Who Killed The Graphic Designer?

Graphic Design is dead!

The term is still in use but there are less roles dedicated solely to graphic design in todays evolving digital world, so if graphic design is dead, who killed it?

Over time, the uses of graphic design have shifted from print to digital media, and for a long time designers were working primarily on web technologies, along with more traditional branding avenues such as logos, idents, typography and style guides for online publications.

Then along came the smart phone – the same internet, but on a screen the fraction of the size, and fundamental questions on how to handle the delivery of such information.

And so, the graphic designers were now tasked with something new: the user interface, or UI for short, and his bigger, more mysterious sibling UX, relating to user experience.

Now, obviously, there have been many instances of user interfaces designed using graphics before – games have had a user interface since Pong counted the score at the top of the TV in 1972, and aviation systems have had certain levels of an onscreen graphical display since the 1980s…..But crucially these interfaces were not in the hands of a graphic designer.

Graphic designers, along with delivering the same information from the web app to the mobile app, were also tasked with making the UI look aesthetically pleasing, to maintain the brands identity through colour and type choices.

New challenges arose, such as how to make something obvious to a user, how to make it accessible, scannable, how to understand how they were feeling when they used the app; put simply, did they like using it?

This led to the mysterious siblings arrival; User Experience, or UX for short.

This new role is focussed solely on the users experience and behaviours whenever they use something, and how to make that something even better by observing, researching and analysing those users.

UI and UX are intrinsically linked; most roles that have need of one would also need the other, as UI is all about the look of something, UX is all about the feel.

So where does that leave the graphic designer? Did UI/UX really kill the graphic designer?

There are still regular job postings for graphic designers, and you could argue that graphic design is the father of UI/UX, that there wouldn’t be the standards of information design present in the upstart UI/UX without the road first built by graphic designers; that UI is a type of graphic design, a subset.

Which, unfortunately, makes the term ‘graphic design’ old-fashioned, and valued less than the newer, still-evolving field of User Interfaces and User Experience.

So the role is not dead, but it is changing – it is valued less as a title, which means lower salary. There is a significant amount of overlap between graphics and UI, and most designers will find the transition to UI to be quite easy. This also works the other way; somebody dedicated to UI will inadvertently become skilled in most aspects of graphic design.

So! Don’t be disheartened if you have a passion for designing great graphics but feel the industry is doomed, and do not be dissuaded by complex sounding terms – the future is bright, and there is room for all of us.

Author: Séamus Hickey