Graphic design is a skill and practice that uses visual elements to communicate ideas or convey messages. Gaining some insight into what graphic designers do will help make working with these strange creatures less nerve-wracking. As a graphic designer that got her career started when Adobe first came out with products like Photoshop and Illustrator in the 90s and now being in Silicon Valley during COVID-19 while the tech industry is restructuring its work culture, it can be overwhelming. There is also a certain aspect of social responsibility that creators should adhere to.
Graphic designers use their talent as an art from to problem solving through the use of images, typography, and styles. The main types of graphic design are visual identity, marketing and advertising, publication, packaging, user interface, 3D and motion graphics, environmental design, and illustration.
Brand, Branding and Visual Identity
Your visual brand is one of the most important aspects of your identity. It’s how people perceive you. People identify brands by the styles, colors, advertising copy, and logo associated with different business entities. Your brand is how people perceive you. Branding is the process and actions you take to create a specific image of your company. Visual brand identity is all of the elements combined to create your image.
The 4 Ps (Purpose, Positioning, Promise, Personality) of a brand as a starting point when developing your brand image as part of your marketing strategy.
Below are some deliverables that fall into this category:
- Logo – graphic symbol that represents your brand and is easily recognizable by your users and customers.
- Corporate Identity Package (Business Stationary)
- Business Cards
- Typography – the art and technique of crafting and arranging type and text to be legible, readable, and appealing.
- Color Palette – the choice of color combinations used in design to represent a brand.
- Style Guide – a manual or set of standards that define your company’s brand that references logo usage, images, grammar, tone, colors, perspective, etc.
Marketing and Advertising
Businesses depend on graphic design to visually communicate their messages and/or product and service offerings. Good graphic design sets the tone and foundation a company’s visual brand and storytelling. The difference between graphic design and advertising design is advertising design is a hybrid of design and marketing. Advertising design is the art of problem solving, engaging, and persuading users to take action while maintaining your company’s brand image.
In the table below are some examples of marketing design projects and deliverables you will come across regularly as a marketing designer.
|Tradeshow Graphics||POP Displays||Posters||Flyers|
|Banners||Product Literature||Postcards||Book Covers|
|Pamphlets||Branded Swag||Infographics||CD/DVD Cover|
Publication design is the art of laying out multipage documents in a printed medium. Printing and publishing ranges from journals, newsletters and magazines to books, product catalogs and annual reports. Publication graphic design requires technical knowledge of design software, intelligent design, typography, printing and binding. E-books and other forms electronic publishing and self-publishing have become more popular – slowly replacing printed publications because of the ease of use, wide distribution, and cost effectiveness.
The design of your product packaging is just as important as the product itself. In my experience, many companies spend more on developing the product packaging than the actual product. The goal of packaging design is to attract a buyer’s attention and ultimately make a sale while sitting on the shelf with thousands of other products. To meet marketing objectives, packaging design’s job is to portray the product’s personality and communicate to a consumer the benefits and value of the contents inside and make a purchase.
Packaging design is not just the graphics, it’s the exterior of a product and includes form, structure, materials, imagery, typography, and regulatory information wrapped on a physical container.
Below is a sample of the steps in a workflow of a web design process.
- Gather requirements
- Submit proposal
- Navigation Summary
- Content Collection
- Project Timeline
- Mockup Design
- Prototype Submission
Mobile or UX (User Experience) design is the overall design of subjective experiences a person has while interacting with hand-held mobile and wearable devices. Interactions on mobile devices include apps, interfaces, software, and the hardware itself. The UI designer is responsible for the overall style of the apps, including colors, typography, icons, buttons, and widgets that people will use. People spend a lot of time on their mobile devices and there’s an app for almost everything.
3D Modeling is an art form and process of using mathematical equations to make graphics come to life in three dimensions – height, width, and depth. It’s also an area of design that I wish I had further developed, but I’m not retired just yet. 3D graphics are used for 3D printing, prototyping, movies, engineering, medicine, manufacturing, industrial design, architecture, video games, animation, science, technology, real estate, interior design, advertising, marketing, and more. Virtual environments can be a cost effective solution by creating digital prototypes before physical production.
Categories of 3D Design/Modeling
- Game Design
- Architecture and Interior Design
- 3D Printing
- Product Design
- Virtual and Augmented Reality
- Film and Animation
Software – Most professional design software have free trial versions and there are free options you can explore if you just want to experiment before you make an investment.
Motion graphics is the ability to animate pieces of graphics, video, text, visual effects, and sounds to create dynamic multimedia projects. Motion graphics are used to create artwork for television, film, and the web. Motion graphics are commonly used by businesses and organizations to create engaging experiences through animated graphic design. Some of these projects might include the following:
- Explainer Videos
- Product Marketing
- UI Animations
- Film and Television
- Education and Training
Illustration is an art form that interprets things pictorially or visually to clarify or demonstrate something. Illustration and graphic design are multidisciplinary skills, so illustrators and designers often switch hats. The main difference between the two disciplines is graphic designers rely on illustrations as part of a set of elements to work with, where illustrators create and produce the illustrations themselves.
There are many illustration techniques from traditional to modern. See below for examples of types of illustration.
|Woodcut/Block Print||Metal Etchings||Pencil Illustrations|
In the table below are some common illustration genres or styles. As with any other creative discipline, it’s about individuality and creative expression.
|Concept Art||Children’s Illustration||Comics|
Graphic Design Styles
Graphic design style is a combination of different shapes, colors, typography, form, lines, and curves that work in harmony to accomplish your design goals.
Art Nouveau is an ornamental style that is characterized by use of long organic lines and is an international art style that is often used in architecture, interior design, jewelry, glass, posters, illustration, etc. Art Nouveau was popular in Europe and the United States between 1890 and 1910.
- Intricate illustrative style
- Bold, heavy weighted outlines
- Hand drawn and colored
- Use of natural forms
- Use of a natural color and tonal palette
- Regularly features female personas
Art Deco can be characterized as a sleek geometric style that uses rich colors, bold geometry, and decadent detailed work that brings an element of glamour and luxury using symmetry and exuberant shapes. Art Deco originated in France in the mid-to-late 1910s and became popular in the United States and Europe during the 1930s and is often found in architecture.
- Bold geometric shapes
- Use of vertical and motion lines
- Capitalized typefaces
- High contrast in colors
- Flat (in terms of depth)
“Kitsch” is a German word meaning “in bad taste” and is used to describe artwork that is vulgar, tasteless, pretentious, and lack of sophistication. American Kitsch was popular in the United States in the 1950s but rarely found in art history books or taught in design schools. Contemporary designers still have a deep affection for this style of design.
- Contrasting imagery and fonts
- Cartoon-like illustrative images
- Bold, vibrant colors
- People in dramatic poses
- Aerodynamic shapes
International style is a typographic design style also known as “Swiss” style that emerged in Russia, the Netherlands, and Germany in the 1920s and was further developed by Switzerland in the 1950s.
- Consistent use of negative space
- Saturated, matte color palettes
- Very ‘clean’ and simple
- Sans serif fonts favored
- Asymmetrical layouts
Psychedelic art dominated the art culture in the 1960s when psychedelic drugs became popular in Western culture, particularly the United States and Britain. Music and album covers from the 60s summarizes the era’s popularity.
- Influenced by the psychedelic drug culture
- Intense, clashing colors
- Type and image use influenced by Art Nouveau
- Hand-drawn type generally illegible and hard to read
- Abstracted curvaceous forms and design elements
Punk was part of the Postmodernist’s movement that rebelled against the rules of the Swiss movement and neutral sans serif typography in the 1970s. Design choices were made from lack of planning or knowledge of design and made use of collages, had drawings, stencils, rubber stamping, Xerox copying, and offset printing.
- Low quality, photocopier printed images
- Grainy and matt screen printing effects
- Found and collaged type
- Predominantly photographic imagery
- High contrast, bold colors
- Overall rough, textured aesthetic
The Grunge design trend uses subdued, less uniform, less structured organic subdued look and feel. Grunge style is characterized by textured gritty backgrounds, torn edges, faded elements, and is inspired by urban and industrial scenery.
- Dirty textures and background images
- Irregular lines and crooked elements
- Dirty stains such as coffee rings and spilled out liquids
- Torn images and paper edges
- Hand-written and hand-drawn elements
Minimalist design is the most basic stripped down form of design and is meant to be calming and bring the mind to just the basics. Minimalism is absent of colors, shapes and textures to make important content stand out as focal point.
- No depth of field
- Minimalist design space
- Neutral tones and secondary colors
- Linear design elements
- Use of negative space
3D Modeling is an art form and process of using mathematical equations to make graphics come to life in three dimensions – height, width, and depth. 3D modeling was developed in the 1960s by the creator of Sketchpad, Ivan Sutherland.
- Illusion of live-like depth and volume
- Employs various lighting effects
- Shadow and depth indications often utilize one color, with tonal variations
Abstract design is usually absent of reality and uses the visual language of form, shape, line, and color to create visual designs independent from references of the real world.
- Ambiguous representation of an object / concept
- Independent from the way it looks in real life
- Invites individual interpretation
Conceptual design is an early stage of the design phase where designs are refined and plan, specifications and estimates are created.
- Metaphorical depiction of a visual idea
- May contain some elements of reality
- Features designer’s own interpretation of the object it models after
Feminine design uses shapes and details that are appealing to women. Think curves, delicate detailing, wavy lines, soft color palettes, florals, and cursive writing. Feminine design is the opposite of Masculine design which tends to have flat raw forms.
- May employ cursive, fluid fonts
- May incorporate pastel colors and/or shades of red (pink, purple, orange)
- May feature a woman’s face, flowers and fashion components (lipstick, shoes)
Like the name says, playful design is intended to make things fun by using playful, cartoonish, and colorful elements in the design. Playful design is often used in children’s books and video games.
- Cartoonish and inspires fun
- May feature caricaturized person / animal
- May contain elements of fantasy
Circles, squares, triangles, rectangles, lines, and other shapes combine to create intricate designs and patterns to form beautiful geometric designs.
- Heavy use of geometric shapes
- Incorporates straight lines
- Features symmetry
Illustration is an art form that interprets things pictorially or visually to clarify or demonstrate something.
- Visual explanation of a text, concept or process
- Generally has ‘raw’, hand-drawn look
- Look dependent on designers’ drawing style
Luxury design is an expression of self in style that may involve pieces or components of their own personalities that are decoratively elaborate with details that are small and subtle.
- Evokes the idea of indulging in extra comforts or pleasures
- Often uses the colors black, gold and bronze
- Achieves the idea the brand is impactful on its own by employing simple, minimalist designs
- Uses either old-style fonts or simple and modern fonts
Masculine design is all about clean lines, sharp edges, and darker and neutral colors as opposed to the curves and colors of more feminine styles.
- Stereotypically appealing to men
- Simple lines, monochromatic theme (black and white) and “rugged” texture
- May employ hard-edged, thick-stroke fonts
- May incorporate rugged and gritty images
- May feature blue or darker colors
Organic and Natural
Organic design is a style of design which takes as its starting point organic, flowing natural forms.
- Flowing natural forms of a reality
- Generally incorporates natural elements like leaves, flowers and fresh produce
- May be combined with illustrated look for the raw, organic look
Photorealism is a genre of art that encompasses painting, drawing and other graphic media, in which an artist studies a photograph and then attempts to reproduce the image as realistically as possible in another medium.
- Features refined details to emulate the original image as much as possible
- Usually achieved by, but not limited to, pencil sketches
Corporate design is the design of a company’s brand image and includes all of a company’s visual aspects and design elements, reaching from logos to social media assets and stationery.
- Muted colors, and minimal details
- Employs straight, classic font types
- Generally incorporates simple shapes or objects
- May invoke formal impressions with use of negative space and line art
- Formal impressions on their target audience
Typography design is the art and technique of arranging type. It should be at the center of a designer’s skillset and is about much more than making words legible. The typeface you choose and how it works with your layout and color scheme will make the difference between a good, bad and great design.
- Utilizes the modification of fonts
- Design of the written words to evoke response in target audience
- Utilized in logo design
- Font style is generally the focus of the design
- Typographic design may incorporate objects, but the text usually conveys the main message
Retro or Vintage style is imitative or consciously derivative of lifestyles, trends, or art forms from the historical past, including in music, modes, fashions, or attitudes. In popular nostalgia culture it is typically 20-30 years before the current one.
- Retrospective style that is derivative of trends from the recent past
- Inspired by the decorative styles of the Victorian era (Steam Punk, Industrial, Bauhaus)
- Incorporates rustic, nostalgic elements to invoke the past
- May use illustrated ornate ribbons and wreaths reminiscent of the 19th century
- May incorporate visual clues such as old letterpress, hand-drawn typefaces and elaborate decorative arts
Graphic designers have a lot of responsibility. They are responsible for taking your message and beautifying it by translating it visually to engage audiences and persuade consumers to perform an action or make a purchase. It’s like food (I love using food analogies). There are many different flavors, ingredients, recipes, and lots of ways to cook it. Traditional art and design combined with technology has created an environment where ideas are limitless, tools are abundant, and innovation keeps us moving forward.
Annette C. Sage / CEO at Sage Design Group
Marketing Executive / Creative Director / Business Development.
Creative and reliable team player with personal and professional goals to excel. I’m good at branding, growth hacking, getting startups off the ground, and growing businesses. I’ve also got some design skills and earned an MBA in International Marketing.