Tech 101: Graphic Design, UI Design, Visual Design, and Web Design—What’s the Difference?

Design fiend? Take this FREE 3-minute quiz to see if working in tech is for you.

Design fiend? Take this FREE 3-minute quiz to see if working in tech is for you.

Wondering whether you could make more money in a new design role? A job in tech might be for you. Take this quiz to find out.

If you’re someone who has a background (or even an interest) in graphic design or digital design, some of tech’s key job perks probably speak directly to you. Flexible scheduling, the opportunity to work from home or remotely anywhere in the world, starting salaries that will let you say goodbye to Cup Noodles once and for all—I bet you’re wondering where to sign up, right?

So where’s the catch? For most people, it’s in the perception that tech is all about computer programming (not necessarily a field that jumps off the page for designers). However, design is actually a HUGE part of tech! To help our creative friends understand just how right a tech career can be for them, we’ve put together this guide defining three major design fields (Graphic Design, UI Design, and Visual/Web Design) and detailing how each one pertains to tech.

Table of Contents 

What Does a Graphic Designer Do?

What does a graphic designer do?

Graphic designers probably have one of the best-known job titles in the world of design and tech. But can you define what they actually do on a day-to-day basis?

  • Traditionally, graphic designers work more directly with print design and deliverables (things like posters, brochures, invitations, and business cards).
  • That said—as printed media continues to transition into the digital realm—the graphic design field has had to adapt, which means today’s graphic designers are often qualified to create digital assets (logos, icons, etc.) for websites and applications.
  • The line between graphic designer and web designer has blurred in recent years, so that graphic design often serves as an umbrella term for other design roles. Think of it like this: web designers know and use graphic design, but graphic designers may not always be web designers.
  • Graphic designers have a deep understanding of the fundamentals of design. This includes things like color theory and typography. They also need to know how to build brand assets (like logos) and make sure those assets are consistent across all designs for a brand.
  • Graphic designers do most of their work in software programs like Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign (three Adobe products you’ll learn to use in the Skillcrush Visual Designer Blueprint). Mac users may also use the Mac-only program Sketch as a design software alternative to Photoshop.
  • One skill graphic designers don’t necessarily need is coding. The coding work for digital projects typically gets assigned to a front end web developer. That said, as the fields of graphic design and web development increasingly intersect, it doesn’t hurt for graphic designers (and especially web designers—more on that in second) to add HTML & CSS to their arsenal.

If you have experience with print graphic design but feel intimidated by the prospect of transitioning to digital design work, don’t be! Yes, you’ll have to familiarize yourself with some new tools and terminology, but core design skills remain the same, regardless of the medium. If you’re looking for help in making this transition, our Visual Designer Blueprint (mentioned above) is a perfect way to ease yourself into the new skills you’ll need,

Average base pay for a graphic designer: $52,589 per year*

* All salary data for this article via Glassdoor’s average base pay data

What does a UI designer do?


  • User interface (UI) designers are design professionals responsible for the “look and feel” of websites, apps, or other digital products. They perform design tasks like selecting colors, pairing typefaces, and setting web page or app menu layouts. This is all in service of creating a design experience that is both aesthetically pleasing and easily navigable for users.
  • UI designers work exclusively on digital projects (rather than primarily in print like a graphic designer). Because of their digital focus, they need to have a very deep understanding of user experience (an understanding you can pick up through Skillcrush’s User Experience Professional Blueprint) and web design skills (covered in our Web Designer Blueprint).
  • Since UI designers design website and web app layouts, it’s important to include strong wireframing skills in a UI design toolkit. UI designers should also be proficient with HTML and CSS so they can understand how their designs will work on actual websites and apps. For that same reason, it also helps to have a basic understanding of JavaScript (or better yet—be comfortable writing JavaScript code).
  • Like graphic designers, UI designers need a strong grasp of general design fundamentals like color theory and typography.
  • Also like graphic designers, UI designers spend a lot of time working with Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to break into UI Design work, our UX Professional Blueprint is a great place to start. And if you want to complement UX skills with coding basics, look no further than our Front End Developer Blueprint.

Average salary for a UI designer: $86,833 per year

What does a visual designer (and/or web designer) do?

What does a visual designer do?

First Up, The Difference Between a Web Designer and Visual Designer

Visual designers are the problem solvers of the design world. Rather than just bringing brands to life, they play a key role in defining what goes into a brand’s unique style and voice. In addition to creating beautiful designs, they know how to explain design concepts and the decisions behind their work.

Web designers are a subset of visual designers, focused exclusively on website design work.

  • Visual designers do a ton of different things in their day-to-day work. It’s a bit of a hybrid between graphic designer and UI designer, but with an extra layer of skills thrown into the mix. Visual designers have to understand user experience, user interface, and web design. At the same time—while they don’t have to know how to code—web designers in particular get bonus points if they have at least basic coding skills.
  • Visual designers rarely work on print products, but they do need a strong understanding of graphic design, identity design, and branding. They need to have exceptional visual messaging and communications skills, too.
  • Web designers work primarily with web layouts and deliverables, including things like icons, infographics, logos, and presentations. They also have to be familiar with industry-standard software (hello again, Adobe and Sketch), plus they need wireframing skills like a UI designer.
  • Finally, web designers need to be aware of how front-end developers work, and the languages they use. While a web designer doesn’t need to know how to code (even if they are working exclusively in web design), they at least need to know how to communicate with those who do, and how to create designs that take into account what’s possible via coding.

If you’re ready to get serious about visual design, our Visual Designer Blueprint will walk you through everything from wireframing basics and fundamental tools like Photoshop and Illustrator, to branding strategies and intermediate UX/UI skills. And if you want to focus on starting a web design career specifically, our Web Designer Blueprint will hit those same areas of visual design along with basic coding via HTML and CSS.

Average salary for a visual designer: $77,413 per year

So which one is right for you?

Traditional graphic design jobs, while still out there, are dwindling. The fact of the matter is, If you don’t have web skills in 2018 (and beyond), it will be increasingly difficult for you to find high-paying work. Practically every brand out there now has a web presence, and many have a stronger presence online than they do in print. To that end, knowing how to design for the web gives you a much stronger position in the job market.

If you’re interested in coding (and the more technical end of design), UI design can be a great option. Some UI designers code on a regular basis as part of their job (though not all of them do).

Meanwhile, web design is great for those who want a more well-rounded design career (with little or no coding required). However, even if you do zero coding as a web designer, you’ll still be qualified to immerse yourself fully in digital design, working on websites and web apps.

As you can see, design is a wide-open entry point into the world of tech, so creative types take heart! High pay, great work/life balance, and ultimate flexibility can be yours, all without sacrificing a creative career.

Design fiend? Take this FREE 3-minute quiz to see if working in tech is for you.

Design fiend? Take this FREE 3-minute quiz to see if working in tech is for you.

Wondering whether you could make more money in a new design role? A job in tech might be for you. Take this quiz to find out.

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    Dear Cameron, your definitions are TOTALY wrong or poorly raised. But please, Cameron, since when the graphic designers doesn’t know how to make icons, design an entire brand, or a packaging or a website or…? The graphic designer is the center, and the following are specializations, but you are also a graphic designer.
    On this list of graphic designers only… knew color, typography, spaces really???: Milton Glaser, Stefan Sagmeister, Paula Scher, David Carson, Paul Rand,
    Massimo Vignelli, Saul Bass, Neville Brody, Jessica Walsh,… Color, typography and spaces we studied in a quarter within the university career of graphic design (3 years that we studied a lot of this specializations).
    If you sell courses of three months to not know anything at all, good for you, but don’t lie about what it is to be a graphic designer and his its great value. Now it is fashionable to change the name of things to be cooler, and have less knowledge of everything. What you claim here is a lie, and a shame.

    • Shelly Barnes Replied

      As a working “graphic designer” myself. I am normally required to design both print and digital graphics. I know enough HTML and CSS to create web graphics with the correct formatting (keeps the developers happy).

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  41. Replied

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  42. Anonymous Replied

    Great article!! get it ART-ICLE lol no seriously though good job.

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  44. Aftab Alam Replied

    Its a great article, thanks for the differentiation..

  45. Hyra Replied

    Thanks A bunch !!! CAMERON. This is exactly what i was looking for … i use to call myself as a Generic Graphic Designer, since i work for Web, mobile and print as well. Now there is a term for all those … who knows & work in all fields of communication Design ..

  46. Umesh Replied

    Hi Cameron, My son who is studying in 12th would like to pursue the course in animation & vfx. I have found 1 institute which is having a course called as “communication design” that covers the above 2 aspects including graphic design during the 4 year course. Just wanted to ask what are the differences in graphic design/animation/vfx as compared to communication design & what are the likely opportunities in next 5-6 years down the line (when competition will be more fierce)
    Best regards,

  47. P.E Replied

    Is a Visual designer and a visual communication designer the same thing? Just wondering….

  48. Saurabh Replied

    Hi, Very important article especially for me. I am also playing multiple roll in my current company like working on UX, wire framing, UI design, creating micro interaction, application video. Can you please tell me what is the my job title?

  49. Maha Mahesh Replied

    Hi Cameron , This is an excellent article which describes about Design. I was searching about “who i’m? ” What is role name like that.. now i can mention myself as I’m an VISUAL DESIGNER” and i have all stuff.

  50. Kennedy Culver Replied

    Hi, I found out that I would like to enter into visual design once I graduate high school. Do you have any colleges to recommend for this major in the United States?

  51. Sandeep Kumar Replied

    hello great people out there , i want to become a Googler. There is jobs for VISUAL DESIGNERS. Can you guys suggest me which course would be better for my career in the field of VISUAL DESIGNERS Artist .
    Sandeep Kumar ( INDIA )

  52. KarthiK Replied

    I am little bit confused about my career, what i am really .. ? i am working as graphic designer in IT company. but i am working on UI Design, Graphic Design, Prototype, HTML, CSS, Bootstrap, JS and many of my projects are based on Mobile and Web based compare than print and others. so in that case what is my exact profession… could you help me in this regard…

  53. rajess Replied

    Thank you so much. It clears about Graphic designer, UI and Visual designer role.

    My doubt is UX and Visual designer plays almost similar role? Whether Visual Designer needs to interact with clients ?

    • bswanick Replied

      It really depends on how your team is structured, Rajess. When in a freelance role or a small agency setting, you’ll probably work more with clients in either role. As you join larger teams that have people dedicated to those roles, you’ll interact less with the client. UX is certainly one of the areas of expertise that make visual designers stand out.

  54. leonie Replied

    I was so cunfused but after reading this article I understand everything better.

    Thank you :-)

  55. Rodney Crimes Replied

    What about product design where does that title fall between Ui designer and visual designer? What skill set do you need to be a product designer? 

    • Adrian Replied

      As a product designer, you have to learn the basic principles of design, but the most important skills is to innovate based on users’ needs and problems. At the same time, you have to know how to deal with materials and manufacturing processes. It’s another world.

  56. Tejal Replied

    Hi Cameron,

    The article is very nice and so writing to you.
    I work on wire-framing and creating psd files for websites. In which role do I fit?
    According to the given suggestions, I think I am a Visual Designer!
    please correct me if it is wrong.

  57. Ricardo Replied

    Really important article especially for me that I am trying to choose a career path. Thank you so much!! One question though. What are the differences between UI designers and front-end developers? It is like UI designers know how to deal with code but their speciality is design and front-end developers deal also with design but their speciality is coding? Can a UI designer can be called himself a front-end-developer? Thank you!

    • Cameron Chapman Replied

      I think this will clarify: UI designers create the graphical part of a website that people actually see (some also write code, but a lot of them don’t). Front end developers code that design so that it actually works and does what it’s supposed to (they generally don’t create the design).

      • Saurabh Replied


        , Very important article especially for me. I am also playing multiple roll in my current company like working on UX, wire framing, UI design, creating micro interaction, application video. Can you please tell me what is the my job title?

  58. Ashoka Replied

    I think this article is the most top article of 2016 for every designer. Thanks a lot Cameron Chapman to sharing such kind of information with us.

    Keep it up :)

  59. lokesh Venkatappa Replied

    It’s a Wonderfull platform to lean more design theory and design industry.

  60. Leigh Replied

    Thanks!! Pretty much the answer to the question I have been searching the answer for a long long time. Looking forward to taking the next Visual Designer course!!

  61. Mer Replied

    Thank you for this really insightful article. Very helpful in understanding the different types of design positions and how they relate to tech. 

  62. Dorothy Replied

    Yes! Thanks, Cameron. I wish COMPANIES knew that this is the type of employee they really need rather than advertising for graphic designers all the time … hopefully this will spread sooner than later!

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