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Design Terminology Can Be Ambiguous
In a rapidly evolving digital landscape, the terms, tools, and definitions used by designers change quickly, sometimes daily.
As designers seek to stay ahead of changing technology, there is a tendency to classify and characterize the skills we employ in sweeping language.
Sometimes, however, such broad definitions create confusion and hesitancy - two sworn enemies of design.
Such is this case with “Digital Design,” a flexible and evolving term that is widely used yet poorly defined.
What Is a Digital Designer?
Maybe a more helpful question to spur our conversation is, “Why do we need digital designers?” The answer literally rests in your lap or the palm of your hand. We share, shop, save, earn, learn, laugh, and love within the context of online communities that exist inside our digital devices.
But these digital environments and the experiences they offer don’t just come into being on their own. They’re designed from the top down. Each feature, graphic, and interaction is carefully considered.
Many disciplines are involved in this creative process—researchers, engineers, developers, writers, marketers, and design specialists focusing on user interface, user experience, and branding.
Within this varied team setting, digital designers are the jack-of-all-trades, able to nimbly change roles and solve problems related to interface design, brand messaging, visual content, and user interactions. Digital designers help make digital experiences more seamless by bridging the gap between a diverse array of creative professionals.
What Design Disciplines Are Relevant to Digital Design?
Let’s start with an overview of the design disciplines that digital designers should be fluent in. Mastery in all of these areas is not required, but a well-rounded digital designer will grasp the foundational concepts, tools, and terminology of each.
UI design is focused on making human interactions with machine and software interfaces as clear as possible.
UX design is the process of observing, analyzing, evaluating, and improving a user’s experience with a digital product.
Graphic design has traditionally focused on design for print but encompases a number of disciplines that are important to the digital designer.
- Typography: Arranging fonts and written words to communicate ideas in a readable and appealing way
- Color design: Creating visually compelling color schemes based on color theory, market trends, and human psychology
- Image editing: Manipulating images like photographs and illustrations to enhance or diminish features
- Layout design: Arranging text, images, and other visual elements in a way that creates hierarchy and maximizes impact
Illustration is stylized image-making with the intent of visually interpreting or clarifying complex concepts and processes.
Brand design is visually embodying a company’s core promise with graphics, color, typography, and images.
Examples of Common Digital Design Projects
As we’ve already shown, digital designers are flexible and able to move between different design roles and tasks efficiently. But what does this look like on a practical, day to day level? What kind of projects are best suited for the digital designer?
Here’s a quick look at a few relevant examples where digital designers can add value.
Onboarding Screens for an App
The first few screens a person encounters after downloading an app are designed to help them complete signup and begin using the product effectively. This is known as onboarding, and it can make or break the success of an app. If an app is immediately clunky and frustrating to use, most people will simply look for a better solution.
Digital designers can ensure a clear and engaging onboarding process by creating custom illustrations and ensuring that written instructions reflect a brand’s voice.
Social Media Ad Campaign
Companies spend a lot of advertising money on social media, but these ads are by no means a surefire way to win new customers. If poorly executed, they offer little return on investment and even damage a brand’s reputation.
Digital designers can contribute to compelling social media ads by editing and arranging photographs and implementing eye-catching color schemes.
Web design trends and technology change quickly. A cutting-edge site today could easily be dated within a year’s time.
Digital designers can provide improvements that lead to a stunning new website by creating high-fidelity mockups and mapping out a user’s journey through the site.
Digital Button Interactions for a Product
Every day, our fingers and cursors press digital buttons: Accept. Confirm. Share. Like. Sign Up. Log Out. Play. Pause. Open. Close. Etc.
There are a lot of buttons out there, and if the feedback a person gets when hovering over or pressing one is confusing, things can go haywire quickly—“NO! I just paid my electric bill 15 times!”
Digital designers can help design buttons that are simple and effective by carefully crafting a button’s visual style and animating thoughtful interactions for different states (hover, pressed, active, etc).
What Crucial Skills Do Digital Designers Need?
Interdisciplinarity is the future of design, but design specialists and their areas of expertise won’t cease to exist. One of the most beautiful things about design is the flexibility of design thinking because it allows designers with a variety of skills and backgrounds to put their heads together and solve complex problems.
With the right skills, digital designers are uniquely positioned to be the crucial link within diverse teams. What are these skills? We could easily outline a long list of buzzy design trends and tools, but these things change quickly and unpredictably.
Digital designers need a more enduring and foundational skill set.
Life is fraught with problems. Oftentimes, investigating one problem unearths several more. Designers encounter this every day, and if we do our job well, we pursue holistic solutions. Digital designers must be able to identify and solve problems from 50,000 feet and at ground level.
Within diverse design teams, there are problem solving abilities aplenty, but communication skills are sometimes lacking. As a bridge between disciplines, Digital designers need to be able to translate ideas into simple terms—no lingo, no pretense.
Design software can be difficult to learn for just one discipline, but digital designers must be able to achieve competency in several programs (visual design, motion design, prototyping, etc.). As the products we use change, so do the tools we use to design them.
Digital designers need to remain flexible and current over the course of their careers, and to do this requires a significant amount of time devoted to self-initiated learning.
Finally, digital designers must take pride in their work and execute with the highest standards no matter the project. From the way they organize design files to be handed over to other team members to the precision of individual pixels, a strong commitment to design craftsmanship is crucial.
Digital Designers Have a Key Role in Future Design Teams
As digital technology continues to change, so will the tools and types of projects that digital designers work on. However, core skills like problem solving, communication, and self-initiated learning will only increase in importance. As the creative bridge between professionals of varying disciplines, digital designers will continue to play an important role within design teams by adding clarity and impact to project visuals, brand messaging, and user interactions.