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What’s the Difference Between 'Communication Design,' 'Visual Communication Design' and 'Graphic Design?'

CS Communication Design0067 ECU 2019 05 06

By Perrin Grauer

Posted on April 30, 2020 | Updated May 07, 2021, 2:29PM

Some key distinctions between three closely related disciplines.

You’re in love with creating visual content, and you want to turn that passion into a career. So what’s the next step?

You need to choose the focus that’s right for you.

Communication design careers — including careers in visual communication design — typically involve a broader skillset than a career in graphic design. Careers in communication design certainly may require the use of visual or graphic skills. But those skills are just one part of a wider-ranging skillset that you’ll develop as a communication design professional.

A career in graphic design will focus exclusively on creating visual content for specific purposes.

To understand this distinction a little bit better, let’s look at some key differences between “Graphic Design”, “Communication Design,” and “Visual Communication Design”:

GRAPHIC DESIGN

Nowadays, graphic design typically refers to a specialized field, narrowly focused on creating specific graphic or visual elements for use in a campaign, on a website, or in print. Graphic designers do not typically learn about processes such as animation or photography, for instance. Nor do they deliver a completely finished visual product for clients. Instead, they focus on creating key visual elements which play a role within a broader visual communication process or campaign.

Because their skillset is so specialized, graphic design graduates are set up for critical roles as expert advisers to visual communicators, whose expertise on subjects such as graphic design standards doesn’t run as deep.

So, graphic design can be understood to mean the practice of creating visual content, rather than handling the more general work of a modern communication designer.

COMMUNICATION DESIGN

If a graphic designer is a person who creates specific graphic or visual elements, a communication designer uses those elements in designing a strategic plan to communicate a broader message to an audience.

Alongside graphic elements, a communication designer’s plan might also involve identifying key words or phrases for a campaign, choosing specific pieces of information to include, and decisions around where, when and how a message should appear to have maximum impact on a desired audience. A communication designer would design and produce the entire scope of a messaging campaign, from start to finish.

Communication designers may work in advertising, web or app design, branding, or product design, among many other fields.

VISUAL COMMUNICATION DESIGN

Visual communication design is related to both communication design and graphic design. Where graphic design is a highly specialized discipline focusing on creating key visual elements, and communication design is a more generalized field focusing on developing broader messaging campaigns or strategies, visual communication design can be thought of as existing somewhere in between the two: it is the practice of creating strategic visuals to express a specific message or tell a specific story to an audience.

Visual communication can involve the use of colour theory, typography, drawing, design software, data visualization, design for web and print, branding and identity design, and intersects closely with other disciplines including user experience, photography and illustration. Career paths are as diverse as graphic design, professional digital photography and retouching, digital or analogue illustration and publication, professional digital animation, advertising, website design, and marketing.

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