what's on our minds

Graphic Design Versus Web Design

I am having déjà vu because I think we wrote about this a few years ago. However, so much as changed since then. What hasn’t changed is the divide between the two disciplines and the effect on clients’ marketing, which is that it’s not well integrated. Graphic design has basic elements that I feel web design is missing. I used to get huffy about it because a lot of web developers were calling themselves web designers when they had very little visual and creative talent. They hammered together functional but ugly and not well branded websites, and called it design.

Graphic Design Meanwhile, experts in the graphic design field are able to create well branded and visually appealing websites, but often don’t know enough about user experience and coding to make it work (i.e.: work = function + build business). Why? Web designers know a lot more about how the user’s experience to makes a website visually appealing as well as engaging (i.e.: getting audience to notice specific things and take further steps). Graphic design snobs shouldn’t hold it against them that they are missing some  traditional graphic design fundamentals, what we should do is work on improving that lack, and learning from them in turn.

What graphic design fundamentals are they missing?

Typography, for example. In the old days font choices and control over how they rendered for website visitors were limited, in turn limiting creativity. Now there are many web fonts available, but even when it was all Arial and Verdana, designers with a graphic design background were able to generate creative font styles using colours, sizes, etc. There are many graphic elements in websites that are images as opposed to dynamic text, meaning the designer has as much control over type as in print graphic design. But, I see ‘designs’ ranging from unimaginative type treatments to unsightly gaffs I learned to avoid in school and at my first job (thanks Roger).

Web Design

I single this aspect out because even though they had fairly advanced computers when I started school in 1994, I still learned to do typography by hand, which certainly makes you understand and respect good kerning. I also learned how to create imaginative designs with type alone (or something from nothing), where web designers are too reliant on stock images, templates and cool-looking buttons.

Overall brand development and working in multiple mediums.

Web designers tend to work in one medium only – the web. In most cases, adapting a brand that’s already created. In traditional graphic design we develop and apply brands to multiple vehicles which helps us learn how to identify and perpetuate core brand elements across the board. I feel that web designers just don’t have the off-line experience to ensure their work makes that transition. Granted, traditional graphic designers may not understand the web enough to fully apply their graphic design gifts. The very nature of the interactive web is a completely universe than offline design.

Web and Graphic Design TeamWhat does it mean for clients?

They go to separate firms for their different expertise. If they don’t have a strong marketing manager in house that can transcend and unite all media, they end up with inconsistent or disconnected marketing tools. While web is critical to successful marketing, we know people don’t live in their computers and still go outside, so it is extremely important that a company’s brand is consistent and strong across all media. If not, they are missing opportunities to make their marketing really successful. Not competition between web and graphic design, but collaboration.

What to do about it?

Some graphic design fundamentals are no longer taught in college in favour of web development. Meanwhile, a lot of great old-school designers could really benefit from learning more about development to transition their graphic design skills. I feel both kinds of designers need to learn more about what each other does, whether at school, on the job, or on their own.

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