UX vs. UI vs. Graphic Design: Three Different Kinds of Design

Designation Team Apr 1, 2018 Design Tips, Resources, Technology

Once upon a time, if you said the word “design”, the odds were overwhelmingly likely you were talking about graphic design. But in the digital world we now live in, filled as it is with glowing, interactive screens, that definition has greatly evolved, and the distinction between the different kinds of design can often be confusing for people outside or new to the design industry.

Here’s a quick overview of the three different primary forms of visual design, what they mean, and how they relate to one another:

Graphic Design

In a certain sense, all visual design starts with graphic design. Simply put, it’s the art of deciding how things should look. Graphic Designers choose colors and fonts, as well as to arrange elements (such as images and blocks of text) in layouts. This can happen both online (website and mobile apps) as well as in printed materials (magazine ads, book covers, in-store displays). As such, it’s not so much about medium a piece appears in so much as the fact that it’s ultimately a static, non-interactive layout.

The demand for a Graphic Designer continues to grow (Up by 7% from the previous year), and salaries are competitive in this field. See Designation’s blog post on the average salary for a graphic designer.

In this way, we can simply define graphic design as being about the way things look.

Static images, even when created on and for digital media, are considered graphic design. Static images, even when created on and for digital media, are considered graphic design.


User Interface (UI) design, in contrast, specifically pertains to the design of interactive elements, and as such lives almost exclusively in digital media, such as on a computer, tablet or smartphone. Interactive elements such as drop-down menus, form fields, clickable elements, animations, button styling and more are all critical tools for UI designers around the world.

So, we can understand the meaning of UI design as building upon and expanding the Graphic Design definition, inasmuch as it relates to the way the things we use and interact with look.

Images with some kind of interactivity are UI, even when they incorporate static images. Images with some kind of interactivity are UI, even when they incorporate static images.


And then there’s UX. User experience design (UX) is different from both UI and graphic design in that it focuses on the logic and structure of the elements you actually see and interact with. UX primarily takes place in two distinct phases: research and validation. During the research phase, the UX designers use a variety of tools and methods to better understand their intended users. Competitive analysis, user interviews, persona creation, wireframing, heuristic analysis and journey flows may all be involved.

And then after the product has launched, then comes validation. Here, UX designers perform usability/pain point analysis to determine if the product is producing the desired result. If not, refinements and revisions are made based on user data to make the end result better and more efficient. Catching problems with usability early on prevents more costly redesigns/reiteration later.

There are many elements used in UX design, but wireframing is one of the most important. There are many elements used in UX design, but wireframing is one of the most important.

Which kind of design is right for you?

While there are many kinds of designers, there’s no doubt that UI/UX designers are in the greatest demand at the moment. Bridging the gap between the way things look and the way they function, these designers are at the forefront of creating fantastic new digital products for people. And as the demand for these products increases so does the need for good UX/UI designers who, in turn, can command far higher salaries. Graphic design, in comparison, is stagnant and not reflective of technological progress. The job market is also shrinking for this type of design over more technology-focused design jobs.

It’s an amazing time to be a designer. And bootcamp programs like Designation offer a fast, efficient way to learn or improve skills and break into an exciting and growing field for a rewarding career and future.

Interested in learning more about either starting or dramatically speeding up your career as a UX/UI designer? Click here to learn more about how Designation can help.

Take the leap

Join an upcoming cohort and make the best change of your career.