What Is a Visual Designer? How to Become One 🧑‍🎨

  • Design & Creative
Contra Tips
· 7 min read

Learn what visual designers are, what they do, and how to become one. Also, discover how visual designers differ from graphic and UI designers.

In an era where every glance is a fleeting opportunity, visual design takes center stage, drawing us into worlds crafted from color, shape, and form. It integrates images and typography that speak directly to our emotions, guiding our eyes and shaping our perceptions. And to thank for this creative tapestry are visual designers. 

In this guide, we’ll discuss what visual designers are, what they do, and how they differ from graphic and user interface (UI) designers. We’ll also share a step-by-step guide to becoming a visual designer. 

What is visual design? 👾

Visual design is the combination of aesthetics and functionality. It harnesses various elements and principles to craft narratives and evoke emotions, whether in digital or print, helping curate experiences in branding, communication, and genuine user engagement. 

It also acts as a potent tool for businesses to establish a memorable brand identity and build a connection with their target audience. It aids in differentiating from competitors, enhancing user experience (UX), and effectively communicating a brand's values and mission.

Visual design elements 🌟

Visual design elements boost brand identity, grab the target audience’s attention, and communicate messages effectively. Here are a few examples:

  • Lines, straight or curved, give structure and texture.
  • Shapes, made with lines and colors, define areas. 
  • Negative space adds calmness.
  • Volume creates depth.

Visual design principles 💻

Design principles help arrange elements. Here are a few examples:

  • Unity brings harmony and coherence. 
  • Hierarchy uses placement and fonts to show importance. 
  • Balance evens out elements.
  • Contrast highlights elements.

What are visual designers? 🧑‍💻

Visual designers are the creative minds behind captivating visuals brands advertise. They go beyond mere aesthetics, integrating functionality and user experience into their designs. 

While they often work in digital spaces, visual designers’ expertise is equally valuable in print and other mediums. Their role is multifaceted, encompassing understanding user behaviors, staying up on the latest design trends, and collaborating with various teams to ensure the visuals align with a brand's voice and goals.

What do visual designers do? 🎨

Visual designers wield the brush that paints the digital landscape, ensuring the user's journey is efficient and aesthetically pleasing. Here are some of their key responsibilities:

  • Graphic creation: They craft eye-catching graphics, from logos to illustrations, ensuring alignment with the brand's aesthetic.
  • Layout design: These professionals arrange elements on a page or screen for a balanced and harmonious look.
  • Color palette selection: Visual designers pick colors to evoke emotions and convey the brand’s personality.
  • Typography: They choose fonts and organize text for readability and visual appeal.
  • UI design: These professionals create intuitive and visually pleasing interfaces for websites and apps.
  • Image editing: Visual designers enhance images to fit design requirements.
  • Branding: They maintain brand consistency across visuals, reinforcing recognition.
  • Collaboration: They work closely with other creative artists, like UX designers and illustrators, to bring projects to life.

Visual designers vs. graphic designers and UI designers: Key differences 🗝️

It's easy to get lost in design terminology, especially when you're trying to figure out the right path to pursue as an Independent or hire the right person if you’re a brand. So let’s clear the air on the roles of visual designers, graphic designers, and UI designers:

Visual designers 🖼️

These creatives focus on crafting the overall look and feel of a brand or product. They're the storytellers, ensuring every visual element aligns with the brand's message and identity.

Graphic designers 🖥️

Graphic designers are experts at creating eye-catching designs for both digital and print media. Whether a dazzling logo, a striking poster, or an engaging brochure, graphic designers possess the right skills to convey the right message and grab the audience’s attention.

UI designers 📱

UI and UX go hand in hand. UI designers create interfaces that people interact with on websites and apps. They focus on making these interfaces intuitive, user-friendly, and visually appealing. They consider every button, menu, and icon, ensuring a seamless and engaging digital journey.

Which designer to choose 🧐 

When it comes to hiring, always consider your requirements. For example, if you need your brand's visual identity to shine, go for a visual designer. For attention-grabbing graphics, pick a graphic designer. And when it’s about making your digital product user-friendly, turn to a UI designer.

However, if you’re looking to carve out a path as an Independent and confused between graphic or web design, remember graphic designers deal with a wider range of media, while web designers specialize in online platforms.

Skills needed to be a visual designer 🥳

Becoming a successful visual designer demands a unique blend of creative flair, technical prowess, and effective communication. Here are the essential skills you need to become an excellent designer:

Soft skills 🗣️

  • Creativity: The ability to think outside the box to develop innovative design solutions.
  • Communication: Knowledge of effective communication and conveying design concepts to clients.
  • Attention to detail: In-depth attention to visual elements, typography, and overall design precision.
  • Adaptability: Flexibility in evolving design trends and project requirements to meet client requests.

Hard skills 🔥

  • Typography: Proficiency in selecting and manipulating fonts to enhance visual communication.
  • Color theory: A deep understanding of color psychology and how to use color effectively in design.
  • Illustration: The ability to create custom illustrations and graphics to enhance design projects.
  • Layout design: Knowledge of arranging visual elements and content to create balanced and engaging layouts.

Technical skills or tools ⚙️

  • Adobe Creative Suite: Proficiency in design software such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign.
  • Figma: Expertise using Figma for collaborative design, prototyping, and interface design.
  • HTML/CSS: Basic knowledge of hypertext markup language (HTML) and cascading style sheet (CSS) to understand web design constraints.
  • UI design and prototyping tools: Familiarity with UI tools like Sketch, XD, or Adobe XD  and prototyping tools like InVision or Proto.io to create interactive visuals.
  • Animation software: Skills in animation software like Adobe After Effects to create motion graphics and 2D and 3D animations.

How to become a visual designer in 4 steps 🪜

If you dream of a career that merges creativity with technology, visual designing could be for you. Hop on this dynamic path to express your artistic vision in the digital age. Whether you’re an aspiring designer or someone looking to pivot their career, here’s a roadmap to becoming a successful designer:

1- Choose a specialization area 🌍

Visual design is a vast field, and finding your niche is paramount. Consider whether you're drawn to web design, UX/UI design, branding, or print media. Each specialization demands a unique set of skills and knowledge.

2- Earn a degree 📚

While creativity is at the core of visual design, education provides the essential foundation. Many designers pursue a bachelor's degree in graphic design, fine arts, or related fields. However, it's common for talented self-learners to break into the industry.

3- Enroll in certification courses 📜

Gaining expertise through continuous learning is key. Courses in design software, color theory, typography, and UX design can sharpen your skills. Earning certifications like Adobe Certified Associate or UI/UX can bolster your resume.

4- Gain experience 💪

Visual design jobs include a broad spectrum of opportunities with an average annual salary of $79,000 (at the time of writing). To align with a regular visual designer job description, build your portfolio, and gain practical experience, seek internships, freelance projects, or entry-level positions. Whether you're creating stunning websites, eye-catching logos, or compelling marketing collateral, real-world projects showcase your capabilities.

Seize the visual design opportunity with Contra 🚀

Visual design is brimming with opportunities. Whether you’re a freelance visual designer ready to take your craft to the next level or a business seeking to hire the ideal independent visual designer, join Contra's Slack community to connect with like-minded professionals. This is your chance to gain insights, learn from shared experiences, and foster collaborations with other Independents. Join us and redefine your visual journey today.

Getting Started in the World of Freelance Digital Design 🚀

Explore the transformative world of digital design with this in-depth guide to its types, the roles of digital designers, and its profound impact on business.
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