Meta: Think graphic design is all logos or pictures? Think again. Graphic design is a diverse discipline, and there’s always more to learn.
Graphic designers are artists who create visual concepts that tell stories, captivate audiences, and create long-lasting memories.
Although graphic designers tend to operate under the same title, they practice many different types of graphic design. The difference between the types of graphic design isn’t just in the name. Often, the principles of the heart of design matter just as much as what you call it.
If you want to get to know graphic design, you need to understand all the different niches within it. These include:
- 3D Graphic Design
- Publication and Print Media
- Environmental Design
- Clothing and Apparel
- Vehicle Wraps
Dive a little deeper, and you might find the right match for your creative brain. We’ll explore each of these nine types of graphic design below.
Marketing graphic design is probably what most people think of when they hear the term graphic design.
Graphic designers in the marketing and advertising niche combine the principles of art and design with information about consumer trends and the psychology of buyers. Those who work on a freelance basis or in agencies learn new trends and customer profiles every time they take on a new case and those who work in-house dive deep into a particular set of data to get to know it intimately.
Those who work in the marketing sector traditionally worked on print. They created advertisements, billboards, signs, and more. Today, they also participate in design for the digital world by creating shareable graphics on for social media, banners for websites and social profiles, email marketing templates, digital brochures, and other essential content.
There’s always room for marketing graphic designers at agencies and as in-house advertising teams. However, this particular role also does well in the freelance market. You could start with a few clients and find yourself soon consumed by running your own new agency.
Corporate graphic design requires graphic designers to create a strong corporate identity through visual mediums. Their work appears everywhere the organization does, including all the print and digital media.
When you work in corporate graphic design, you and your team contribute to what is called the “house style.” The house style means arranging the elements of the design in a way that is distinctive while also sharing a common, cohesive method.
What do corporate graphic designs work on? They make things like:
- Company colors
All these need to come together to create a strong visual identity or brand identity. Remember, a brand identity is more than a random logo. The logo communicates the organization’s personality and its core values, and it reaches customers in a way that it attaches itself to emotions, experiences, and memories.
Many corporate graphic designers work in-house with marketing and sales teams. They tend to have multi-disciplinary roles that require coordination across multiple teams and platforms to ensure their work translates seamlessly to each area of the company.
Designers who work specifically on internet-based mediums take on the role of marketing designers, corporate designers, and packaging designers all in one. Often mistaken for web designers, web graphic designers create the visual concepts that inspire the overall web design. They create the layout and components for the website and ensure it’s in line with the offline branding.
Graphic designers are also often mistaken for digital media designers. Graphic designers tend to work with static images. Digital media designers also work with films, movies, animations, and other moving parts.
Although the rise of click-and-drop websites a threat the work of a web graphic designer, there’s more and more interest in bespoke web design. Quality designers and developers are always on the lookout for the next prominent graphic designer with plenty of knowledge of user-experience (UX).
3D Graphic Design
The latest addition to the graphic design family is 3D graphic design.
Graphic design is entirely computer-based and used to create 3D images for all kinds of uses from video games to forensic analysis. Three-dimensional designs offer smoother motion than its two-dimensional predecessor, and the figures are far more realistic.
When you think 3D graphic design, you might think of companies like Pixar or Ubisoft. But 3D design is now so mainstream that it is taking over standalone graphics for use on the internet or in print media.
A quick look at some examples of 3D use in graphic design shows why the medium is likely the fastest growing in the whole sector. Even in photographs, everything is in motion, which makes a more compelling image.
Do you find yourself drawn to unboxing videos on YouTube? Are you there for the pretty packaging, not the product itself? Then you’re already familiar with the packaging niche of graphic design.
The packaging a company delivers its products in says almost as much about the product as the thing itself. It is the first thing a customer encounters when they purchase and receive their item, and as they say, first impressions matter!
In today’s experiential-obsessed world, the packaging is now more critical than ever. Good design in this niche answers two questions:
- Who needs this product?
- Who is the brand behind the product?
Answering these two questions visually means the design is simple and clear, and it will stand out on the shelf in a store that holds more than 400,000 items.
Additionally, packaging graphic design needs to meet exacting standards of practicality. Very often, designs in this field work with oddly-shaped but efficient containers and labels. You’ll need to think quickly on your feet and outside the box if you want to fit in with packaging geeks!
Packaging graphic designers do all this while also sticking to the brand’s overall corporate design to ensure continuity, recognizability, and portability between packages. After all, you spend your time problem solving, but as a designer, you also balance and flow.
Publication and Print Media
Print media graphic designers are the old school designers whose work exists in the world of magazines, books, newspapers, catalogs, and other tangible print media. These designs are the ones who shape the way your favorite magazine looks.
They design both covers and layouts, and many stick to a focused area of publishing. For example, print magazine designers stick to their niche rather than floating over to book jacket design.
Publication design includes an incredible number of components including:
- Photographs, illustrations, and other media
- Printing and binding
For example, a magazine is more than a front cover. It is the entire work, and every detail on every page requires careful consideration.
Print work tends to delve deeper into font and paragraph size and style than other mediums. It concerns font size and style for both readability and layout but also in regard to the hierarchy. It also includes the use of leading (the space between lines) and kerning (the space between each letter and character).
Headers and titles get extra special treatment, and everything gets weighed against the negative or white space.
Finally, poor printing or binding can ruin even the best designs but cutting off some of the text or throwing off the balance of the entire publication. The difference between an amateur effort and a masterpiece lies not in vision or skill but often in professionally bound and trimmed printing.
Environmental design takes its principles from multiple disciplines ranging from landscape design, industrial design, graphic design and more to create visual stories that communicate the identity of and information about places.
Environmental graphic design (EGD) focuses on a principle known as wayfinding.
Wayfinding is a principle that refers to the information and systems people use to make their way through a space. It serves as a guide that not only shapes but enhances the visitor’s understanding and perception of the physical space they occupy.
Examples of wayfinding can include directional signs, maps, or symbols used to either help people find their way or guide them down a specific path.
They are particularly prominent in places where people feel a higher amount of stress than they otherwise do, such as hospitals, airports, universities, or crowded town centers. These are not only busy, stressful places but also buildings that tend to evolve over time and across multiple structures.
Clothing and Apparel
Do you love a graphic or print tee? Those come from the creative minds of graphic designers.
Graphic designers, or in this case apparel designers, can take care of all functions of the textile printing process from concept to completion.
Designers in this field are like others in that they begin with a simple concept and work it slowly through into a final product. Many use templates due to the limited space inherent in printing on apparel. Even a fraction of an inch can make a significant difference in a design, and nowhere is that more apparent in on clothing.
Many who work in this niche are also more reliant on trends than other designers, like web designers or environmental design. They keep an eye on what the coolest people are wearing on the streets and the runway. Both help designers ensure that their work is not only beautiful but current and therefore sellable.
Having a keen eye for what’s “now” is especially critical for apparel graphic design. While other clients will rely on their logos and designs for years, if not decades, apparel changes every season. Failing to keep up means failing to sell whether you work as a freelance or for a fashion designer.
As in magazine and print media design, the printing process is particularly critical for apparel graphic designers. They need to know the ins-and-outs of the entire process because it dramatically impacts the design.
The final common type of graphic design is automotive. Vehicle wraps, or vehicle advertising, is a cost-effective form of marketing. Small and large businesses alike rely on it to spread the good news about their business.
Vehicle wraps tend to be visually simple. After all, a passer-by has little time to stop and see the vehicle. Many wraps tend to contain a few pieces of text (the essential message) as well as simple graphics like the company’s logo. Everything needs to occur in the company’s coordinating colors and font.
Many of the designers who work in the field tend to specialize in vehicle wraps. They require working with accurate templates complete with down-to-the-millimeter measurements. The files are also large and incredibly complex, so any changes are expensive to make.
These projects tend to be challenging, but they are some of the largest (and fastest-moving) designs you’ll encounter in the world of graphic design.
Graphic Design is Everywhere
By now, you realize that graphic design is more than logos and letterheads. It is a living, breathing profession that you can see almost anywhere you look.
The different types of graphic design require more than understanding the product you print them on. They also come with different design principles and hierarchies that make a huge difference in the overall process.
Whether you think outside the box and love innovating new products or you love the attention to detail of typography, there’s a graphic design niche for you. The only question now is, which one will you choose?