Graphic Design: Everything You Need to Know About Graphic Design

You hear it thrown around as an important part of marketing and communications. But what does graphic design actually mean? What elements does it include, and what tools do professionals in this field use?

That’s what this guide will explore, starting with a simple graphic design definition.

What is graphic design?

Graphic design means using visuals to communicate a specific message. Anytime you’re thinking about more than text in communicating that message, graphic design can come into play. Individual elements might include:

  • The images used.
  • Graphics, like simple lines or geometrical shapes.
  • The colors chosen.
  • The fonts and typography.
  • The layout of a page or publication.
  • Negative elements, like whitespace, when used strategically.

In other words, it’s a broad field. So let’s get specific.

7 types of graphic design

What does a graphic designer do? In truth, it depends. Most professionals break down the concept into seven distinct types. Graphic design is most often used for:

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1. Packaging Design

This type describes the process of designing product packaging to make it more viable and attractive to customers. It can help packaged goods stand out on store shelves and position a product against its competition.

2. Website Design

Almost 95% of a website’s first impressions are based on its visual elements. Web designers think through and execute the layout and visuals of both individual pages. They also think through and define the larger hierarchy that makes browsing a website a coherent, intuitive experience.

3. Advertising Design

This is a broad category, encompassing any type of advertisements your business might run:

  • Digital display and social media ads
  • Magazine and newspaper print ads
  • Billboards and other out-of-home ad
  • Marketing postcards, fliers, and designs
  • And more.

The main goal here is persuasion, catching your audience’s attention, and getting your message across quickly to make the ad worth the investment.

4. Environmental Design

This type of design connects your audience directly with the place where it lives. Think of examples like wall murals, public transit signage, and even the interior design of stores. The purpose can range from functional (like navigational signs) to artistic (like wall murals).

5. Publication Design

Even publications based on text, like books, journals, and newspapers, still need graphic designers to get the look just right. Professionals in this field will focus heavily on typography, layout, and secondary accompanying artwork.

6. Visual Identity Design

Every branding process needs at least one visual professional. Creating a visual identity for a business means creating a distinct brand image through a wide range of elements:

  • The company logo
  • Secondary graphics and visuals
  • The photography and videography style
  • The fonts used consistently

Creating a visual identity is not just about creating these elements, though. It’s about creating a comprehensive visual system in which every element works together towards a more coherent, persuasive brand image.

7. Animation Design

A more recent type of graphic design is the ability to create moving graphics. Animations can come into play in anything from digital ads and websites to videos and other areas in which the visual is not just static.

The graphic design tools every professional needs

Professional designers tend to use a few analog and digital tools to help them get the job done:

  • A sketchbook and pencil, both to outline layouts and draw out ideas.
  • A high-powered computer, often a Mac, to render res images and graphics.
  • A large monitor or dual monitors, often at 27” or above.
  • A Pantone swatch book to make sure they get the right colors in both print and digital.
  • Some optional tools, like a touchscreen with stylus pen or a trackpad.
  • The right creative software - more on that below.

Understanding the graphic design software market

For two decades now, Adobe’s Creative Suite has been the dominant software package among graphic designers. Even novices have heard of platforms like Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign (used largely for layouts).

Of course, it’s not the only option available. Creative Bloq has a great guide of free solutions, while PCMag focuses on the more comprehensive (and more expensive) alternatives.

Graphic design skills

Regardless of which among the seven types outlined above is the focus of a job, most graphic designers bring a particular set of skills to the job. That includes:

  • Creativity, and the ability to create something beautiful from a blank page.
  • Communication, both in expressing written words in their design and in communicating their design to clients, partners, and stakeholders.
  • Technology, especially when it comes to the software and tools required.
  • Patience, as complex designs can take days and even weeks to complete.
  • Ownership, the ability to treat each project as one’s own even when created for others.
  • Impartiality, being able to let go of personal feelings should others critique or shoot down an idea or design.

5 Graphic design blogs to follow

One final skill gets us to the final portion of this guide. Graphic designers have to follow current trends, getting constant inspiration from the work of others. There’s no better place to accomplish that than these five blogs, written directly by and for the profession.

  1. Creative Bloq
  2. Design Week
  3. Creative Boom
  4. Create by Adobe
  5. The Dsgn Blog

There are countless others out there. But even following these fives will give you a great sense of any subtopics within this sprawling area. Use it for inspiration or to just understand the industry better, to immerse yourself deeper into a core part of the marketing and communications world.

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