Graphic Design vs. Web Design: What's the Difference?

Jennifer Betts
Design team planning a new project

While the world around you might use the words graphic design and web design interchangeably, these two visual fields are not equal. Not only is the medium they work in distinct, but there are subtle and not so subtle differences in the education and growing need for these fields.

Design Job Descriptions

Graphic design and web design are all about design, but the media they work in are different. Therefore, it is best to break down each individual job.

Graphic Design

Using visual concepts including typography, photography, graphics and design elements, graphic designers create advertising and promotional elements including logos, billboards and print design for publication companies. A graphic designer typically works in a print format. While they might work on web promotions and designs, they must consider printing processes and publication limitations when creating their designs, like paper, bleed, color variations, etc.

Graphic designer at work

Web Design

Per the name, you can already guess the main difference is that web designers work for the web. Much like their graphic design counterparts, they are visual communicators. They use the web to design visual promotion and advertising materials. However, while graphic designers think about printing processes, web designers must consider load times, processing speeds and coding.

Education and Skill Set Needed

Another key difference between the two fields is the entry education. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a bachelor's degree is the entry-level education for graphic design, but web designers only require an associate's degree. Given what each field needs to know, the knowledge needed is slightly different for each career. Both need advanced understanding of imaging, typography and design principles, but their technical and software knowledge will be slightly different.

Graphic Design Skill Set

Knowledge and skills needed for a graphic design career:

  • Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Quark Xpress and other publication software are a must.
  • Solid understanding of color theory and working knowledge of different design types. For example, designing a brochure is different from a business card or a billboard.
  • They need to understand corporate identification principles.

Web Design Needed Skills

Things a web designer should know focus more on the technical aspect of design for the web.

Designer's desk with responsive web design concept
  • While these professionals know Photoshop and Illustrator, their expertise lies in Dreamweaver, Animate, and other web design programs.
  • They need a working knowledge of basic coding (HTML, PHP, JavaScript) and troubleshooting to understand web design issues.
  • Web designers must understand the limitations of web creation and current trends in the field.

Job Growth Beyond Skills

It's not just education and skills. With the rise in web-based publication and the decline of the print industry, the two fields are each growing differently. For example, the field of web design is expected to see 11% more growth, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, than the graphic design field from 2016 to 2026. And growth in specific areas are supposed to be even better. Therefore, it is recommended that graphic designers have at least some basic web design knowledge to even be competitive in the field.

Expected Wages

The differences in these two fields go beyond just growth, however. The pay is increasingly different depending on the field you are in, and this has a lot to do with the growth. In 2017, web developers, including designers, had a mean annual wage of $74,110. But, graphic designers only had a mean annual wage of $53,280. That is over $20,000 more that you can make in the field of web design with less education.

Making the Best Choice

The main difference in graphic and web design is the medium that they work in. While one deals in mainly in publication, the other deals in the world wide web. Though you can switch back and forth between the two, having an expertise in both is extremely rare. Therefore, you really need to look at all the facts to understand both fields fully.

Graphic Design vs. Web Design: What's the Difference?