At the heart of it, digital design is any design made to be interacted with on a digital device. While that might seem simple—and self-explanatory—the definition of digital design does little to capture the depth of what it actually accomplishes.
There are an overwhelming number of digital devices these days, and for each of those, an exponential amount of use cases that design must consider. Understanding the various shapes digital design can take as well as the purposes each one serves is essential if you want to achieve the best result, whether it’s for a specific project or for your career overall.
You may be planning to focus on one type of digital design (or a digital design position), only to discover that your needs or abilities may be better suited for another.
As broad a field as it is, digital design can be broken down into a handful of categories, each with specific benefits. We’re here to walk you through the many incarnations of digital design and to point you in the direction of a winning interactive product.
Digital design is a type of visual communication that presents information or a product or service through a digital interface. Put simply, it’s graphic design made specifically to be used on computers.
This encompasses more than simply viewing graphic design on a screen. Any document these days can be scanned and uploaded to a computer, but digital designs are crafted specifically for devices, taking into account factors like user experience, interactivity, differences in screen size and more. In short, they are often designed to be used rather than read.
Graphic design is for print products and digital design is for digital content. This is, of course, a generalization. These days the realms of print and digital overlap more often than not. Many digital designs rely on skills from the graphic designer’s playbook, such as brand implementation and typographical layout. Graphic design projects, meanwhile, commonly have to account for digital distribution in addition to print. And to make matters more confusing, “graphic design” is commonly used as a catch-all term for every type of visual communication.
At the end of the day, a designer is often expected to have skills in both graphic and digital design no matter which one they specialize in. The difference comes down to the medium (print or digital) in which viewers will most commonly encounter the design product. Digital designs must take into account user interaction whereas graphic designs are designed for static visual impact.
Digital designs require code to be functional and traditional graphic designs require paper and ink to be printed. Just as graphic design projects have a separate process for printing and distribution, digital designs have a separate process for coding, which is called development.
Digital designers make decisions on the visual direction of the product, and what they deliver to the client is typically an offline mockup (whether through Photoshop or a prototyping tool like Figma). Developers then use coding language to turn this mockup into a working digital design, like a website or newsletter.
While digital designers do sometimes offer development services (especially on the front-end), design and development are different disciplines that require different skillsets. When commissioning a digital design, keep in mind that you will likely need to hire both a designer and a developer to get a functional final product.
Digital design is a vast category encompassing a wide variety of digital interfaces, each with their own uses. To get a better idea of which one is the best match for you, let’s go over some of the most common types of digital designs.
Web design is the most popular incarnation of digital design: a website is about as common for businesses these days as a logo. Websites act as hubs for a topic or service, incorporating many branching pages, and are used for information, business and commerce, entertainment and much more. There are many ways to do it, either through hiring freelancers or using website builders like Weebly.
Landing page design is a subset of web design, but it is more focused towards marketing purposes. Whereas a business’s website will act as the central channel for all things related to that business, a landing page is a single web page devoted to a specific product/service and usually culminates in a call-to-action. Often businesses will use a different landing page for each of their products/services and digital designers must ensure there is cohesion between all of them.
App designs often resemble web pages, but they are designed to perform a specific function. Whether that function is shopping, scheduling, messaging or playing music, apps are essentially digital tools for users. Though they are commonly implemented on mobile devices, apps can be desktop-based as well.
Ian Ransley DESIGN
Ian Ransley is a Bay Area Digital Artist, Graphic Designer and Illustrator who has designed some of the most popular large-scale sporting and corporate events in the world.