From General to Specific: Graphic Design to User Interface Design

The field of Graphic Design has changed exponentially in the past 20 years. It has moved from a mostly print medium, to a blending of technology and paper, to its current standing as a broad spectrum of design covering innumerable scenarios.

According to AIGA, Graphic Design is “the art and practice of planning and projecting ideas and experiences with visual and textual content. The form of the communication can be physical or virtual, and may include images, words, or graphic forms.”

A lot of designers are comfortable in that space, designing everything from logos to brochures to Facebook cover images. They manipulate pixels and points with color and layout and typography, all to reach a goal for the piece. This type of design solves static problems like “sell more products” or “convey this information”, and can be very rewarding.

However, after years of experience in traditional Graphic Design, you might wonder if there is a more interactive way of solving problems. There is. User Interface Design takes the general mentality of Graphic Design and makes it more specific, asking designers to aid the user to in achieving a goal by designing the elements they interact with.

Graphic design, also known as communication design, is the art and practice of planning and projecting ideas and experiences with visual and textual content. The form of the communication can be physical or virtual, and may include images, words, or graphic forms.

User Interface Design is a particular field of design that deals in the pieces of a product that interact with the user. Its day to day is characterized by sketching, wire framing, examining the user’s needs and wants, and designing elements that are intuitive.
If you find yourself unable to focus on just the little bit of a project that is your responsibility, and instead aim to do everything you can to make the entire user journey better, you might be ready for UI design. If your web design meetings revolve around what the user might expect, and whether or not your websites and applications are meeting those expectations, you might already be in the overlap between UI and Graphic Design.

Now is an exciting time for Graphic Designers. Unlike many of our pre-software and pre-web counterparts, we are living in an era of constant interaction. One where billions of people use and experience applications, software, websites on a daily basis. User Interface Design is an integral part of the average person’s life, and the field of UI design is becoming more important each day.

So – how do you get into UI design? You might not have to go far. Look at the projects in your own role, and see if there are any opportunities to take on UI responsibilities. In my past two Graphic Design positions I’ve been able to spearhead large projects from a UI perspective. Redesigning a website? Move your concept phases into a more UI centered approach. Conduct tests, do user research, and hold your web design to a higher standard for UI.

With the fundamentals of design already under your belt, learning the UI specific approaches and theory is only a matter of effort.

Of course, taking on additional responsibility isn’t easy if you don’t know what you are doing. A lot of UI might seem like common sense, but assumptions can be dangerous and plagued with your own anecdotal experiences. Reach out to Design organizations in your area, or enroll in an accredited online course about UI. With the fundamentals of design already under your belt, learning the UI specific approaches and theory is only a matter of effort.

Finally, be sure to exercise your new skills, either in your current projects or in volunteer and freelance opportunities. Portfolio pieces in UI can speak volumes when paired with Graphic Design and Web Design experience.

If you are the type of designer who enjoys building better user experience by designing better details; now is a good time to be specific.