Graphic Design vs Web Design – The 5 Differences Explained

Graphic Design vs. Web Design

At Back40 Design, we offer a range of services, from Digital Marketing to SEO to Hosting, Support & Maintenance. While these are well defined and easily distinguishable, let’s talk about our two services that can often be confused with one another: Graphic Design and Web Design.

What is Graphic and Web Design?

Many people believe graphic design and web design are the same thing. In truth, these two modes of creative communication do have an abundance of overlap. To execute both graphic and web design well, creatives must employ their comprehensive understanding of typography, layout and color theory; however, it’s important to remember that, while both are visually consumed, they each have their own essential role to play when it comes to marketing your business. Thus, these roles create very important distinctions between the skills and needs of a graphic designer versus that of web designer. Here, we will discuss the 5 core differences between the two.

#1) Graphic design lives in the physical and digital world; Web design is solely digital.

graphic and web design physical vs digital

Imagine the last time you saw graphic design work that really caught your eye. Was it a billboard? An ad in a magazine? Product packaging? A social media graphic? Or maybe even a cool icon on a website? Point being, graphic design lives in the physical AND the digital world. Some graphic designers, for example, are skilled in executing marketing materials that are used in both print and online platforms, such as:

  • Branding
  • Business Cards
  • Brochures
  • Social Media Graphics
  • Digital & Print Ads

Web design, on the other hand, is a completely digital experience. There’s nothing printed here, but instead, it exists only on websites (like the one you’re reading this on right now!). Of course, certain types of graphic design can be incorporated into a website, through icons, images, etc., but it’s the web designer who figures out how to make it work within the restrictions of a screen.

Want to learn more about marketing materials for your business? Contact us today for a free consultation. 

#2) Graphic Design sets your foundation; Web design supports your foundation.

graphic design foundation

Graphic design is important because it serves as a foundation for your company. One of the most important services your business needs (and Back40 offers) is branding design. Branding is a form of graphic design that gives your company an identity. It tells your customers who you are with a distinctive logo, colors and typography. Do you own a legal firm? Dark, bold colors may work best for you. An eco-friendly manufacturer? We might reflect that through subtle design in your logo, earth tones and maybe a serif font. Whatever your company, branding is the visual communication that makes you easily identifiable and stand out from your competitors.

With branding set, all of your design work and online platforms should support the overall branding message of your company. Marketing materials should incorporate the agreed upon logo, type and colors. Social media should feature images that communicate the tone of your company. And finally, the design of your website should drive it all home.

It’s necessary for your website to support your branding foundation because it is the central gathering place for your customers. Because they’ve likely found it through digital or print marketing efforts, it’s vital to have consistency across your online and print presence.

Let’s say, for example, you featured an ad in our monthly publication, Edmond Outlook, with your new branding. A potential customer sees it, and later thinks to pull your business up on the internet – but, they don’t have the magazine with them to double check your domain. Instead, they search what they can remember from the ad and click on the first link, bringing them to your website. However, this potential new customer doesn’t recognize it as your website – instead, there’s an array of colors, fonts, no real logo to be found and nothing to tie you back to the branding within your print ad. So they click off, thinking it isn’t the right one. Versus if your web design had supported your branding foundation, this searcher would have instantly recognized it as your own, gaining you a new customer.

So while branding is one of the most important types of graphic design for a company, as it sets your foundation, web design that incorporates your branding is equally as important.

Already have branding? Our web designers can help create a website that clearly communicates your branding and message. Request a free website consultation. 

#3) Visual Design & Web Development Limitations

exploring visual design limitations

With any creative work, there are limitations that designers must overcome. Just as an artist is confined to their canvas size, so is a graphic and web designer – but in different ways.

A graphic designer must work within limited dimensions. There’s a standard size that they must fill, which is dependent on the work at hand, such as a post for Instagram, a quarter-page print ad or a billboard. The medium for which this graphic is displayed is the dictating factor on how big or how small their artwork should be.

In contrast, a web designer must work within limitless dimensions – which can be a just as, if not more, tedious task. While a graphic designer is set to fixed specifications, web designers think about how their elements will appear no matter the screen size. As touched on previously, many webpages use graphical designs and images to support the overall web design. Figuring out how to scale these down while keeping their quality and viewability intact on an iPhone screen versus a desktop screen is a crucial step in the web development process.

Also, web designers have to take into account how their design might affect the website’s performance, which plays a large part in Google rankings. The better the site’s speed and performance, the more likely your website will be ranked through organic search. So, in order to optimize your website, web designers must take into account a file’s size in order to determine how long it will take to load, while at the same time maintaining quality visuals.

#4) Users interact differently with graphic design and web design pieces.


A benefit web design has, which graphic design doesn’t, is responsive interaction between the user and the design.

Graphic design work is inert, meaning that there’s really only one way to interact with it – by viewing it. Web design, on the other hand, provides an infinite number of possibilities in its user experience. Some of those benefits can be found in motion graphics, media, or the need for on-the-fly, dynamic web page updates to stay current with the times and improve conversion rates

User Experience

Again, it’s not a graphic design vs web design issue here. In this case, graphic design and web design are meant to lead consumers to ultimately make a purchase; however, with web design, consumers aren’t just viewers of the design – they’re users. As a result, web designers focus on how these users can interact with the website, making them participants in the functionality of its design.

In order to do so effectively, web designers focus on elements that prompt the user to:

  • view a video
  • read a column of information
  • click a button
  • go from one page to the next in a nonlinear way

A good user experience can strengthen your SEO optimization (meaning the more interactions your pages have, the better organic reach).

Motion Graphics

Motion graphics are a good example of interactive web design. They are taking websites by storm right now. These animations captivate your audience, prompting them to stay on a page longer, view a product, and explore your website.

Back40 designers have been integrating elements of this style of web design into our recent projects. It is a great way to take your website to the next level.

Take our client Gemini Coatings for example. They’re a wood coating manufacturer. We came up with the idea of featuring a rotating 3D wooden box on their front page that users can actually rotate themselves with their mouse. Hawks Agency is another great client we have whose website features motion graphics. Their front page features lava-lamp-style bubbles moving around in the background and intuitive page color changes as the user scrolls down.

Constantly Evolving Media

These trend-setting designs are also a great example of another benefit web designers have: the internet is a constantly evolving medium. Remember what websites use to look like? We sure do because we were making them back in the early ‘00s, too!

As technology advances, web designers have the opportunity to learn, master, and integrate these developments into their designs. And so do graphic designers, as new design software is released or improved (however, it wouldn’t be through the web).

Dynamic Changes

Finally, a significant benefit web designers have is that websites can be continuously updated, whereas graphic designers don’t always have that luxury. Sure, print materials can be remade, but an already published ad? Graphic designers don’t have the ability to just log on and update it as needed every time. Web designers, however, do! As websites are a dynamic medium, web designers have the benefit of being able to make changes to a website as they come – switching out content, updating branding, and adding new products or services whenever necessary. How convenient is that?

Want to integrate motion graphics into your website? Let’s talk about your project.

#5) Graphic designers and web designers work on different teams.

web design ux ui

Lastly, the biggest difference between graphic design and web design is that web design requires programming. In order for web designers to turn their designs into a functional, interactive and user-friendly website, they either have to have a strong knowledge of programming themselves or work closely with developers. These developers use code such as HTML, CSS, or JavaScript to achieve the goals of the designer. Therefore, web designers need to be able to communicate the intended interactions a user will be able to experience with their design, so the programmer can bring it to life.

Graphic designers don’t necessarily need work buddies. Usually, they are the sole creators of their design. Of course, both web designers and graphic designers often work together to achieve a cohesive web design experience, too. It all really depends on the needs and expertise of the designers.

Why These Differences Matter

Depending on your needs as a business, it’s important to know how these two types of design differ in order to understand who the appropriate designer is for your creative project. While web designers can often create graphic design projects, not all graphic designers can help with web design. It will benefit your business to make sure that your website not only looks good, but is user friendly as well. If you are in need of a graphic designer or a web designer, feel free to click, call or come by Back40 to get started on your project. We are a full-service design agency, so no matter your need, we’ve got you covered.

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