If you’re currently a graphic designer, but you’re looking for a change in direction, several options are open to you. As you might have read, we discussed how you could consider a shift towards package design. That’s definitely a common choice for many graphic designers, but arguably today’s most desirable move is to transition into web design.
Designers might be hesitant at first, but the transition to web design is one that could lead to a wealth of new knowledge, experience and skills.
Web design is a vast industry, and we’d be doing it an injustice if we were to pretend that we could condense the variety of options and potential avenues available to you as a graphic designer into one article. That said, it’s always helpful to take a high-level perspective and outline what some of the fundamental differences are, what you’ll need to know, and how you can make the transition.
How does graphic design differ from web design?
It might seem obvious, but in a world where we have an increasing overlap in design skills, the lines between graphic design and web design are often blurred.
Traditionally, graphic design would be considered the process of visual communication and problem-solving using forms of typography, photography, and illustrations. Think along the lines of symbols, images, and text — all of which are used by graphic designers to form visual representations of products and messages.
Web design, on the other hand, would relate to the creation and maintenance of websites. Different aspects of web design include interface design, UX design, web development, web graphic design, and Search Engine Optimization (SEO). These roles can be found in freelance capacities, as well as in-house brands and digital or design agencies.
The traditional roles themselves entail entirely different forms of communication. But what about the specific aspects of each type of design. Do they differ that much?
The way in which graphic designers and web designers use visual elements actual differs significantly. Graphic design will use the CMYK color model, while web design uses RGB for colors. With fonts, graphic designers have freedom of choice over what they use, whereas web designers can be restricted.
Lastly, with actual graphics, web designers have to prioritize the optimization whereas graphic designers can opt for much higher quality imagery without having to concern themselves with online restrictions.
Presentation of information
Graphic design will involve the use of static, printed designs that use materials to enhance their performance -- for example, paper, cloth, stone. Website design is naturally presented on-screen and will focus on dynamic elements that the user can interact with as they see fit.
Why should I become a web designer?
“I thought web design was for technical people, not creatives? Plus, I don’t need coding skills for graphic design.”
OK, first things first. If there are any graphic designers out there who think that web design is still only open to professionals who have coding or programming skills, take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
We’re now in a world where you need to be multidisciplinary. While it still pays to be a specialist, it’s important that you broaden your skills as well. As a graphic designer, you may well have your specialty — let’s say it is currently illustrations for books and magazines.
Have you considered how having some necessary web design skills might enable you to suddenly tap into what is one of the most sought-after types of design? Animations!
That’s just one example, but there are several cases where having necessary web design skills, combined with highly desirable graphic design skills, can make the perfect match. That’s particularly the case when we consider the fact that web design is now more so than ever before, about creating a compelling, visual, storytelling experience for the user — something which we’ll touch on in greater detail later.
The benefits of transitioning to web design
Of course, the possibility of opening new doors by becoming a web designer or learning how to code is just one benefit. You might find that the following are all also potential positives when it comes to web design:
You can execute your ideas and designs
Executing on your ideas and designs is a massive perk for many designers as you have control over your whole project rather than having to split it with another designer who can code, or a developer. It can save time, reduce costs, and ultimately mean that you end up with a result closer to what you intended.
It’s an inexpensive and relatively simple transition
It might be surprising to hear that shifting from pure graphic design to web design isn’t overly complicated. If you’re proficient with Photoshop, the additional HTML and CSS skills you need to create and maintain a landing page or website should be too daunting. Oh, and it’s relatively cheap, particularly when you consider sites like Codecademy offer free training courses.
OK, I know you’re sold by now — are you ready to become a web designer? Here we go!
How to make the transition from graphic design to web design
As is the case with any career change or shift, there is no right answer to this question. There are several factors which can influence how likely how will be to make the transition from graphic to web design successfully, but there are also some things that you can control regardless.
We’ve summarized five tasks that you can carry out as a graphic designer looking to become a web designer that might help make that dream a reality.
1. Develop your technical skills, such as coding, programming and frameworks
For the sake of simplicity, we’ll try to break this section down into two parts: one, learning, and two practice.
It’s not far from a classic chicken-and-egg scenario, but it’s probably best to learn some new web design skills so that you can then go and practice. Thankfully, there is no shortage of places where you can start your journey to becoming an HTML or CSS whizz! We’ve already mentioned Code Academy, but you can also check out w3 Schools and Udacity, which has tons of content and guides that should get the ball rolling. These comprehensive online UX classes are great resources as well.
Regarding practice, why not build your own “sandbox” where you can put into practice what you’ve learned in your chosen courses. You can find guides for how to both create localhost on Windows and create one on Mac.
By running everything on localhost, it doesn’t matter if you make mistakes or create some crazy designs that you never want anyone to see - you can delete it all in seconds. There’s nothing like practice, and a sandbox lets you do just that without the fear of breaking something on your portfolio website or even worse, someone else’s!
2. Understand that it’s all about the user and their experience
Web design is almost entirely about the user. The experience that they have when they visit your website is what will ultimately end up determining whether they had a pleasant visit, or not.
User experience (UX) is a massive component required in order to create a responsive web design. The beauty of UX design is that while it’s possible to achieve an immersive experience for your user, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever reach the “perfect” design experience.
Taking time to understand your audience; who they are, what they do, why they’re interested in your website (or a client's), will all help you piece together compelling user experiences through your web designs in the future.
If I said that you’re not designing websites, but instead you’re telling a story, how would that change your perception of what it means to be a web designer? Would you choose to learn or practice about different things outside of coding? Potentially.
As a web designers your camera, props, and effects are CSS, SQL, and Photoshop. You have all these tools at your dispense, plus, as a skilled graphic designer, you will have the creative and constructive eye for what needs to be designed and where it has to go. All these components come together to help you form an experience that your users enjoy.
3. Update your online portfolio to ensure it's interactive AND displays both graphic and web projects
Speaking of creating an experience that your users will enjoy, it’s probably an appropriate time to mention that your online portfolio could well do with a revamp if you’re planning to shift from graphic design to web design.
Think of it this way, as a graphic designer you might have got away with having excellent content and valuable items in your house, but now as a web designer you’re going to be heavily judged on everything from the moment your visitor walks in the front gate. The exterior of your house, your garden, the stones on the ground, steps leading to your home and everything else.
Your online portfolio should reflect that of a designer who not only understands good design but of a designer who knows how to engage and interact with their desired audience in compelling fashion.
Of course, don’t be afraid to stuff your new website with projects from your years as a graphic designer - these are still incredibly valuable pieces of work, and evidence that you have the raw talent and skills that you come to expect from a designer.
4. Use GitHub to practice and publish your work
Using GitHub to publish your flashy, responsive web design concepts and sample work is a fantastic way to not only practice but also to get involved in the wider community. If you’re unsure what GitHub is or if you’d like to find out how to get started on it, then you can always take a quickfire course, like this one from Lynda.
In short, GitHub has become the industry-standard version control and publishing platform for web developers, but designers love it too. It’s an efficient way to improve workflows and help you out when you’re putting together and publishing websites.
5. Start freelancing alongside your graphic design work to help yourself get noticed faster
Last, but certainly not least, an efficient way to take your first steps into the world of web design is actually to take on some freelance projects and offer your business services. By targeting some lower budget work, you not only get experience, but you also get some return for your work which is always nice.
It will also get you familiar with what clients expect from you as a web designer and the terminology that they might use which will differ from that used in graphic design. That’s purely based on the fact that you’ll be creating and building code-based designs rather than prints or graphics.
You might want to try Upwork or People per Hour for some early web design gigs, or if you have contacts through your graphic design projects in the past, then you might be fortunate to have a direct link to someone who needs essential web design work done.
Wrapping it all up — what you should remember when transitioning from graphic to web design
Overall, it’s difficult to argue against graphic designers at least making an effort to learn some basic HTML and CSS. The benefits outweigh the drawbacks, and for what can only take a few hours a week on top of your current tasks, web design skills are something that can stay with you for a long time to come.
In short, if you are considering a move from graphic design to web design, we’d recommend that you:
- Figure out what specific aspects of web design you’d like to learn about or develop your skills in
- Start allocating some time each week to learn necessary coding or programming skills
- Learn as much you can about UX/UI through courses, online content or books
- Update your online portfolio to reflect that of a designer who knows how to make a beautiful website
- Make use of GitHub, Behance, Dribbble and other social media platforms to promote your design work
- Dabble in some freelance web design projects before you make the complete leap into full-time web design
Follow these steps and you'll be landing your first design job in no time.
Have you made the switch yet? Tell us about it in the comments below!
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