14 types of graphic designers, and how to choose one for your business (CAUTION: funny)

Graphic designers are people who are good at graphic design. They are creative professionals who use their creativity and strategy skills for the benefit of a business or a goal. Because those businesses and goals can be very diverse in scope and application, graphic designers cater to these different areas with specialized skill sets and unique thinking approaches. Graphic designers come in all shapes and sizes, but they usually have a strong aesthetic sensibility, a creative eye, some kind of art/design education or training, and good problem solving skills. They are fans of texture, lines, shapes, and their Instagram feeds look like the most well-curated galleries of either the most trendy or the most obscure things you have ever laid your eyes upon. These are the cool cats on the streets of your favorite city who live according to their own rules and who have a vision for a better-designed future. But the truth is - they can be anyone, anywhere. That skater kid popping an ollie over a brick on the street corner is a graphic designer, that guy in a leather jacket slurping on ramen is a graphic designer, and so is that classy lady sketching in the margins of her copy of the New York Times with a vintage Montblanc. The reasons why they are so different is because they all have their own vision and purpose.

In the modern world their roles are so diverse that the catchall term graphic designer has become too broad and vague to be of any immediate practical use. It remains only because it is a convenient way to communicate to others that "we are entering the creative space here" without getting too bogged down by the specifics. But in this article we are going to look specifically at these specifics, in spirit that this collection of short (and hopefully amusing) snippets will give you a nice overview of the vast world of graphic design, and help you better understand how it can fit into your business strategy.

So without further ado, let's dive right in!

Attention! One last thing before we continue... or two things, actually:

  • Please keep in mind that in the real world these graphic designer categories are not clear-cut and any good designer will be familiar with all of them and proficient in several.

  • Please also keep in mind that this article is filled with unforgivable toxic stereotypes. Proceed at your own risk.


Table of contents:

  1. Brand Identity Designer

  2. UI/UX Designer

  3. Webdesigner

  4. Infographics Designer

  5. Print Designer

  6. Pattern / Surface Designer

  7. Packaging Designer

  8. Type Designer

  9. Hand-Lettering Artist

  10. Calligrapher

  11. Illustrator

  12. Editorial / Publishing Designer

  13. Art Director

  14. Design Entrepreneur


1 | Brand Identity Designer

Brand identity designers create brand identity systems that consist of logotypes, color palettes, font pairings, patterns, iconography, signage, marketing collateral, animated logos, and so on. They usually deliver these assets along with a brand style guide that helps their clients use their visual identity consistently across all applications.

One of the most well-known and commercially successful branches of graphic design, brand identity design is an essential component of any business that wants to be successful in today's world. Brand identity design attracts a special breed of graphic designers who are fascinated by what happens at the intersection of branding, marketing and sales. These designers have a very solid understanding of how business works and rely heavily on business strategy and target audience research to create relevant and effective visual solutions.

Brand identity is synonymous with visual identity and corporate design so don't get too confused if these terms are used interchangeably. However, corporate design is a term that has pretty much completely faded away. Nobody likes the word corporate anymore.

HOW TO SPOT A BRAND IDENTITY DESIGNER

Brand identity designers have a strong business acumen, a great grasp on strategy and logic, and they boast an impressive emotional IQ. They have a solid understanding of branding, marketing, communications, and sales, and will feel at home when you throw terms like B2B, B2C, CTA, CPM, and target audience at them. They ask a lot of questions to understand your business needs and always bring the conversation back to strategy. They love brands (because that's what they create) and, therefore, have a wide awareness of what's happening in the world of commerce. They will be able to tell you the story of the Starbucks logo on your cup.

WHEN TO HIRE A BRAND IDENTITY DESIGNER

Situation 1: You have recently created a business and things are going well. You are ready to tell the world about it. You need a good brand identity! You could ask your friend to draw a logo, or you could even draw one yourself, but hiring an expert from the beginning can help you avoid any costly problems down the line as your business begins to grow. A brand identity designer will craft an entire visual communications system that will unify and concentrate your brand's message. This will enable you to deliver your story to your target audience effectively, consistently, and with style! Remember: you don't want to just send out any message. You want to send out the right message.

Situation 2: You already have a logotype or a visual design system supporting your brand but perhaps you've recently expanded your offer and your old identity is now too restrictive. Or perhaps it has simply become outdated and your customers shy away from your brand because it appears less relevant in comparison to more modern-looking brands. Or perhaps you are merging with another company and want to reflect this change across your communications. This is the perfect time to call a graphic designer who specializes in brand identity.


2 | UI/UX Designer

It's pronounced YOU-I, YOU-EEKS, but you already know that because that's the only thing people seem to be talking about these days!

UI stands for User Interface, and UX - for User Experience. They are two interdependent spheres of design, usually mentioned in the context of website or application design (although user experience can apply to any product used by people).

User interface design is pretty self-explanatory - it is the design that defines the final look of your application. It's what you see.

User experience, on the other hand, is how you use the application from the moment you launch it to the moment you shut it off. UX concerns itself with usability, accessibility, information architecture, design patterns, and other fancy ways of saying that the designers know what they are doing.

Ultimately, UX determines UI and should always come first (unless you want to get an Editor's Pick badge on the app store for the Most Useless Piece of S*** App of the Month!). Luckily good UI designers know the importance of UX and will ensure that you follow good design practices and do things in the right order. With that said, it should really be UX/UI instead of UI/UX, but it doesn't sound nearly is good, does it?

HOW TO SPOT A UI/UX DESIGNER

Look for a hipster-y vibe. UI/UX designers are fond of bright colors in their apps but not in their clothes. There is something airy and mysterious about them. And strangely, they are always talking about some Sketch. You've seen their sketches on paper, but you have a suspicion that that's not the Sketch they are talking about. And when you asked them to send Sketch to you last week, they told you that it wouldn't work because it only works on Mac. Now it's been a few days since that conversation and this cloud of mystery begins to sound, well, sketchy, so you decide to investigate further. After all, this is just absurd! You are paying these people good money and they won't even send you Sketch! Turns out Sketch is just an interface design software... And you were gonna call the police. Silly you.

WHEN TO HIRE A UI/UX DESIGNER

You have an idea for an application (web/mobile/multi-platform) and you want it to serve your customers well. You want it to be intuitive and easy to use, you want your customers to enjoy the experience and accomplish their goals with a only a few taps and swipes. You know who to call.


3 | Web Designer

Webdesigners design websites and today they tend to fly under the UI/UX flag, but unlike pure UI/UX designers they have a few of their own tricks up their sleeves. Those tricks are front-end web-development skills likely superior to those of UI/UX designers.

IA, UI, UX, HTML, CSS, JS, CMS, PHP. What?!

  • IA = Information Architecture (Designing how the site data should be organized and presented to the user.)

  • UI = User Interface (The "skin" of the website or web application. The shape of the buttons, the gradients, the typography. UI may also include Interaction Design that defines animations and behaviors throughout the site to make it more dynamic and responsive to user input)

  • UX = User Experience (The design of the user's flow through the application from the moment the site is open to the moment the visitor leaves. UX optimizes the user's journey and leads the user to the most important information on your site and encourages him to take an action like download a book or buy an item.)

  • HTML, CSS, JS = HyperText Markup Language, Cascading Style Sheets, JavaScript (These are front-end web technologies that your webdesigner will be familiar with and use to turn the designs into functional website elements.)

  • CMS = Content Management System (Surely you have heard of WordPress. WordPress is the most well-known Content Management System and it allows you to easily update your website and blog. Your webdesigner will set this up for you if you need to make changes on your own.)

  • PHP = PHP Hypertext Preprocessor (This is a programming language webdesigners will most likely be familiar with. Most CMS's are written in it and knowing it allows the designer to dive under the hood and tweak functionality as necessary for your project.)

HOW TO SPOT A WEB DESIGNER

Does he/she have a laptop? Is it a Mac? Does it have stickers on it? Is the screen dark, and does it have lines of mysterious colorful code running across it? This person is either a webdesigner or a web developer. How to tell between the two? Ask him if he likes WordPress. If he begins to swear in a way you've never heard before, back off - this is a web developer who builds his own CMS's for breakfast and you should never say the W-word in his presence. The web designer is the dude in a beanie sitting over there in the corner with a "I love WordPress" sticker on his computer. He's your guy.

WHEN TO HIRE A WEB DESIGNER

You need a simple website with a blog. You want it to look awesome. You've never seen a line of CSS code before. Call a webdesigner. But if you need a web-application with lots of functionality - talk to the web developer. (Yikes!) (Just kidding, they are cool people.)


4 | Infographics Designer

Infographics designers have great organizational skills, meticulous attention to detail, and they are great information architects. They can easily visualize relationships between complex sets of data and then represent them in a creative and visually-appealing way that is easy to grasp at-a-glance. They are very good at understanding how people use sight to navigate and process the world, and they are masters of semiotics (the study of signs) and symbolism.

HOW TO SPOT AN INFOGRAPHICS DESIGNER

This is the person who always complains to you that the line map of the metro network of your city was designed by a 5-year-old and could really use a redesign. These people like things to be organized and clear, and poorly laid out information pains them. They are also probably really good at Tetris.

WHEN TO HIRE AN INFOGRAPHICS DESIGNER

If you have large amounts of data that you want to represent visually in a way that is accessible to the public, then an infographics designer is worth his/her weight in gold because he or she will be able to organize your data in such a way that even you will get a better understanding of the parts that comprise the whole


5 | Print Designer

This is an elite class of graphic designers who specialize in designing amazing tactile experiences. They go beyond the visual realm and enter the realm of everything sensual. Their work can touch (literally) your customers in a special way and make them fall in love with your brand forever. Print designers have a deep understanding of the printing process, they know the best printers in the city, and can propose to you some printing options that you've never even heard of. Talking to them feels like being a kid walking into a toy store - you want everything - duplexed cards, die cuts, perforation, UV coating, and gilded edges.

HOW TO SPOT A PRINT DESIGNER

Listen for key words like offset, Pantone and bleed marks. Be ready to answer if you want your logo to be embossed or foil-stamped on your business card. Oh, and be ready to pay for the 300gsm Fedrigoni Arcoprint Milk textured ivory paper. You may not understand this now, but you won't have any regrets once you hold the business cards in your hands. And you will cry a little every time you give one away.

WHEN TO HIRE A PRINT DESIGNER

You want to impress your customers with a personal touch and a tactile experience. You want to deliver a textural message to your audience and conquer their hearts.


6 | Pattern/Surface Designer

Pattern designers (also known as surface designers) use repetitive lines and shapes to create two-dimensional textural graphic experiences, i.e. patterns. Patterns can add a lot of depth to an otherwise boring website background, transform your shop's $5 tote bag into the most desired fashion item of the month, or create super fun paper table cloths for your restaurant. The number of applications for patterns is infinite and the sky is the limit (also creativity). Pattern designers are illustrators gone mad who aren't satisfied by only one instance of an image. They have strong conceptual, creative, and drawing skills. They have a good sensibility of visual rhythm, visual density, and how textures and patterns mix and look in various contexts.

HOW TO SPOT A PATTERN DESIGNER

Look for patterns! If they are wearing a plain shirt - they aren't a pattern designer! If they are making little patterns with food crumbs in their plate, they are probably going to be drawing that in Illustrator the second they get home. They can turn any plain, boring, whatever thing into a drool-inducing fetish item.

WHEN TO HIRE A PATTERN DESIGNER

You want to infuse your designs with more depth and texture. Perhaps you feel like "something is missing" or "it's just too bland". A great set of patterns can set you apart from the rest and add another recognizable element to your brand identity or packaging.


7 | Packaging Designer

As the title may give away, packaging designers create custom packaging for your products. They design how the packaging will open, and close, and how the product will be stored in it. Technically they are kind of a mix of industrial and graphic designers... (Hey, I told you the categories were not clear-cut!) They will basically create a concept for the packaging, mock it up with parer or cardboard, and then generate dielines of the folded-out packaging to lay graphics on top of. This is like wrapping a flat image onto a 3D object (think candy). Packaging designers think in multiple dimensions(!), have model-building and 3D-graphics skills, and usually spend a lot of time in their workshop cutting paper.

HOW TO SPOT A PACKAGING DESIGNER

Give her a little gift in an interesting box and observe if she pays more attention to the gift or to the box. If you leave her alone for one minute and come back to find that the box is taken apart and folded open, while the gift is untouched, you know who you're dealing with. Be careful when you approach - she has an X-Acto knife in her hand!

WHEN TO HIRE A PACKAGING DESIGNER

You have a product that you want to present to the world in the best possible way. No! Even better - you want your packaging to be part of your product and your brand identity. Time to hire a packaging designer! He or she will create a unique solution for you that will attract your customers like a magnet.


8 | Type Designer

Type designers create custom typefaces. In very basic terms, type designers design families of glyphs (letters, digits, symbols). If this sounds easy - think twice - because designing typefaces is one of the most, if not the most, meticulous and demanding design jobs out there. Each and every glyph needs to look consistent with the rest of the font. Letterform contrast (the ratio between the thickest and the thinnest part of the stroke) is tweaked to perfection, counter-forms (the white spaces inside of letters) are carefully balanced to facilitate legibility. The vector curves of the characters are meticulously manipulated with scientific precision.

And this is just the beginning. After designing all of the letters of the alphabet, type designers go on to design digits, special characters, accented characters, symbols and punctuation. Every dash, period, asterisk, and dollar-sign needs to fit in with the rest of the font.

The spaces between the letters are considered so that all words look nicely balanced when typed. This spacing, called tracking, is set so that a capital T looks great next to a lower-case o when you write "Totally!". Type designers use software to encode the characters and make them usable by operating systems. They also go through the additional steps of using smart pixel-hinting algorithms to improve the legibility of glyphs on different screen resolutions.

Whew! Finally done! Oh wait, that was just for the Regular font... Now it's time to do the Extra Light, Extra Light Italic, Light, Light Italic, Regular Italic, Medium, Medium Italic, Bold, Bold Italic, Extra Bold, Extra Bold Italic, Black, and Black Italic... Oh, and there's the Cyrillic alphabet to do next! Can you imagine?

This is why some fonts can easily cost over $400 a piece. A lot of blood, sweat, and tears go into designing typefaces. That's why type designers have superhuman patience and attention to detail, a profound understanding of letters and calligraphy, a great grasp on semiotics, and an obsessive compulsion to "tweak this until just right".

HOW TO SPOT A TYPE DESIGNER

Ask them to read the ad outside your window. If they say "Arial Bold" when the poster clearly says "James Bond", you can be pretty sure that this person in front of you is indeed a type designer... They may also say weird things like kerning, aperture, and x-height in their sleep. Also, the walls of their office look like they were built entirely out of different letters! Beware!

WHEN TO HIRE A TYPE DESIGNER

You are big brand and you want to unify your identity with a custom typeface. You need your own font and that means calling the professionals. They'll ask you to meet them under a bridge. Prepare a suitcase full of cash and don't make any sudden movements.


9 | Hand-Lettering Artist

This is a very sensual type of graphic designers who are very attuned to the flow of life, line, the repetition of forms, and the balance of shapes. They draw fancy letters or words for a variety of different applications like signs, book covers, posters, bespoke logotypes, etc. They love the creative challenge of having to come up with new ways to represent and embellish well-known letters of the alphabet. Hand-letterers understand calligraphy, brushwork, and know how to add pizzazz to even the most boring of words.

HOW TO SPOT A HAND-LETTERING ARTIST

Go to a trendy place and look for someone with a thick sketchbook full of random words written in the most beautiful and intricate way. Hand-letterers are very open-minded and joyful, they are the hippies of the design world, and every brushstroke they paint makes the world a happier place.

WHEN TO HIRE A HAND-LETTERING ARTIST

If you want to give your logo, sign, or interior space a beautiful custom-made feel, you should hire a hand-lettering designer. From murals and posters to bespoke lettering for shop windows and book covers, hand-letterers can take your product to the next level.


10 | Calligrapher

Not to be confused with hand-letterers who draw letters or words, or type designers who design typefaces, calligraphers are experts at writing letters and words. They are ink samurais, and pens and brushes are their swords.

HOW TO SPOT A CALLIGRAPHER

Say the following phrase to them verbatim: "Yesterday I had this vision of flowing inks... Inks of multiple colors were flowing from a mysterious source and overlapping in intricate ways. It was like the world stood still for a moment and all that was in motion was this dance of ink..." Now carefully gauge their reaction. If they take a few steps back and look at you like you are mentally insane then they clearly aren't a calligrapher. If on the other hand they seem pensive or dreamy and respond with "Yeah, I have this dream quite often, actually…" then they are a calligrapher and now it's your turn to decide if you should be concerned for their sanity or not.

WHEN TO HIRE A CALLIGRAPHER

You want to get personal. You want to deliver a bespoke message written in a beautiful handwritten script that will leave no one indifferent.


11 | Illustrator

From decorating restaurant menus with funky vegetables to doing scientific illustrations for the latest Forbes article, illustrators are experts at creating bespoke drawings that capture the vibe of your story and transmit it visually to your customers. Illustrators have very strong conceptual skills and are experts at drawing. This field of graphic design is less focused on strategy, and more on delivering an emotional and aesthetic experience to the viewer. This requires outstanding creativity and technical skill.

HOW TO SPOT AN ILLUSTRATOR

Their drawing skills are out of this world (their napkin scribbles are better than anything you could ever draw in your wildest dreams). You don't get to see them very often because most of the time they are in their studio drawing.

WHEN TO HIRE AN ILLUSTRATOR

Great illustration can help a brand come alive, convey a bespoke feel, deliver a rich brand experience, or make a stronger impact on your audience. Illustrations often enhance stories, books, articles, as well as menus, brochures, presentations, and any other communications materials.


12 | Editorial / Publishing Designer

Publishing designers create amazing, balanced layouts and integrate text and photography in an easy to read yet stylish way. Editorial design can elevate your magazine from a writer's club booklet to a word class publication. Editorial designers are masters of setting up layout grids, cropping images, typesetting, justification, hyphenation, and paragraph styles.

HOW TO SPOT AN EDITORIAL / PUBLISHING DESIGNER

They spend their days in Adobe InDesign (document layout and publishing software). They think in terms of text boxes, margins, grids, columns, gutters, and they know the first 239 words of the Lorem ipsum placeholder text by heart. Ask them to tell you the meaning of life and they'll say "Export to PDF".

WHEN TO HIRE AN EDITORIAL / PUBLISHING DESIGNER

You want to publish a digital or print magazine. Your writers have written awesome articles, and you've received amazing images from your photographers. Now you need to pull it all together and make every page look like a work of art. Editorial designers to the rescue!


13 | Art Director

Art directors are kind of an evolved version of the simple graphic designer class, (i.e. they are basically graphic designers turned creative visionaries and project managers). Art directors manage design projects from start to finish. They are a source of guidance and ideas, and safekeepers of strategy. They have a deep understanding of the design/business ecosystem, possess high creative vision and technical capabilities, and are very good leaders. That's why they are a huge asset to any business or creative agency because they know how to run a project from initial strategy to final implementation. They can tell a graphic designer to "make the baseline of the logo more even" and then go into the conference room and talk with the client about how "the new logo will increase brand recognition and improve customer retention".

HOW TO SPOT AN ART DIRECTOR

Art directors are good leaders so they will have great interpersonal skills. They will most likely be dressed professionally and less extravagantly than ordinary graphic designers. They are probably swimming in $$, but they won't show it, although that watch sure does look shiny.

WHEN TO HIRE AN ART DIRECTOR

You have a serious project and you want to go big. You want outstanding creative work flowing down every single communications channel to your audience. This is the time to hire a design agency where art directors are known to be present.


14 | Design Entrepreneur

Design entrepreneurs are designers times 100. They don't do design as much as they make design do great things for them and their clients. They are leaders of networks of top-level creative professionals and they know how to leverage these networks to produce outstanding creative work and deliver maximum business value. They don't work on design (although they are very good designers) but they work in design. They are design and business consultants and they are the rare kind of people whom you ask to do something and they know how to make it happen.

HOW TO SPOT A DESIGN ENTREPRENEUR

You will most likely spot a sexy design agency first and then come to realize that behind it stands a very talented design entrepreneur. Go to the agency website and go to “About us” or “Team” and look for the leader of the pack. That's the design entrepreneur.

WHEN TO HIRE A DESIGN ENTREPRENEUR

You have a big multi-disciplinary project ahead of you and you have no idea how to make it happen. You don't know who to ask or where to start. All you have is a big vision and a big check. Start searching for a design entrepreneur.


And that pretty much sums it up! Hope you enjoyed :)

Till next time,

A.B.