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UX Design vs. Graphic Design

UX Design vs. Graphic Design: What’s the Difference?

9 minute read | April 24, 2024
Maria Muntean

Written by:
Maria Muntean

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Creative roles like UX design and graphic design are among the most future-proof careers, and you certainly want a job that allows you to be artistic and innovative while making a tangible impact. 

However, what do you do when you can’t quite decide whether to focus your talents on the user experience side of UX design or the world of visuals through graphic design?

It’s understandable. These two fields have some overlap but also distinct differences in the day-to-day, core skills, and long term opportunities. By the end of this article, you’ll better understand what each discipline involves, allowing you to choose the path that you think fits best.

Is There A Difference Between UX Design And Graphic Design?

Bot UX design and graphic design are essential disciplines that create visually appealing and user-friendly designs, but their focus areas differ slightly.

UX design is all about enhancing the overall experience for people using a website, app, or product. A UX designer’s job is to make that experience as smooth, intuitive, and enjoyable as possible, to solve problems, and to create solutions that actually make sense for the user.

Graphic designers, on the other hand, are more concerned with visuals, for example, creating eye-catching imagery, layouts, and branding elements that communicate a message effectively. They’re the ones who make things look sleek, polished, and on-brand.

But here’s where it gets a little blurry. There’s definitely some overlap between the two. They both need a solid grasp of design principles, color theory, and typography — and they often work hand-in-hand with graphic designers translating the UX vision into visually appealing elements that enhance the overall experience.

UX Design vs. Graphic Design

Let’s examine the differences between UX design and graphic design.


UX design is about creating digital experiences that make sense to people and are easy to navigate. It involves designing products that are intuitive, efficient, and genuinely enjoyable to use.

UX covers information architecture and navigation, as well as visual design and content strategy, from time to time. The ultimate goal of UX design is to take a complex idea or product and turn it into something simple to use. Think of apps like Spotify or Headspace: that frictionless experience is thanks to UX design.

While UX focuses on the experience, graphic design focuses more on the visuals and the message, blending text, images, and other elements to communicate ideas better.


UX design spans a diverse range of applications, and some key areas where UX designers have a positive contribution are:

  1. Web design and mobile apps
  2. Software operating systems
  3. Video games and virtual reality
  4. Smart home devices

These are tools for which UX design is paramount. Productivity tools must be easy to use to keep you from procrastinating, while software operating systems need to be usable systems and have their complexity translated for day-to-day activities.

On the other hand, while graphic design is often associated with visuals, it actually has different applications across a variety of mediums, such as:

  1. Branding and marketing (think of logos, ads, or packaging)
  2. Publishing (both traditional publishing like book covers and magazine layouts, to online newspapers)
  3. Motion graphics

UX Designer vs. Graphic Designer

Now that we know the differences and similarities between the two fields let’s look at the actual day-to-day of a UX designer and graphic designer and some things to consider if you want to break into the field.


A UX designer’s world revolves around the user. 

Their days are spent understanding people’s needs, behaviors, and frustrations with current products or services. Research is a massive part of their job; they constantly gather insights through interviews or usability tests. 

That research fuels their process as they sketch out potential solutions, building user flows, wireframes, and prototypes to test ideas. Visual design plays a role, but the north star for UX is relentless usability and intuitive interactions that make sense for the user.

Now, graphic designers work on brand identities, marketing campaigns, or printed pieces, essentially transforming abstract ideas and concepts into visuals. They know design principles like the back of their hand – color theory, typography, or layout composition. They bring these skills to collaborate with writers, art directors, and clients, translating strategic visions into visuals. 

Day In The Life

There’s no such thing as a “typical” day for a UX designer. That’s part of what makes this career so exciting. 

One morning, you might spend time in meetings, whiteboarding ideas, and user flows for a new product feature. Then, you might move straight into user interviews, having honest conversations to understand pain points and gain insights. 

Of course, no two days are the same — you might be usability testing with users one day and then leading a workshop on design thinking the next. 

Graphic designers are a bit more relaxed in their day-to-day, as their job is more creative-driven. They usually kick off the morning by checking in with the team and creative director and getting briefs on new branding projects or campaign concepts. Then, they spend most of their day exploring ideas through mood boards, sketches, fonts, and color palettes. 

They also hop on calls with clients and team members, presenting raw concepts and incorporating feedback.

General Career Prerequisites 

While there’s no single path to becoming a UX designer, there are some common ways.

For example, a formal education in design, human-computer interaction (HCI), or a related field like psychology or computer science can provide a solid foundation. But book smarts only get you so far – real-world experience through internships and freelance projects is essential for building that strong portfolio that showcases your design process and problem-solving abilities. You could also pursue a UX design course or bootcamp to solidify your knowledge and gain practical skills.

Much like UX, there’s only one path to becoming a graphic designer. A bachelor’s degree in graphic design, visual communications, or a related creative field is widespread and helps build a strong foundation in design principles. However, many self-taught graphic artists have also carved out successful careers through dedication, natural talent, and an exceptional portfolio.

For both careers, you’d need a user-centric mindset and empathy for understanding people’s needs, pain points, and mental models.

Essential Skills 

UX designers come from diverse backgrounds, but some core skills make them successful in this role.

User research abilities are essential. You need to master planning and conducting interviews, usability tests, surveys, and other methods to understand user needs and behaviors. 

Perhaps most importantly, UX designers need incredible problem-solving skills to navigate ambiguous challenges. You have to be able to take a bird’s eye view, synthesize disparate data points, and navigate trade-offs to create harmonious experiences.

Graphic designers, on the other hand, need an expert understanding of design principles and a highly developed visual skillset to arrange elements into eye-catching designs. Skills like motion graphics, UI design, and video editing are becoming core competencies required to succeed in this field.

For both professions, these technical skills are always appreciated:

  • User research
  • Wireframing
  • User interface design
  • Information architecture
  • Accessibility and responsiveness
  • Design tools proficiency (Adobe Creative Suite, Figma, etc)
  • Photography and image editing

Average Salary

UX designers in the US make an average of $107,394 per year.

On the other hand, graphic designers can have an annual income of $59,000 per year on average.

Career Path

Many UX designers begin their careers with internships and entry-level roles focused on research, testing, and production work like wireframing. With a few years of experience under their belt, they often move into roles as UX designers responsible for end-to-end product design and solutions across the entire user experience. Skilled UXers can then advance to lead UX designer positions, managing teams and significant initiatives.

From there, the path diverges based on interests and strengths. 

Some UX designers evolve into UX managers or directors overseeing multi-disciplinary design teams and strategies. Others branch into UX research or strategy roles specializing in areas like human factors, design ops, or accessibility. 

Conversely, graphic designers usually kick off their careers with internships or entry-level production roles to build their skills and exposure to diverse projects. From there, they can choose to specialize in verticals like branding, marketing and advertising, publishing, or packaging design. The entrepreneurs might freelance or launch their own boutique studio.

Designers aspiring for something greater can consider earning certifications and staying ahead of evolving digital design trends like UI/UX, motion graphics, and augmented reality. They can also explore adjacent creative roles in fields like industrial design, architecture, film, and television.

Which Career Should You Pursue?

Haven’t decided? Here’s how to make sure you choose the right career path.

You Should Pursue UX Design If…

… you’re the type who can’t just enjoy an app or website at face value; you’re constantly evaluating the experience, thinking about how it could be improved. 

The idea of extensive user research, analyzing data, and truly understanding people’s behaviors and pain points excites you to go to work. You have a unique blend of creative skills and analytical abilities that allow you to transform those insights into intuitive user flows and prototypes. Most importantly, you live for those “aha!” moments when a design just clicks, making someone’s life a little easier.

You Should Pursue Graphic Design If…

… you’ve always had an infatuation with visuals. Maybe as a kid, you could lose yourself for hours obsessively sketching, doodling fantastical scenes, or crafting handwritten fonts. 

To you, design is more than just aesthetics. You enjoy experimenting with layouts and typography, and are curious about design history, visual culture, or emerging digital trends within design (like UI and motion). Even more, you’re a visual thinker, an innovative person who can quickly adapt and solve problems as they arise.

Starting A Career In Each Field: Real-Life Examples To Inspire You

Hearing from those who’ve successfully navigated the same path is always helpful. Let’s take a look at the stories of two UX design and graphic design professionals.

UX Design 

In this YouTube video, CJ shares his personal lessons learned while transitioning from a background in visual design and painting to a career in UX design. He pursued the mentorship program at Springboard, which provided him with the needed structure, feedback, and support to gain valuable skills in this industry.

Even though it was a career switch, CJ’s previous skills – like handling client meetings – came in really handy for tackling UX challenges. He shares how he fell in love with the problem-solving side of UX and made his full-time gig so much more satisfying and fun.

He emphasizes the importance of keeping up with your learning even after finishing a program like Springboard’s. His advice? Follow tutorials, read up, and keep building those skills. You should definitely get familiar with Figma – it’s a must-have for UI designers looking to land their dream job.

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Graphic Design

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Tre’s story perfectly exemplifies “fake it ‘til you make it.” He emphasizes the importance of standing out in a competitive job market and discusses unconventional ways to land a graphic design job.

Although some of his advice (like lying on resumes) should not be followed, he makes a great point saying that you should start simply and not overcomplicate things. Build a minimalist graphic design portfolio with inspiration from Pinterest, and reach out directly to companies when applying for jobs instead of competing for the same ones on sites like LinkedIn and Indeed.

He recognizes the feeling of “imposter syndrome” when you first land that job but that you should take it as a unique opportunity to learn as much as you can and make the most of it.

UX Design vs Graphic Design FAQs

We answer your most frequently asked questions.

Who Earns More: Graphic Designer Or UX Designer? 

In general, UX designers tend to earn slightly higher salaries than graphic designers because they play a vital role in product strategy and have a quantifiable impact on business metrics like conversions and retention.

Does UX Design Require Coding?

No, UX designers don’t necessarily need to know how to code. However, some basic front-end skills like HTML/CSS can be helpful for creating interactive prototypes. The core UX skills revolve around research, wireframing, and UI design.

Is It Worth Getting Into UX Design?

Yes. UX is a rapidly growing field with excellent career prospects.

Since you’re here…
Are you a future UX designer? Enroll in our UI/UX Bootcamp and join over 10,000 students who have successfully changed careers with us. Want to get wireframing right this second? Check out our free UX design course today.

About Maria Muntean

Maria-Cristina is a content marketer with 7 years of experience in SEO and content strategy for SaaS and technology brands. She holds an MA thesis on the effects of emotions in written and video content. She loves to spend time near the ocean and watch horror movies.