If there is one occupation that is inextricably linked to the public’s perception of what design is, it is graphic design. Graphic designers create some of the most iconic and ubiquitous designs for us, from the familiar golden arches of the McDonald’s brand to the typography and colours of movie posters.
Therefore, why would a graphic designer such as yourself want to switch careers to UX design? For starters, much can be said about the sense of satisfaction and fulfilment that comes from working “under the hood” of the products rather than on the exterior. Additionally, PayScale reports that the average salary for a graphic designer in the United States is $41,000 (1), but that figure jumps to $74,000 for a UX designer (2). Whatever the motivation for the move, it is clear that it has the potential to be extremely rewarding. However, how do you transition from graphic design to UX design? Let us investigate.
What is User Experience and User Experience Design?
The user experience (UX) is the sensations that a user has while interacting with a product. Thus, the job of a UX designer is to create products that provide the best possible user experience. How does this occur?
To begin, extensive research is necessary. You cannot create anything of value for a user unless you understand the problems they wish to solve and the best way to solve them in such a way that the user desires—or, better yet, needs—your solution. That understanding can only be gained through interaction with users.
As illustrated in the image below, UX designers are typically concerned with three primary factors: the appearance of a product, the feel of that product, and the usability of that product.
The appearance of a product is all about creating something that is visually appealing and, more importantly, that is consistent with the user’s values and embodies the spirit of what they expect from that product. In other words, it must not only look good, but also function properly. As a result, a bond of trust and credibility is established between the product and the user.
Then there’s the emotional component, which is all about developing products that are “pleasant to use.”
That is, regardless of how you interact with or react to products, they should provide a pleasurable experience, not just a functional one.
Finally, usability is critical to the user experience. If a product is unusable, the user experience can never be positive. UX designers want to create products that can be tailored to a user’s specific needs but also provide predictable functionality.
If you’re still unsure about what UX design is, have no fear! We have a series of articles that may help you decide—they go into greater detail about some of the high-level key concepts of UX design than we can
What Do Graphic Design and UX Design Have in Common?
Graphic design is about communicating emotions through typography, colour, and images; serif fonts and darker, duller colours evoke seriousness, whereas sans-serif fonts and brighter colours elicit feelings of joy or excitement. Thus, graphic designers are frequently emotional designers who seek to elicit specific responses from a user. UX design is also concerned with shaping the user’s emotions, though it typically takes a broader, more comprehensive view of the user’s overall experience with the product. Along with proper typography and colour selection, UX designers consider motion design, the tone of the content, and information architecture, among other factors.
Both graphic designers and UX designers are capable of creative thinking. For graphic designers, creating visuals that adhere to conventions (and thus communicate effectively) while maintaining an element of originality (to differentiate themselves from the competition) requires considerable creative and critical thinking. Similarly, UX designers are responsible for developing products that solve users’ problems—and conventional solutions are not always the best or most appropriate.
Prior to delivering a finished design, graphic designers frequently create mockups and wireframes of their work. It enables clients to provide feedback on their designs and for designers to improve them without starting from scratch. UX designers also create mockups and prototypes, but these are typically less concerned with the “look” of the product and more concerned with its “feel.” Is the prototype of any use? Is it fit for purpose? Is such a thing desirable? These are the questions that a user experience designer is tasked with answering.
The Differences between Graphic Design and UX Design
User-focused vs pixel-focused
Graphic designers frequently strive for pixel perfection in their work. Frequently, ensuring that text has perfect kerning and colours adhere to brand guidelines consumes a significant portion of graphic designers’ time—and with reason. However, UX designers are primarily concerned with users. They examine the interface between users and products, looking for ways to ensure that the product meets the user’s most critical needs. And they accomplish this through extensive research—by speaking with and observing users, developing user personas and stories, and conducting usability testing on the products, to name a few. Graphic designers considering a career change will need to invest significant time learning how to conduct user research (more about this a bit later on in the article).
Iterative problem solving
UX design is a highly iterative process that can be quite different from what you’re used to as a graphic designer. It begins with identifying a problem; this is frequently accomplished through user research, and if not, it is confirmed through user research. There is no point in resolving issues that users do not care about; they will not pay to resolve them, which means your business will lose money.
Following the problem identification stage, additional research is conducted to determine the most effective way to solve the problem in a way that the user will accept—typically through observations, surveys, and ethnographic studies.
This research then informs the design of the product. The designs are then put to the test to determine whether the research produced the correct solutions. The designs are constantly refined until they are deemed adequate by research.
The product is then launched, but the design process is not complete. The design will be evaluated on a continuous basis, and user feedback will be gathered, initiating a new round of user research. Future design enhancements will be made in response to this feedback.
Multi-disciplinary vs specialized
Graphic design is a specialised discipline, and creating great visuals requires a certain level of craftsmanship and a set of specialised skills (such as typography and colour theory). On the other hand, user experience design is a much more multidisciplinary field that encompasses numerous schools of thought. To create the best solutions to a user’s problems, UX designers must constantly learn about human psychology, interaction design, information architecture, and user research techniques, to name a few. Don Norman, the inventor of the term “User Experience,” defines it as “all aspects of a person’s interaction with a system, including industrial design graphics, the interface, physical interaction, and the manual.”
The Big Benefit of Graphic Design Experience when Moving to UX Design
The primary advantage of graphic designers transitioning to UX design is that they can improve the aesthetics of products. A widespread misconception about user experience design is that usability takes precedence over aesthetics. On the contrary, it has been demonstrated that good aesthetics improve a product’s overall user experience by relaxing users, creating a favourable first impression, and generally demonstrating that you care (3).
Aesthetics also aid designers in communicating with their organisations’ internal stakeholders. Ex-graphic designers have the ability to present research findings in a way that compels stakeholders to sit up and take notice. While graphic design skills are frequently overlooked in UX research, it’s difficult to deny the impact of well-presented, visually appealing findings. If you decide to make the switch, you’ll need to strike a balance between your natural desire to create beautiful things and the need to move your design projects forward. When it comes to UX design, a few scribbles on the back of a napkin are often sufficient to get things started; avoid spending three days creating a poster in this case.
Conventions and trends
Coming from a design background not only means that you have a firm grasp on design terminology, but also that you are likely familiar with web and app design conventions and trends. The majority of UX designers adhere to standardised conventions (such as a toggle switch for on/off states or a dropdown list for multiple options) because users have grown accustomed to these interactions on websites. Graphic designers, particularly those who have worked on prototypes, are also familiar with such conventions. This means that you will adapt to a UX design role more quickly than someone who comes from a non-design background. This may not seem like much, but communication is critical to the success of any UX design project, and being able to communicate face-to-face is a significant benefit.
How to Enhance Your Skills to Make the Jump from Graphic Design to UX Design
Is there a divide between graphic design and user experience design skills? True, but it is not insurmountable. Graphic designers already speak the design language; they simply need to brush up on the skills required for UX design.
Once you’ve acquired those skills, you can begin incorporating them into your graphic design work. Begin tailoring your CV to emphasise both your UX and graphic design abilities.
As previously stated, the true key for graphic designers is an understanding of user research in all of its manifestations. Each of the courses highlighted below should address this need more fully.