Design Fields

Today, I’ll go over the different design fields that exist today for job roles/titles. Particularly I’d like to explain how and why it is widely used interchangeably within the industry.

I’ve noticed there has been an explosive evolution of differing design fields/titles over the years.  Most notably User Experience Design (UxD), Interaction Design (IxD), User Interface Design (UI), Visual Design, Web Design, and Product Design. What are the differences? The differences are very minor in fact and honestly they all share a common ground and are branch offs of the original field – Graphic Design.

Originally in its heyday, Graphic Design focused more on print design than web. In its purest form this covers everything from color, imagery, typography, to use of space, and hierarchy of information. They also should know how to concept and create branding in its many forms. The golden years of this period bred famous designers such as Paul Rand, Milton Glaser, David Carson, Massimo Vignelli, Paula Scher, Michael Bierut, David Carson, Stefan Sagmeister, including many others. This period marked many controversial designs and iconic brands and logos we still recognize today. Logos such as IBM, Westinghouse, I heart NYC logo, etc. So in actuality, Graphic Design is the origin of all other design fields today that deal with visuals and graphics. (And before GD existed there was something called Graphic Arts, but I won’t go into that in this post.) So what has changed over the years has been the medium/platform for content delivery/display.

The aforementioned newer fields are extensions of Graphic Design and have evolved from a growing need for a specialized subset of creative thinkers due to the tech boom, primarily software development (think mobile apps) – which created a new field called Product Design. From the very app icon we tap, to the user interface (navigation), leading to user flows, and how information is presented and accessible. You can argue that web design, interaction design, user experience design, user interface design, all overlaps this as well as there is a lot of crossover. And well, yes. You are right as it is about the entire experience and the flow and access of information limited by constraints of OR enhanced by current day technology. It can imply screen real estate ranging to the medium of controlling navigation, and how seamless that interaction is.

And what about Web Design? Well it’s exactly as it says. It focuses more on web sites for desktop and mobile and less on mobile apps. Similarly to what I said above, mobile web sites these days are so similar in functionality and interface to mobile apps that the lines are being blurred. Hence, why there is a new terminology floating around called ‘web app’ to describe this phenomenon. Particularly in the case when data is inputted or exchanged on the back-end, thereby creating new data in a web app that’s expressed on the front-end.

Well, what about Visual Design? Visual Designers are problem solvers of the design world. They can execute and explain concept designs of solutions to problems. They should be familiar with front-end development and have an understanding of user experience, user interface, and web design and be able to wireframe for UI. I would describe them as designers of and for the modern digital era. However their primary focus falls more on how something looks, and secondary is how and end-user interacts with it. Which leads me to talk a little about Interaction Design, whose primary focus is how the end-user interacts with it (are buttons big enough to tap/click, how information reveals itself (fade, slide, pop-up), how the interface and colors change, etc.) and secondary is how the visual designs are. The two are very tight knit, but the core difference I’d say are their preliminary approaches.

How about UX, IX, and UI Design? As I’ve mentioned, these fields compliment and are the pillars of Web Design, Visual Design, and Product Design. In general terms in order to specialize on the latter, you’ll need to understand the former. However a lot of individuals also use UI, IX, and UI Design to describe their field in more abstract terms that allude to this web of interconnected expertise areas. One last thing about UX Design is that in more extreme cases, it can specialize heavily in research in usability testing, questionnaires, focus groups, and target specific demographics for testing purposes. Companies that can fund this kind of usability research often target the market for mobile apps.

So is it common for designers today to have more than one skill set? Yes, in order to stay competitive most designers these days are expected by the industry to have more than one expertise under their belt. Ultimately all of these fields more or less use the same software to plan processes, help conceptualize layouts, and create digital assets, layouts, and designs – which is also where they go hand in hand. And they also utilize similar processes as well to reach a final design/product. There are additionally some expectations in this day and age from employers for designers to know how to code as well. Which is another evolution of the designer from the way I see it. And perhaps again in a few years as VR headsets become more prominent, you may find a new justified label for designers within this tech realm. I don’t see design jobs going away anytime soon. In fact I see it growing as exponential as programming jobs.


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