As a Visual Designer, with a background in branding, now working in the digital world, I often think about the difference between User Interface (UI) Design and Visual Design. It seems like the world is confused about the difference. So, here is what I think about it.

Is a Visual Designer also a UI Designer?Probably.

The term “Visual Designer” is very broad. In advertising, Visual Designers create the visuals that compel customers. At branding agencies, Visual Designers help brands communicate with a specific tone-of-voice. At signage companies, Visual Designers help customers navigate a space.

To answer this question properly, we need to look at what the Visual Designer is responsible for and uncover their purpose. Are they:

People often think that Visual Designers only need to make sure that the visuals of a product are appealing. They believe that UI designers, on the other hand, deal with functionality: like the usability and accessibility of a digital product.

But by looking at a Visual Designer’s responsibilities, there’s more overlap between the two than first meets the eye.

It makes sense, when visuals are involved, that people’s actions and reactions are affected. When designing a visual, the designer is also crafting the purpose – therefore, the distinction is blurred. The difference, mostly-likely depends on the organisation’s needs and their distribution of work.

Do UI Designers need to be aware of brand visuals? Definitely.

There is growing opinion that the digital world is making visuals of ever-increasing similarity; that brands are becoming more and more alike. The illustration on an e-commerce site suddenly becomes a trend as they attract more users and other brands soon follow-suit.

“Minimal Design” is a case-in-point; brand logos are transforming simply because it’s a trend. Designers are afraid of using different fonts other than sans-serifs for clearer rendering on digital devices.

This is disappointing. A brand’s image and its tone of voice are important – they build trust and prevent chaos.

Before the rise of digital, the danger of trends was easier to understand. For example, the visuals on packaging helps customers understand what they were buying. So, imagine if an alcohol brand followed a trend and milk producers followed the same trend – meaning that their packaging ended up looking the same. As a result, people would get confused between the two products. Additionally, how would marketers be able to market the brands effective? It would be a total nightmare.

Some argue that the choice of fonts should be limited on digital devices because of their optimised legibility and readability. Obviously, this is an important consideration – you want to make sure users can read messages on screen but I still keep an open mind on this matter. As technology advances, screen resolutions are getting higher. I see a wider possibility of fonts for these devices in the future. Let’s not underestimate how fonts are fundamental to help brands communicate.

I believe it would help every business if UI designers not only thought in terms of functionality but also in terms of the brand they are working for. Considering both, will help designers find more opportunities for the UI to develop and will build a more expressive visual language for the product.

Do Brand Visual Designers have to be aware of UI design? Definitely.

When designing a digital platform, there are constant requests for new visual elements. Visual Designers must understand how their skills can apply to different platforms.

Before the digital age, when Brand Visual Designers created Brand Guidelines, they used these documents to describe the brand story and its tone of voice to people from different departments. It would explain how to use each visual element appropriately to help people across marketing and business development represent the company effectively. Now, with new digital platforms it should be used to help UI Designers also understand the brand so they can design an interface that tells the same story.

I once heard a Brand Visual Designer complain about someone from marketing who was forcing her to make a button bright red as they wanted people to click on it. Tensions ran high because the designer knew that a big, red button went against everything in the Brand Guidelines. At the same time, however, she had no alternative way to solve the UI challenge. With some understanding of UI, the designer would have been able to understand the reasons why users needed to click that button (and why there were reluctant to do so). With this knowledge, she would have been able to look for a way to achieve the same result without violating the Brand Guidelines.

Looking forward to 2020

I am glad that in this year, I am able to experience how helpful it is to combine the skills as a Brand Visual Designer and UI designer.

Technology is constantly killing and creating different jobs and roles. In the future, the line between different design roles will continue to blur. So, to stay sane, it’s important to identify responsibilities and skills to figure out how these can be used in the face of a fast-changing world.

Who knows what kind of jobs AI will create but I am certain that no matter how the medium changes, the nature and the function of a Visual Designer will remain the same.

The years ahead of us may be unstable politically and economically, but staying calm and understanding your strengths will help you face any challenge ahead.

Let’s not worry too much and hold together for a better future.