Graphic designer or Web designer | Which One is Best for You

a graphic paintbrush and a computer web design illustration

The world of visual design is pretty exciting.

You have so many fields to choose from with so many options.

If you’ve done some research in this field of design you might be overwhelmed with the various and vast amounts of studies that this field offers.

However, a very common question for most beginners with a passion for design is which one they should choose.

This is a genuine concern as the different fields might overlap and be used in collaboration with one another which makes it difficult to distinguish between each other. You will also notice that these designers are usually juggling between multiple positions themselves. It’s not uncommon to see a logo designer also practicing marketing design and motion graphics.

The same goes for graphic designing and web designing, web designing consists of a lot of concepts, rules and ideas taught in graphic designing.

I personally believe that any designer trying to enter the field of design should learn graphic designing first as it is the foundation for all other areas of design whether that is web designing or app designing.

However, we’ll discuss this in further detail below;

What we’ll discuss:

  • What is Graphic Design
  • What is Web Design
  • Differences Between Web design & Graphic design
  • Similarities Between Web design & Graphic design
  • Why it is important to differentiate between the two
  • Which One Should You Choose

Let’s get started

What is Graphic Design?

illustration of laptop with graphic design

Design is thinking made visual – Saul Bass

Graphic design is the art of communicating ideas and conveying messages using visuals. Graphic designers do this by using the appropriate graphics, typography, color and composition to present visuals in such a way that is appealing to viewers.

If you are unsure about graphic design as a career choice check out is Graphic Designing a Good Career Choice?

Graphic design used to be limited to printed media such as posters, brochures, flyers, magazines and logo designs but is now more focused on creating digital assets for the World Wide Web.

A study by softwarefindr suggests that “There will be a rise in the employment of graphic designers for computer-related design and electronic media fields for up to 35% between 2015 to 2022.”

Graphic designers collaborate with marketers and business owners in order to understand the needs of their target audience and the goals of the business. They then create visuals to attract viewers toward the brand, ultimately, increasing brand awareness.

It helps the producer connect with the consumer. It conveys the message of the project, event, campaign or product. - Alexandro Clufetos

Graphic designers use creative software to create these stunning visuals. Adobe Creative Cloud is considered the industry-standard software which includes popular tools such as Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.

What is Web Design?

illustration of pc with web designing


Web design is the art of communicating ideas and messages using graphics, typography, color and composition specifically for websites and is a fast-growing industry.

According to a study by Ibisworld, “The market size of the Web Design Services industry in the US increased faster than the economy overall. It is worth $40.8bn and is expected to increase by 3.1% in 2021.”

This might sound like the same thing as graphic design as it does come under the same heading of visual design however there are some key differences.

Web designers are not responsible for only designing websites but also to make the website functional, dynamic and fast.

This means every button on the page shouldn’t just look good and legible, it has to be clickable, every image should be compressed and every graphic has to work in accordance with the user’s navigation to provide a satisfactory user experience.

Web design is interactive, graphic design is static. - Monica Galvan from UX Planet

Before they even start designing they sit down and plan the user journey by considering how the user would interact with the website and plan the wireframe layouts, imagery, and graphics and then proceed to design the interface of the website.

Web designers have to familiarize themselves with graphic design principles and fundamentals as it is a major part of design. They should have a good grasp on terms such as typography, hierarchy, color, form, and layout.

Differences between Web Design & Graphic Design

As discussed above, both web design and graphic design come under the umbrella term of visual design they are however different in their own unique way.

Web Design is dynamic

user clicking on logo and going home


Graphic design is mostly concerned with print mediums which mean that the consumer cannot interact with the design. Web design has to be dynamic, a user has to be able to click, scroll and interact with the website. The most common example of interactive web design you’ll see on every site is their logo. When a logo is printed on a flyer or poster the user can see it and even touch it but it won’t do anything but when you visit a website you can click on its logo and it will take you straight to the homepage.

Web design is flexible

In graphic design when you design something and it gets printed you can’t change it, whereas, since web design is a dynamic medium you can change, tweak or make additions to the overall design. This is most noticeable when designing catalogs or menus.

For example, if a restaurant has a total number of 30 dishes on its menu it will require a menu designed including those 30 dishes but what if they want to add more dishes? Or maybe a new head chef is appointed and he wants to make changes to the current menu? 

A graphic designer would have to remake the whole menu again but this time including the additional dishes. This takes time and effort and can prove to be costly to the business. However, if the restaurant had a website professionally made they can inform their web designer to make the necessary changes and they could just edit, add or delete what they want.

It should be noted that this is only true if the graphic design is intended to be printed in the first place because as people are shifting towards digital formats such as pdfs for sharing menus and brochures a graphic designer could offer the same flexibility as the web designer.

Web design is an Ongoing Process

In most cases when a graphic designer is handed a project it is a one-time thing. A brand approaches you, provides you with their requirements and guidelines, you design them what they want, you get paid and part ways. 

As a web designer, things are different. 

After designing the website the designer and client don’t usually shake hands and say goodbye but rather the client may hire the web designer on a contract basis or some other arrangement in order to keep the site maintained. When changes would have to be made, the web designer would be notified by the brand to update the site.

We might argue that graphic designers are also sometimes required for ongoing changes but that is different to web design changes. 

For example, when a company approaches a graphic designer to get a logo designed, he may not require any of his service after the project is completed but later may come back to get another design done such as a business card but nevertheless these would be considered individual projects rather than an ongoing maintenance of a design or brand.

Different Design Tools and Software

adobe products for graphic designing

A minor yet significant difference is that web designers and graphic designers work with different tools and software. Adobe Creative Cloud is considered the standard for both these professions but web designers may use Adobe XD to create their web designs whereas, graphic designers might use Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign to create their designs.

There are other alternatives to Adobe such as Figma for web designers and GIMP, Krita, or Affinity for graphic designers.

Knowledge of Coding

display of code for optimized web design

As a web designer you may have to learn basic coding languages such as HTML, CSS & Javascript. It used to be a necessity to learn these programming languages but as newer web design software released such as Figma, the need to learn code is decreasing for design purposes but still important.

  • HTML – stands for hyper-text markup language, it deals with the overall composition of the website and is responsible for displaying content. Every single website you see on the internet includes HTML.
  • CSS – stands for cascading style sheets, it deals with the overall design and style of the website. It is responsible to make the website look nice and appeal to its viewers.
  • Javascript – a coding language that deals mostly with the dynamic elements of a website such as, transitions and animations.

The main reason web designers would learn code is to better optimize their designs, these designers work closely with programmers so they should strive to make their jobs easier by making designs that are easy to manage from a technical point of view.

Graphic designers, from what I know, don’t require any kind of coding knowledge for designing nor do they have to worry about it.

Typography Restrictions

In graphic designing you don’t have any type of restrictions on typography, you can use whichever font you want and it will display the same way to others however, in web design things are a bit different.

Web design is dynamic so designers would have to work closely with programmers and would have to use @media queries to display type in different ways. 

For example, people viewing on desktop might want the font to be big so they can read easily but if that same font transfers to mobile it might be too big for users and would cause the text to clutter.

responsive design for computer and phone ux

Another constraint you may face is that the preferred font might not always be displayed as you like as systems would have to scan whether the font is accessible in the user’s computer or not. 

Meaning, if you used the Open Sans font and the PC is unable to recognize it, it would rather show a basic sans-serif font like Ariel. This would require web designers to import fonts into the HTML/CSS files rather than place a font they want. 

Below is an example of how the CSS code would look like if you want to import the Open Sans font from google into your design

back end coding of a website importing fonts from google


Similarities between Web design & Graphic design

Now that we have a good understanding of the differences in web and graphic design let’s look at some ways they’re similar to each other.

Design Trends

Since graphic design and web design work hand in hand they might also follow the same trends. 

For example, the flat design trend has been immensely popular due to its simple and minimalistic style. The trend started in logo design and spread to icon design, app design and web design. You’ll notice that nowadays websites have a very simple and flat look using simple icons as clickable buttons and even removing shadows from hyperlinks to just coloring them.

Both the areas of expertise require the designers to stay up-to-date to design trends so they can remain competitive in the industry, further develop their skills and better adjust with the changing marketing dynamics.

Fundamentals and Principles of Design

fundamentals and principles of design with texture form shape color


No matter which field of expertise you choose to specialize in, when it comes to design you have to master the basic fundamentals. This includes having adequate knowledge of basic design terms such as, typography, contrast, form, color, shape, texture etc. And also have a good idea of design rules such as the golden ratio, rule of thirds, and hierarchy. 

You don’t necessarily have to learn ALL the techniques but you should have a basic idea of them.

Communication

As designers it is our job to have clear communication with the clients so we understand exactly what they’re trying to achieve, is it more leads, more sales, brand awareness? 

Designers are responsible for asking all the right questions so the clients know what you require of them to make a successful design possible. In each case you should always ask a lot of questions to clarify the guidelines of the brand’s design needs.

Why it is important to differentiate between the two

Now we know all the differences and similarities between web designers and graphic designers but why distinguish between the two anyways?

You might think both fields are part of visual design and can be used together so, why not just call yourself as a “visual designer?”

It is extremely important to differentiate between the two as a visual designer includes everything related to design, this would cause problems in your professional career as brands might approach you with tasks you might not be able to complete

Let’s say you have a great passion for graphic design and you are also great at designing websites so you register yourself as a freelance visual designer. But, when your first client approaches you he might want you design his app that he developed.

Here’s the problem, you don’t know anything about app design. You’ve never tried it, you don’t know what the appropriate software is and you might not have an idea of what the backend looks like as apps aren’t written in the coding languages we discussed above, most apps are commonly written in React or Node.

After realizing this you might refuse the offer (you’ll be crazy to accept such an extensive task) and leave the client disappointed and dissatisfied which will give you a bad name.

By differentiating between the two you can figure out which one you resonate with more, after you find that out you can explore the field further and offer services as a graphic designer OR a web designer.

By doing this you will:

  • Be much more focused on the topic as you concentrate on just one type of design
  • Gain credibility as other than jumping different positions you master one. Seriously, if you want to get your toilet fixed would you call a plumber or a maintenance man?
  • Make more money as your audience will have specific needs which you might be an expert in providing so you could charge them more.

Which One Should You Choose?

You should choose to learn graphic designing first as it would open a lot of options for you in the visual/digital design field. This is because graphic designing is the foundation for any design profession, the terms, processes, and techniques you learn in graphic design will stay relevant to you in every project you take part in.

If you choose to study web design you would still have to learn the basics of graphic design so it’s a wise decision to learn graphic design beyond the basics so you can make awesome web designs further in your career.

My advice to you would be to learn graphic design and then niche down to being a web designer as nowadays every business needs a website to reach their potential and remain competitive in the industry so web designers do have a future demand.

Employment of web developers and digital designers is projected to grow 8 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment of web developers and digital designers is projected to grow as eCommerce continues to expand.” (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

To conclude, you should learn graphic designing first, you can refer to this blog for any tutorial or guide. Mediacaterer has easy-to-follow guides for beginners so if you think you're ready and are passionate, start learning!

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