UX Design vs. Graphic Design: Choosing the Right Career Path

Written by Coursera • Updated on Nov 22, 2021

What's the difference between a UX designer and a graphic designer? Learn what sets these roles apart and how you can transition between them.

A graphic designer sits at a table with her pink laptop in a brightly lit room

User experience design (UX design) and graphic design—these two design-centric job titles may sound similar, but they actually perform distinct tasks using different skill sets within the product development process. While graphic designers focus on visual elements, UX designers focus on the complete interaction between a user and a product.

In this article, we’ll go over the difference between UX designers and graphic designers, clarify some other design roles, and discuss how you can make the transition from graphic design to UX.

Read more: What Does a UX Designer Do?

A quick guide to design roles

Browse some job boards, and you’ll likely see several different roles that include the word “designer.” To confuse matters further, some hiring managers use some of these terms interchangeably. But each typically has a specific role to play in the product development process. Let’s take a quick look at four common design roles.

  • Graphic designer: Graphic designers use color, shapes, images, and fonts to create visual content for both print and digital media. These designs often serve as static, non-interactive layouts—logos, product packaging, advertisements, signage, brochures, or displays—used to communicate with customers.

  • Visual designer: Visual designers typically focus on designing a product or brand identity that spans multiple platforms and customer touchpoints. 

  • UI designer: Where graphic designers create static visual content, user interface (UI) designers create interactive visual content. This includes the graphical elements of apps, websites, and electronic devices that users interact with.

  • UX designer: UX designers focus on the entire interaction between a user and a product, including how that experience made them feel. This type of design goes beyond the visual to include information architecture and product prototyping.

UX designer vs graphic designer: What’s the difference?

One of the biggest differences between graphic design and UX design is the scope. Graphic designers focus on visual elements. UX designers take a broader perspective by focusing on the entire interaction between a user and a product. Graphic design is often just one part of the bigger user experience. 

There are other differences as well. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

Graphic designerUX designer
Designs visual elementsDesigns interactions
Brand-centricUser-centric
Specialized roleMultidisciplinary role
Skills include creativity, typography, color theory, computer-aided designSkills include empathy, user research, wireframing, prototyping, information architecture
Popular tools include Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Procreate, PixlrPopular tools include Balsamiq, Adobe XD, Figma, Sketch
May have a bachelor’s degree in graphic designMay have a bachelor’s degree in human-computer interaction, computer science, psychology, or design
$48,541 average salary (US) [1]$77,200 average salary (US) [2]

Type and focus of design

Graphic designers design visual elements. UX designers design interactions. The former might involve a specialized set of design-related skills, like color theory, typography, and computer-aided design. The latter involves a multidisciplinary set of skills that includes not only design, but user research, information architecture, wireframing, and prototyping.

Graphic designers use visual elements to communicate a brand message. Therefore, their focus will often be on staying true to a brand identity. UX designers advocate for the user, making sure a product meets user needs in a way that is accessible, intuitive, and enjoyable. 

Tasks and responsibilities

With such different focuses, UX and graphic designers often spend their time on different elements of the product development process.

Day-to-day tasks for a graphic designer might include:

  • Collaborating with clients and art directors

  • Creating logos, images, and illustrations

  • Choosing colors, images, and fonts for layouts

  • Using digital illustration tools and photo editing software

Day-to-day tasks for a UX designer might include:

  • Identifying user needs, goals, behaviors, and pain points through user research

  • Creating user personas and user journey maps

  • Designing site maps, wireframes, and prototypes

  • Validating designs through user testing and iterating with new features or fixes

  • Collaborating with product designers, developers, UI designers, and stakeholders

Tools and software

The tools and software UX and graphic designers use to complete their tasks also differ.

Graphic designers might use pen and paper, a tablet and stylus, or a computer at different stages of the design process. While particular software choices differ from designer to designer and company to company, many will use illustration apps, photo editing software, graphic vector editor, and layout editing software.

A UX designer might use a variety of tools for different tasks. There are tools specifically for low and high-fidelity prototyping, flowcharting, building questionnaires and surveys, wireframing, and usability testing. 

Graphic and UX designer salary

How much you earn as a graphic or UX designer will depend on a number of factors, including your location, education, amount of experience, and industry. But in general, UX designers tend to draw a bigger salary than graphic designers. Here’s a look at how three different sources report average or median salaries in the US.

US Bureau of Labor StatisticsGlassdoor (US)PayScale (US)
Graphic designer salary$53,380 median salary (2020)$48,537 average salary (2021)$46,162 average salary (2021)
UX designer salary$77,200 median salary (2020)$102,056 average salary (2021)$74,522 average salary (2021)

Educational requirements

UX designers and graphic designers might come from different educational backgrounds as well. Graphic design jobs often require a bachelor’s degree in graphic design or a related field. 

Since UX is a relatively new field, you won’t find as many established degree programs in UX specifically. Instead, UX designers might get their degree in computer science, human-computer interaction, psychology, or design. 

As the field of UX continues to grow and evolve, some universities are taking notice and offering new programs in user experience. These might take various titles, like:

  • Interaction design

  • Digital technologies

  • Communication design

  • Product design

  • Multimedia design

Interested in earning your bachelor’s degree in UX? The Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from the University of London lets you specialize in user experience.

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Which type of design is right for me?

If you have a passion for creativity and technology, a design career could be a good fit. Which type of design will depend on your unique skills and interests. If you’re visually-oriented and could spend hours manipulating color palettes and fonts to make a graphic look just right, graphic design work might be for you. If you’re interested in human psychology and love investigating a problem through research and data, then consider a move to UX.

From graphic designer to UX designer: Making the transition

If you have some experience in graphic design, there are some compelling reasons to consider shifting into UX. Demand for graphic designers is projected to decline by four percent over the next decade [3], according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The demand for UX designers is slated to grow by eight percent—that’s much faster than average [4]. UX designers also draw a larger salary on average.

So how do you make the transition? Luckily, many of the visual design skills you’ve developed in the world of graphic design will transfer into user experience. Good aesthetics have an impact on UX. An Open University study in 2005 found that we perceive visually pleasing things as more usable, even when there is no correlation between attractiveness and performance [5].

That means you can focus on building out your skills in some other areas of UX design, including:

  • User research: A big part of the UX designer’s job is understanding what users need and how a product can best meet those needs. This requires user research.

  • Information architecture: In UX, function often trumps form. It’s great if something looks good, but that means little if it doesn’t work. Learning best practices for information architecture can empower you to structure content on websites and apps that is intuitive to the user and makes every click count.

  • Testing and iteration: In graphic design, once something looks right, your job is likely done. UX involves a more iterative process, where you design something, build it, test it with real users, then return to the design process to revise. 

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Michael, a UX designer at Google, explains how he maid the transition from a career in animation into user experience.

Get started in UX

If you’re ready to make the shift to a career in UX, enroll for free in the Google UX Design Professional Certificate on Coursera. This program helps you build job-ready skills in less than six months—no experience or degree required. You’ll walk through the design process with UX professionals from Google and complete three end-to-end projects for your portfolio—a website, a mobile app, and a cross-platform experience. Get started with a seven-day free trial.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Article sources

1. Glassdoor. "Graphic Designer Salaries, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/graphic-designer-salary-SRCH_KO0,16.htm." Accessed May 5, 2021.

2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Web Developers and Digital Designers, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/web-developers.htm." Accessed May 5, 2021.

3. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Graphic Designers, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/graphic-designers.htm." Accessed May 5, 2021.

4. US BLS. "Web Developers and Digital Designers."

5. The Open University. "Do “attractive things work better”? An exploration of search tool visualisations, https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/82971727.pdf." Accessed May 5, 2021.

Written by Coursera • Updated on Nov 22, 2021

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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