Making the Switch: From Print to Digital Design

Photo by Jeff Sheldon on Unsplash

A couple months ago I attended a free workshop in San Francisco hosted by General Assembly, called Intro to UX Design. Two days prior I received an event notification on Facebook telling me about the upcoming workshop.

Since I’m in the middle of a career transition, I’m overwhelmed by the demand for UX/UI design roles. For every Graphic Designer, Brand Designer, or Visual Designer role out there, there’s 10 more in the UX/UI world.

Initially I would outright ignore any mention of these design roles knowing I wasn’t qualified. But eventually I looked more into the qualifications and found myself wanting to learn more about how to break into this area of design.

Staying current and up-to-date in the design industry is important to me. It’s always on my mind. I’m constantly studying design trends and tools and how they evolve in the digital space. After all, the future (and well, the present) is digital and I’d be a fool to pretend otherwise. This also is what brings me to writing (and you reading) this post on Medium.

I’ve made the conscious choice to switch from branding and print design to digital. How will I do this? I’m still working on the plan as I go, one day at a time. I’ll continue to update/add to this post and create new ones in this series to share my journey along the way. Maybe you’re also a designer looking to make a switch and master a niche in digital design. If so, I hope this post and the following will help and inspire you.

What is digital design

First off, let’s define what digital design isn’t.

Photo by Edho Pratama on Unsplash

Most graphic designers learn how to use Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign. They explore typography, logos and branding, posters, packaging, and print collateral such as brochures, advertising, books, basically anything with multiple pages.

The focus is largely on print-production. This is a majority of what my projects in art school as a graphic design major looked like. This is not digital design.

So what do digital designers do? They work on websites, mobile apps, landing pages, email marketing campaigns, web banners, animated gifs, and even video to name a few.

Some digital design roles might require more tech skills like HTML & CSS. Sometimes they’re listed as “bonus points” but it’s quickly becoming part of the bare minimum requirements.

You’ll often hear about the myths of the “unicorn designer”.

A unicorn designer is someone who not only designs the visuals but codes them existence too.

You’ll find a high demand for these roles at startups. Do these mythical creatures truly exist? I could go off on a tangent on this but I’ll save it for another post. Yes, they are a ridiculous ask but some unicorns do exist (and I hope they’re compensated well for their efforts and skillsets).

Digital design roles

Now that we have an idea of what digital designers do, let’s narrow in on some of the roles companies are hiring for this type of work. This by no means an exhaustive list but they are some of the key roles on the market today.

Visual designer

Visual designers are often interchangeable with graphic designers. It’s considered more of a generalist role compared to some of the specialist roles listed below. They focus on the look and feel of the visual aspects of design and define a brand’s style and voice. Often these roles will ask you to focus on designing for both print and digital.

Web designer

Web designers focus on designing websites. They create high-fidelity mockups for webpages to hand off to developers for implementation. A sub-specialty of this role might be a mobile designer who focus on designing for mobile experiences.

UX designer

User experience (UX) designers focus on the overall experience of a digital product. It’s a broad term so let’s break it down more.

UX designers may work on research including usability tests and user interviews, information architecture, wireframing, prototyping, and guide the interaction and visual design. Basically, they make sure the digital product is easy to use and a pleasant experience for the user.

UI designer

While the UX designer is responsible for the entire user experience of a digital product, a user interface (UI) designer focuses on the visual design elements of the user experience. UI designers enhance wireframes and create medium and high-fidelity prototypes and style guides for digital interfaces.

UX/UI designer

It’s quite common for companies to ask for a hybrid UX/UI designer. They expect you to not only conceptualize the user experience but implement the visual aspects as well. Not exactly a unicorn designer, but getting there.

Interaction designer

Interaction designers focus on the interaction between the user and the product. Since a significant part of interaction design involves animation, many may have front-end development skills such as JavaScript of jQauery.

Product designer

Product design can be a broad role including a little bit of everything. They consider the experience and interface of digital products and also the branding and marketing strategy. Often it includes product management, UX design, and rapid prototyping in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

Photo by Christopher Gower on Unsplash

Generalist vs. specialist

Now that we have a basic understanding of some of the digital design roles out there you might be thinking, is it better to be a generalist or a specialist?

Designers should be informed. The best way to design is to consider the entire design process from user experience to final product.

There are pros and cons to both. A lot of companies want a “Jack (or Jill) or all trades” while others want to zero in and focus on one roll. A big deciding factor is the size of the company.

For example, in the past I’ve worked on small design teams from a creative team of 5 to working solely with 1 senior designer. The smaller the creative team, the more variety in the work you will be asked to do. The larger the company, the more capacity they have for designers to have a sole focus.

It all comes down to what you want in your design career. Do you thrive on variety and are willing to work on all aspects of the design process? Or would you rather dive deep into one are of focus?

Since I worked on small design teams in the past, my goal now is to work within a larger design team. This way we are all doubling down on our strengths and collaborating to move the business forward.

What do you want out of your design career?

Are you currently in a transition? If so, what are you doing now and what do you want to do in the near future?