Visual designers are in demand, but how does the job differ from more well-known design roles like graphic designer or web designer? We’ve got the scoop on this hot job.
Once upon a time, when embarking on a design career path, there were two choices: graphic designer or web designer. Today, there are many flavors on the design job menu, from UX designer to digital designer, making it difficult to distinguish which role is right for you or your company. Perhaps the murkiest of all these titles is “visual designer,” which sounds like a catchall — and at times it can be. Here, we break down this in-demand yet often ambiguous job.
Just as graphic designer has become a blanket term for those who do print design work, think of “visual designer” as a blanket term for digital. It covers a large spectrum of digital design, but what distinguishes it from other digital design roles is that it’s oriented toward what a user sees on a screen and is less about behind-the-scenes work. In some ways, it’s a hybrid of UI design and graphic design.
A visual designer, for example, might create web banner ads, email templates, landing pages, or a visual overlay for a button, tab or icon. Much like the role of UX and UI designers, the goal of visual designers is to get users from Point A to Point B in a visually intuitive way. And while web designers are typically responsible for some coding, visual designers often are not, which sets the two roles apart.
Visual designer duties and expectations
A visual designer designs for a variety of platforms, which may include Internet and intranet sites, games, movies, kiosks and wearables. In short, they create the concepts, artwork and layouts for digital projects based on creative briefs and client meetings. Visual designer duties are often industry- or project-specific, therefore job descriptions frequently call for knowledge of a particular business sector. Individual companies may also prefer for candidates to have B‑to‑B, B‑to‑C or marketing expertise in a certain area.
In general, most visual designers are required to:
- Establish the look and feel for various interfaces, including websites, mobile devices, apps, kiosks, games and wearables
- Work within brand guidelines to create layouts that reinforce a brand’s style or voice through its visual touchpoints
- Design user-centered interaction models, wireframes or screen mockups
- Design logos, icons and infographics
- Closely collaborate with IT and business teams to solve complex issues, like interaction models and data visualization
- Have basic coding knowledge so they can work hand-in-hand with coders
- Create and organize production assets
- Resize assets for different devices — tablet, mobile and web
- Source images (stock photos and video footage)
- Work with a component library
- Work on email marketing items, presentation materials and interactive event materials
- Juggle multiple projects while effectively managing timelines and expectations
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Professional experience and skills
Visual designers are typically required to have a bachelor’s degree in design and should have a firm grasp of the Adobe Creative Suite, particularly InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator. Experience with other software may be required. A visual designer should have an understanding of web design issues, including browser usability and cross-platform compatibility. Responsive design and e-commerce experience are a plus. The position requires strong design and troubleshooting skills, as well as an eye for detail.
In general, a visual designer should have:
- A solid foundation in typography, layout and design
- Strong problem-solving skills
- Experience with transitions, animation, motion design and dynamic interaction
- Excellent visual, written and verbal communication skills, along with presentation and negotiation skills
- A penchant for details and organization, including the ability to prioritize tasks, communicate progress and meet deadlines
- The ability to effectively take direction and work both collaboratively and autonomously
Visual designer salary benchmarks
According to The Creative Group 2020 Salary Guide, the midpoint starting salary for visual designers is $81,250. Use our Salary Calculator to find out what a visual designer can earn in your city.