Visual Design: An Introduction

Undergraduates, lend me your ear! We’re set for what is tipped to be the most radical period of change in design history. The convergence between technology and design continues to increase, innovation is everywhere, and there is clear need for brands to deeper connect with their audiences, which today invariably revolves around design and customer experience.

CEO’s and their senior teams are increasingly understanding the importance, and further the ability of designers’ talents to do more than just beautiful creative and design, but also to solve for meaty strategic challenges, and drive the innovation agenda. The gates are opening, and the role of the designer has shifted dramatically. From the traditional days of print and branding, to website building and more! We no longer design just a 2D output with beautiful text and imagery, those days are past as we look forward to the future of design – and the future is interactive.

Behind every great app or interface are a specialised team of designers who not only manage how the interface looks, but also how it functions to ensure that the user has the easiest journey from beginning to end. This team will usually comprise of three different types of specialised designers – User Experience designers (UX), User interface designers (UI) and Visual Designers. Sometimes the roles that each of these designers play will merge or span across pathways as they are all highly interconnected.

In broad introduction, a UX Designer is focused mainly on how the product feels to the consumer. They need to make sure that the product logically flows from page to page, from one step to the next. They’ll be able to identify any snags in the user journey, whereas UI Designers concern themselves with the way that the product is laid out. The UI designer will create the layout of each screen or page, making sure that the path that the UX designer has created is cohesive with the design of the layout. So where does the Visual Designer come into the mix? They are the pixel perfecters! What they do is produce the visual designs for the product, ensuring that the colours, type and imagery all work together to best engage the consumer and improve usability. While many designers will specialise in one of these areas, you will often find that the UI role and the Visual Designer role will merge, and one person will perfect the pixels plus design the layout. A pro to this could be that the language is much more consistent throughout, though it is more likely this merge would happen on smaller scale projects.

You’ll find that if you were to ask a non-designer what a designer does all day, chances are they’d describe to you the Visual Designer’s role – which is becoming ever more important as the use of good visuals will determine the product’s position in the market and if users will emotionally connect with the product. With a market that is saturated with new apps and products appearing daily, excellent design and an emotional connection to a product or service has become a defining factor for success.

The design industry is gaining gravitas as we slowly unfold the future, with designers being used for much more than making something look good. The methods in which designers think is being used not only for aesthetic endeavours, but also to unravel technological and social problems. UX, UI and visual design are just some of the evolutions that ‘standard’ design has taken on recently, in the future we can expect these roles to expand further as technology accelerates.

In a recent post in FastCo, Matt Schoenholz of Teague predicts that in the not so distant future we will move away from designs that are only shown on screens but towards design within augmented reality. He believes designers will become hybrids that focus not only on aesthetic, but special concepts.

“Whether this embodiment is physical or virtual, this new designer is concerned with virtual and augmented reality, as well as the computers embedded into things and spaces. Therefore, this role is expert in interface pattern languages and touch-points that have largely been considered as alternative or merely subservient to screen-based GUIs. This designer will borrow practices from industrial design and architecture, so that they can model interactions that are oriented in space.”

There is a really exciting world being formed in design, it’s one of the fastest growing sectors in the UK economy – and now that you’ve been let in on the future of a really exciting industry, how do you get into it? Many universities around the UK (and the world!) are now offering courses that are geared towards the digital elements of design, whereas your standard Graphic Design course will most likely offer you some insight into the UI and UX side of things. If you are really interested in this sector of design, it’s worth taking a look at these undergraduate courses and masters:

  • BA (Hons) Information and Interface Design – University of the Arts London (LCC)
  • BA (Hons) Interaction Design Arts – University of the Arts London (LCC)
  • BA (Hons) Interactive Media Design – University of Northumbria
  • BA (Hons) Interactive Design – University of Lincoln
  • BSc Digital Interaction Design – University of Dundee
  • BSc Digital Design – Brunel University

And for those of you looking even further ahead…

MA(RCA)/MSc in Global Innovation Design (GID) – Imperial College London

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I’m a Founding Partner of Bamboo Crowd. I help our clients invest better in people and scale through Engine. I solve recruitment challenges and help our clients source the best talent across operations, business development, programme management, and technology. Ask me about good films, beards and hip hop.