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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.