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10 types of graphic design you should know

By BBC Maestro

Are you thinking about a career in graphic design? If so, it’s worth looking into the different types of graphic design at this early stage.

Most designers specialise in a specific type of design work, and while there’s significant overlap between these different fields, they do require specific skills and approaches.

In this article, we take a look at a few of the main types of graphic design work. Which will best suit your talents?

10 types of design

If you want to work in graphic design, it’s good to know the different areas you could specialise in. Most are related, and many designers have experience in more than one of these fields. Knowing about areas other than your own can also help in the future when you’re building project teams, and it’s always good to be able to diversify for the sake of your own career path or portfolio.

All these styles of graphic design need a similar skillset. You need to be an exceptional visual communicator who can work deftly with all the elements of design, and you also need to be able to communicate your ideas with clients and colleagues. Some graphic design jobs require more advanced tech skills than others, while others need talented visual artists and draftspeople. Take a look through our list of different types of design to see which area or areas most appeal to you.

Organisations use graphic design to create their visual identity.  When you’re working in branding, you’re the interface between the company and its audience, helping define its personality and how this is put across. Brand identity design covers elements such as logo, colour scheme and typeface, and how these are used in everything from website to staff uniforms. You could be employed in-house or work for a dedicated branding agency.

1. Brand identity

Bond Street's London underground sign

2. Marketing design

This is closely related to branding, and the marketing specialist will be responsible for designing all promotional materials. So again, you’re applying elements like the logo and the colour palette to all relevant materials such as adverts, website and apps, social media, packaging, merchandise… Larger organisations have an in-house team that works on marketing design.

3. Advertising

Advertising is a specialist subset of marketing and is a very popular area among designers – there’s so much scope for creativity. You could be working with anything from billboards to social media ads. Some of the most memorable design work of the last sixty years has been created by advertising specialists (formerly known as commercial artists) and their copywriting colleagues.

4. UI design

If you love getting into the psychology of design and customer behaviour, this is an excellent area to specialise in. The user interface designer works on the on-screen elements to make sure they’re as legible and easy to use as possible. The UI or UX (user experience) designer needs to be able to balance user-friendliness, great design and technical essentials.

5. Editorial design

Editorial or publication designers work with books, magazines, newspapers, reports and catalogues, and there’s an increase in digital publication design work. Graphic designer Paula Scher explains the role:

“Editorial design is the formatting and organisation of information, sometimes with images. With considerations to pacing, scale, format, whitespace, etc., a designer can curate an exciting, appropriate, and individualist experience for readers.”

There are lots of different skills involved with editorial design, and you need to be especially strong in layout and composition. You work with a team including editors and publishers, which could be in-house or within a specialist agency.

A person working on a desktop screen

6. Digital design

If tech’s your remit, work in web and app design. Digital design involves designing and sometimes building websites and apps. There’s a big crossover with UI design, as you’ll need to make sure that your designs are easy to navigate. As well as being an exceptional visual communicator, you’ll need to be comfortable working with web design software. Digital designers work in-house, for agencies and as freelancers.

7. Packaging design

This area of product graphic design can be great fun and is another popular area among designers. The challenge here is not only to make the packaging look fabulous and support the brand but to protect and house the product in the best way possible. Today, packaging designers also need to be aware of sustainable practices and the use of materials. You’ll need to be good at working with different teams of people, such as brand designers, manufacturers and product developers.

8. Environmental graphic design

This fascinating discipline covers everything from wayfinding signage to outdoor installations. Graphic designer Paula Scher explains environmental graphic design.

“Environmental graphic design can also be called experiential design. It’s communication within a space, or an environment. It often interacts with its environment, and it often tells a story…  environmental graphics become part of a place, help define locations, and sometimes these designs stay in place for a year or two or even longer.”

You’ll be working with professionals such as architects, lighting designers and urban planners, which Paula Scher describes as “really fun, and very different from other design making”. You’ll need a sympathetic approach to both your audience (extremely wide) and the environment you’re working within. Paula comments:

“In most instances of environmental design, you’d want the design to fit into the place and not be the primary event of the space. However, a good concept is memorable and helps define the space.”

Why shouldn’t a lavatory sign be a thing of beauty? Environmental graphic designers have a great opportunity to make the world a brighter place, as well as making daily life that bit easier.

9. Motion graphics design

This is a growth area of graphic design as video content is becoming increasingly popular among users. What does a motion graphics designer work with? You could be creating anything from animated logos to working on game design. If a client wants presentations, tutorials or explanatory videos inserted into their website, a motion graphic designer is the person to call.

Paula Scher explains that the motion graphic specialism still requires a thorough understanding of the basics:

“You can enter motion design from a variety of routes, but a knowledge of graphic design is integral. Graphic design rules, like composition, scale, colour, form, typography, etc. are all at play.”

Paula’s awe-inspiring portfolio includes designing title and credit sequences for films. She explains how important a sense of fun can be in this particular branch of design.

“…humour and wit are helpful in recognising that human touch. It makes an animated piece come alive.”

Next time you’re watching a film or streaming the latest must-see series, focus on the title and credit sequences: is this an area of graphic design that appeals to you?

A person holds an open comic book

10. Art & illustration

It’s almost always the case that you don’t have to be a good artist to be a great graphic designer. Yes, being able to sketch out ideas is extremely helpful, but you don’t need to be Royal Academy standard. However, there is an exception, and that’s artwork graphic design.

If you work in art and illustration, you’ll be creating original work, either by hand or digitised. It’s a wide field: you could be creating exquisite wedding invitations or drawing the skins for gaming characters. Textile prints, graphic novels, book covers, stock images… there’s such a great variety of roles for the talented artist. If art is your subject and you want to make a viable career from your talents, look into commercial art and illustration opportunities.

Graphic design: finding your niche

That was a bit of a whirlwind tour through your career options as a graphic designer. Which areas feel like the closest fit to your skills and interests? Be prepared to diversify, and don’t miss any opportunity to pick up new and useful skills. Networking with other designers can help you keep on top of trends as well as potentially build talented teams in the future.

Above all, keep enjoying what you do. Graphic designer Paula Scher’s long career has spanned so many different areas, from environmental design to animated titles. Her advice? Choose what makes you happy.

“I think the thing to do is find what you like doing and what you’re good at and push that as far as you can go.”

Find out more about working in graphic design from the designer’s designer, Paula Scher. In her BBC Maestro course, Graphic Design, Paula talks about her renowned career in design, from her early inspiration through to working with top global brands. She covers different areas of graphic design, such as environmental design and animation.

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