UX vs graphic design

02 Apr 2015

There’s a feeling within the company I’m working for that I am – or should be – a graphic designer, as well as user experience specialist.

It got me thinking. Where do the two meet? Are they, in fact, one and the same, and I’ve been kidding myself that UX is a discipline distinct from graphic design?

As part of my current project, I am conducting moderated user tests, analysing data and producing a set of personas, red routes etc, to help my client understand its users and the tasks they want to perform – all standard UX fare.

That’s not design (not really), but I am also producing a set of specific recommendations regards visual language, navigation and layout. Plus, I’m building a prototype. ‘Design’ may be hard to define, but by any definition this is ‘design’.

Design is clearly a vital part of the UX process.

Within the context of UX, therefore, I do very much think of myself as a designer, and it’s a part of the process that I love.

However, I don’t necessarily think of myself as 100% graphic designer, in so far as there are certain design skills that tend to be outside the scope of UX. For example:

  • Developing branding, logos and corporate identities;
  • Creating the look and feel of a company’s website and marketing material from scratch.

However, particularly for clients with limited time and budgets, it’s a must for UX specialists to have design experience.

Just as these thoughts were swirling around in my mind, I received an email from Norther User Experience about a forthcoming talk – “The role of the graphic designer in the UXD process” – by Simon Jones, a Senior Lecturer Graphic Design at Leeds College of Art, at Simple Usability in Leeds.

Naturally, I popped along.

It confirmed what I knew I knew, that UX and graphic design are separate disciplines, but with significant overlap. It would be a foolish graphic designer that does not undertake at least a basic amount of user experience analysis (how could anyone design a website or app without an understanding of the users?). Similarly, it would be tough for a UX specialist to produce something for a client without any sort of design, even if in the form of paper prototypes or wireframes.

I considered flexing my Venn diagram muscles by way of illustration, but why bother when the very clever Janis Yee at PDX.ca has done such a good job?

Infographic by Janis Yee at http://pdx.ca/ Infographic by Janis Yee at http://pdx.ca/

Check out Janis’s blog post on the subject.

The points of overlap in the diagram are important. From a UX perspective:

  • The UX/UI developer bit means I can produce working prototypes to showcase ideas to the client and users, and communicate effectively with the development team; and
  • The UX/UI designer bit means (as the infographic says), I can design layouts, visuals, etc, within the client’s brand values in mind. It also means that any visuals I produce are grounded in decent design principles, be it CARP, colour, typography, use of space, usability, emotional response or whatever. This is surely important in terms of time, budget and results.

Question answered: UX and graphic design are separate disciplines, but there’s big overlap, and, as a UX specialist, design is an important part of what I do.

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