Sam Brown

The difference between a graphic designer & interface designer

“Interface design is when one is designing something that will be used by humans. The understanding of how a user thinks, learns and adapts is important knowledge.

I’m not down playing graphic design in any way, it’s just different. For example, graphic designers have the intention to grab an emotional response visually. While Interface designers have the intention to grab a logical response mentally.”

I really like The distinction between interfaces & graphics by Michael Dick in his latest blog entry, on his rather lovely redesigned site.

Personally I am working on a client project that I have yet to publicly mention that was designed entirely by a Graphic Designer. This Graphic Designer is a very very good designer with bags of talent and a lot of the site and associated materials are fantastic but as an interface designer myself I have a lot of differing ideas on how to implement and direct the users experience and design on the website.

It’s interesting to note the differences and is likely something I will write about in the future when the time is right.

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kat 21 May 2010, 09:12 #1

I agree that the two professions are miles apart, while being right next to each other. One distinction that doesn’t carry as much weight when you design an interface is: “I’ve designed it this way to challenge how the user thinks about how a website works”. Whereas someone like type graphic designer David Carson would often design completely illegible, unuseable layouts for his work, he would be described as an incompetent interface designer.

Ross Chapman 21 May 2010, 10:08 #2

I still call myself a web designer – covers all manner of sins!

Michael Dick 23 May 2010, 09:57 #3

Appreciate the mention, I look forward to hearing your take on it!

Mark McCorkell 24 May 2010, 02:02 #4

I think that is a really accurate distinction by Michael. For a while I have been thinking about this and been trying to figure out how to best articulate the differences to someone who doesn’t know. It looks like he has hit the nail on the head. The lines do get blurred though, and it’s not always as clean cut as that. There are guys that are just awesome at everything. But generally speaking, that is right on the money.

Jim Donato 25 May 2010, 11:35 #5

Any graphic designer that doesn't know that they are also interface designers are actually fine artists and in the wrong business. Every layout I create is an interface designed to convey information for a guided purpose, irrespective of the emotional resonance that I want the communication to convey. That's just the seasoning, not the steak. I started as a graphic designer in the mid 80s and by the late 80s had made the leap to software design. Usability training I had with Larry Constantine was infinitely more valuable than any art class I ever took.

alwyn 27 May 2010, 08:09 #6

Sam while I agree in principle to your general statement—it is general. In reality there are sectors of graphic design that deal with products used by humans with navigation and interface issues—it so happens that those issues may be used by less humans than the Internet gives access to and was the precursor to online disciples of information architecture and interface design.

Tim 27 May 2010, 08:19 #7

However, the things people use need to be pleasing to look at or they will get bored, and have no inspiration to return. That’s why I buy a new golf club every once in a while. Some “interface designers” have no graphic ability and so their designs are unattractive, and don’t command the attention of the user. This is not an either/or proposition. There must be a unification of the two thoughts. You must be Graphic Designer AND an Interface Designer. This makes you a communications guru.

Stormchild 29 May 2010, 01:51 #8

The notion that a designer is geared only toward creating something “attractive” or “functional” is the usual black-and-white thinking that lies behind every mediocre website, application, and product in the world. Truly good design is the result of achieving balance between these objectives.

Reality is not black-and-white; it’s the entire color spectrum, in which one can see such colors as “blue” and “green”, but there is no distinct point where blue ends and green begins. There is value in recognizing different hues, but none whatsoever in trying to divide everything into separate pieces.

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Sam Brown co-founded Iterate, and was previously VP of Design at Foursquare. Based in NYC.