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I’ve been called a lot of things, but the only thing that really confuses me is my title. I proclaim myself to be a visual designer. I am not a graphic designer, nor am I exclusively a web designer. But I think there is a chance that I might be a digital designer. Ah, confusing isn’t it? So what do all of these different titles mean? Here are my own personal definitions of the most common titles given to people who create graphics:

Graphic Artist – I have never heard the term “graphic artist” more than I did while working in a large Fortune 500 company in the midwest about 13 years ago. It was a communications company with a small design department, of which I was a core member of. In my three years of employment there, I don’t think I was ever once called by my real name by the executives – I was known simply as “the graphic artist”. Those guys and gals had no real understanding of what I did – all they knew is that I could make pretty PowerPoint graphics for them when called upon. To me, their lack of understanding implied that they looked at me the same way they would a painter or fine artist. So to this day, when I hear someone use the term “graphic artist”, I naturally assume they don’t give a crap about what I do on a day to day basis. “Graphic artist” is simply a catch-all term to conveniently label all graphic people as one of the same.

Graphic Designer – Someone primarily focused on print design is most commonly referred to as a “graphic designer”. These are the people who design magazine and book layouts, print advertisements, banners, and billboards. Of all the graphic designers I’ve worked with over the years, I’ve found most to be highly talented vector artists and illustrators as well.

Web Designer – This one is pretty much self-explanatory I think. A web designer is someone who designs and builds websites. This can include everything from the graphic design and layout of the website, all the way to building and deploying it. In my experience, I’ve found that most web designers are more specialized in one area vs. another (graphics vs. coding). The superstars of web design are the ones who can do everything very well. These people are difficult to find, and if you are lucky enough to come across one – pay them handsomely.

Digital Designer – You know those fancy on-screen menus that come with your DVD and BlueRay movies? That is the work of a digital designer. Digital designers typically work in TV and interactive media, which can also include things like game design and animated websites. Digital designers produce graphics that are rich in mixed media like video, sound, and images.

Visual Designer -A visual designer is someone who dabbles in all aspects of the visual arts. This includes print, web, illustration, and even fine art. Because of the broad range of design categories required n my mind, there are very few truly exceptional visual designers. I’m also noticing many large companies using the term “visual designer” to advertise open design positions, as this implies that they are in need for someone who can do many graphic-related things. So if you are a designer looking for work, take note that anybody looking for a visual designer will work you hard – but it could be a very satisfying experience because of the variety of work involved.

“Visual designer” is the title that I am currently using for myself, and I don’t think it’s working out very well. Whenever I tell someone that I am a “visual designer” it is usually met by blank stares, thus requiring me to take more time for a more detailed explanation. If they still don’t get it after a minute or two of describing the work I do, I realize that I was probably better off by just saying that “I am a graphic artist” to begin with.

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10 Comments

  1. Ray

    This is always a tricky topic. I focus on web design, digital design and key art so I never know what title to use. I just say I’m a designer and people usually ask what it is that I design (most think I’m an interior decorator or something) and I’ll just go from there. Would it make sense for me to call myself a digital designer?

  2. The Visual Designer title continues to confuse me when I see it in job descriptions. Based on looking at several of them, in southern California the term seems to imply a designer versed in user experience who handles the visual side of user interface design. I’m confused again.

  3. Norebbo Author

    Yeah, it’s been a while since I wrote this article and and it is really becoming dated (things are changing quickly). I’m also in southern California and I’ve recently noticed the Visual Designer term evolving into something more UX-based. I’ve got my own thoughts on that, and I may write a follow-up article which outlines some of that evolution.

  4. Thanks for the article. It surprises me how many people think of clip art when it comes to design. So much more goes in to a great logo or a website.

  5. Great post. Yea, I have an apparel company in Los Angeles, Ca. and since I design and produce my clothing for retail sale, Im mostly referred to as a fashion designer. but I actually love creating logos, branding and creating unique graphics for tees and so I’d say, graphics designer is what I identify closer to.

  6. Kaustav

    Do not agree

  7. Hi Scott,

    Just stumbled upon your article here while in need of the answer of exactly that- maybe you could even call it an artist/designer identity crisis. I am in my late twenties, have a degree in Graphic Design, yet when I got burnt out of the computer I turned back to my favorite thing- painting. I am now still years later trying to find the perfect balance between the two, art&design and at the very least, this helped me at least be able to identify myself into one title…which is still perhaps unidentifiable. Regardless, thanks for your thoughts and continue your great work!

    -Leigh
    http://www.leigherickson.com

  8. Hey Scott

    I have been in the industry for over 16 years, and most people who refer you or anyone else as a ‘graphic artists’ has no tangible idea of what we do, the different types of designers and no idea of the importance of the designer’s role.

    You are correct, they are not only ill informed but chose to be ignorant as they do not perceive real value in what we do and some of them are so arrogant see us as a subspecies.

    Don’t beat yourself over it, you can’t help coming across such people, and that is part of life.

    I am like you, I have UX visual, graphic, web, engineering drawing, some content writing, video and flash animation experience so I am not sure where I fit in so I just call myself a ‘Designer’.

    There are positive signs our roles are being taken seriously in some major companies now, example: CDO which means ‘Chief Design Officer’ and I am sure there are other variants.

    When doing business, I shy away from people who do not place value in what I do, those are the worst clients you can have, for example:

    ‘The ones who think you just push a button and the computer does the rest.’

    Thanks so much for the article it made things a lot clearer for me.

  9. Norebbo Author

    Hey Louis – glad to know that I’m not the only one that struggles with this. 🙂 You hit the nail on the head when you say that you tend to avoid doing business with those who don’t appreciate visual designers and what they do. I’ve learned from experience that those are often the worst clients, so I’m right there with you!

  10. Norebbo Author

    Hi Leigh – I’m envious about your transition back to your roots. That takes a lot of courage, and it’s something I think about doing myself quite often. Keep at it!

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