, we have put in place a forward-looking curriculum that grounds students in key principles before being guided by field practitioners in applying theory and technical craft in authentic, industry-oriented projects. One of our best programme is Diploma in Interaction Design.

Our supportive learning environment prepares students for the demands and challenges of the music and design industries. At the end of their graphic design courses or music courses, our students are ready to step out into successful careers or pursue degrees at renowned universities.

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