As technologies have evolved and customers’ needs have changed, so have the principles of good, impactful web design.

Much like when I first started honing my craft back in the 1990s, web designers still need to make sure our creations are attractive and on-brand. But in an increasingly fast-paced and digitally based economy, we also need to consider how our work is going to help our clients achieve their marketing goals.

To do this, we need to think about how people are going to be using and navigating the platforms we create.

We need to take their distinct needs and wants into account, and design something that not only accommodates them, but makes them feel completely at home.

That’s why – like it or not – we need to build upon our existing skills by learning the basic principles of UX design.

But what is UX design? And how does it differ from the more traditional practices that underpin graphic design?

Tidying up the terminology

Many people use the terms ‘graphic design’ and ‘UX design’ interchangeably – but they are two very different disciplines.

Graphic design involves using colours, images and typography to give some a website a distinct look and feel. It’s all about using visuals to connect with an audience.

You’ll sometimes see it referred to as UI design (although some design professionals believe this is a different practice altogether. That’s a topic for another day!).

UX design is concerned with working out how the users are likely to interact with the asset, then using tried-and-tested principles to ensure it’s usable, accessible and desirable.

This means that graphic designers and UX designers have very different responsibilities.

Graphic designers are responsible for the aesthetics of a website. They use the right colours, fonts and images to establish an immediate connection with the user. (And they’ll often be involved in developing a unique brand identity for the business or product they want to promote).

At the other end of the spectrum, UX designers are responsible for how information is organised onsite. They use their knowledge to present the content of a website in a way that’s going to support or engage the user, depending on what the business is looking to achieve from their new investment.

Does a graphic designer need to have UX skills?

Yes, I think so – especially in 2019, when more businesses than ever are clamouring for the attention of a digitally savvy audience.

Regardless of their background or previous qualifications, the person designing your website needs to have at least some understanding of how your potential customers are likely to interact with your platform.

Creativity is essential when it comes to putting together a killer website, because a stand-out design will capture the attention of the user straightaway. But if you want people to stick around and interact with your online shop window, the site needs to satisfy the needs of each potential customer; it needs to guide them towards making that all-important enquiry or purchase, without overloading them or confusing them.

I’ve trained heavily in UX design over the years, because I’ve always wanted to create websites that not only look the part but are also a joy to use.

What to learn more about UX design?

Although it’s a relatively new concept, plenty has been written on the web about how user-focused design is shaking up the creative industries.

A quick Google search will bring up loads of great blogs on UX design, but here’s three of my favourites for those of you who want to do some further reading into the subject:

This post from Career Foundry talks you through what a UX designer actually does. It goes into more detail about how UX designers work on day to day basis.

This piece from User Testing includes contributions from 15 consultants who have been willing to share their insights into the world of UX and what it means for the design space as a whole.

This article from Sujitha Niroshan, hosted by UX Collective, puts the role into context and breaks a UX designer’s responsibilities down into 5 key steps.