Can Graphic Designers Do Website Design?

Graphic Design and Web Design are two very different skill sets. Earlier in the week, Gerry McGovern published a rather provocative article, Graphic design plays a minor role on the Web. A quote from that article summarizes the point he is making,

The best websites are highly functional. They are task-focused. Graphic design has an important, though limited role. Don’t try and force the Web to be what it’s not.

There are many graphic designers who design websites and they may wonder what McGovern is trying to tell them. Graphic Design has been around for centuries and many fine techniques and skills have been developed. Some amazing printed brochures demonstrate the excellence that is possible with good graphic design. So what’s special about the Internet.

A Print Brochure Leaves Your Graphic Designer In Control
If your website looks exactly like your print brochure, you may be in trouble. Why shouldn’t your website look exactly like your print brochure? It sounds like a good idea. The same look and feel for both would likely have a greater impact on a potential customer. Well .. yes but then again no. To understand the hesitancy let’s look carefully at what happens in the two situations.

With a print brochure, you know exactly what the viewer will see. Everyone sees exactly the same brochure. What they see is what the graphic designer intended they should see. Of course it can be costly to get the brochure into their hands. You’ve also got to hope they read it, rather than putting it immediately in the waste paper basket.

A website operates in an entirely different way. Only those who want to see the website click on a link to arrive there. Perhaps they did a Google search on some appropriate keywords: or perhaps they clicked on a link in an article or an e-mail message you sent them. So they have some motivation to look at the website. However a website has a fundamentally different make-up from a printed brochure. The website designer is not in control the way the graphic designer was.

A Website Puts The Visitor In Control
The visitor is in control of what they see on the website. What they see will depend on choices they have made. Some choices were forced on them. Perhaps they have a smaller monitor or a dial-up connection. Other choices were made freely. Perhaps they’re not using Internet Explorer as their browser. Perhaps they try to increase the size of the fonts because they have a problem with small print. Unless the right choices are made in website design, some of these people will not see the web pages as the designer intended.

The Graphic Designer’s Website Design Dilemma
There is the crux of the website designer’s problem. Should the website be designed so that as many as possible of these people can see the website? Or does the designer decide to put the whole website in Flash. This imposes the same view on all visitors but some visitors will not have hardware or software that allows them to see it at all.

That’s not the end of the challenges for the website designer. Unlike the printed brochure, the website should have two additional strengths. Websites should be constructed so that search engines will easily find them on the Web and will rank them highly for appropriate keywords. Websites are also interactive. Visitors should easily navigate around the website and find what they are looking for, without confusion or irritation. These two aspects bring in a whole slew of additional factors to build in to the website.

Harnessing The Strengths Of The Internet
To maximize what can be gained from the Internet the graphic designer must ensure he is on top of all these other skills required for an interactive, search-engine friendly website. If not, then the website may turn out to be little more than the equivalent of an electronic printed brochure. The most effective way of delivering that to prospective customers might well be to make a CD of the website. Handing it to them would certainly be more reliable than sending it across the Internet. However this loses all the power of Internet Marketing.

A much better approach is to work with a fully competent website designer who can develop a truly selling-effective website.

Related: Choosing The Right Business Website Designer

20 thoughts on “Can Graphic Designers Do Website Design?”

  1. I currently live in Japan and I have been trying to send the same message to Japanese website owners. In Japan, the aesthetic appeal of the website is given more importance; most websites are designed by graphic artists and have fancy looking flash media or pictures – even the text content is converted to pictures to make it look more attractive.

    These websites are mostly for decoration purpose or just for boosting one’s ego. I have met clients who did not make a single sale through their websites, even though they had websites for more than 3-4 years. And companies pay thousands of dollars to make such useless websites. So I guess a country’s culture also plays major role in how the websites are designed.

  2. Same question can be posted regarding web designers and SEO. Can web designers perform effective SEO? So take that a step back and if you’re having your graphic designer do your web design, what are the chances they know anything about SEO? Hmm…

  3. That gives three areas which are not necessarily mutually exclusive; 1) design, 2) implementation, and 3) promotion. I always find it obvious after I have made a design in Fireworks that design and implementation are separate skills. It always takes longer than I expect to chop the design into a fully working HTML version of the same design. You often have to modify/compromise the original design to make something sensible for the web.

  4. Couldn’t have said it better… You have to find a balance of good design, followed by functionality and usability and web optimization. You can create powerful and attractive site with all of the above, train your designers to work hand in hand with your developers find a balance.

  5. Great article I am always amazing by how many peolpe starting out end up with a website that looks stunning, functions ok but will never get past 10 of the google serps for even non competitive terms. A good read. thanks.

  6. Nice article, I couldn’t agree more, website design isn’t just design its about creating a positive user experience, so your customers can navigate around and not get frustrated and leave. This is a combination of great design and usability.

  7. graphics designers can design pages as long as they understand the importance of keping things optimized and usable.

    first thing a grahic designer will do when they try to design a page is make the header take 60% of the page! once they understand that needs to take less than 20% since it will appear in all subsequent pages then they are on a good path 🙂

  8. i try and keep my web skills separate from by graphic skills. The graphic skills work best with the web when one is doing flash videos, or logos, or creating a snazy banner to get internest. It also comes in handy when choosing the colors of the website.

    But i try not to let the graphic skills get too involved with the web design, otherwise the site gets to cluttered

  9. I became interested in graphic design when I started designing my personal GeoCities page in 1997. The graphics were the exciting part for me. I value graphic design in web design.

    With blogs and social networking sites, as well as e-commerce sites, the design needs to take into account pages that will be automatically generated by scripting languages. XML content is placed into designated text boxes with CSS style formatting. Pages need to function with any computer-generated content, and hence the internet has become templatized. I am not a fan of having a generic internet.

    Using XML, a page can be created in a manner that it can be viewed through various automated templates (including wireless devices and news feeds), but at the same time exist as a deliberate graphic presentation. Graphic designers with limited design knowledge can still be educated. When I was in school in 2001, we were taught about web page dimensions, color and text reproduction, load times, and handicap access. It was also understood that an array of possibilities exist for what the user will see on their end, and therefore we should investigate those options by testing multiple browsers, text sizes, etc.

    Any web designer should be current with their knowledge. the W3 site ( is a great place to start. They should know who their audience is and what kinds of problems can arise when creating content. They should be able to decide whether or not to use Flash content and know what text will be recognized by search engines. I was taught that as a designer that I should pursue expertise in a variety of subjects. I need to be a layout artist, an illustrator, a photo-manipulator, and perhaps a web designer or multimedia artist.

    In high school my design knowledge came from whatever web sites or printed materials I had seen in the world, so I am aware of the fact that not every web designer needs to have formal design education. But I value graphic design, and a large part of the design I encounter is on the internet.

    I also know that usability has always been important on the web. Now that I don’t see as well as I used to, I bump up the text size when I browse. I have encountered some CSS disasters when increasing type on sites that are not properly coded. When I go to a retail chain’s website, I don’t want to bust out my critical thinking skills in order to find the link to a store locator.

    Programming is increasingly important in web design as well, but like design, it can result fancy, unneeded, inhibiting web features. I find that as a designer I need to know more and more technical skills.

    Designers need to know how the web works and how to achieve the results they desire within that framework.

  10. Hello,
    Nice discussion.

    YES, a graphic designer can do web designing easily and with MORE design capabilities.
    sometimes back I was also a graphic designer and worked in printing press. Now doing web designing.

  11. I can definitely see what you’re saying about print vs. online and who is in control. But the case still needs to be made that no matter what medium is being used – measurable results are necessary.

    One trouble with many designers is that they don’t ‘get it’ when it comes to sales. The best designers are the ones that understanding the basics of marketing and copywriting and then are able to take the copy and make it even more effective through adding images, call out boxes, proper alignment and typography.

    If I were to choose to work with a designer on a print project or a web one first I’d go with web. One of the great things about the web is that it makes testing and tracking so easy. That’s why I recommend to my clients to always test first online and once they’ve found the right messaging – then move it over to print. The results prove this works.

  12. Hi, I totally agree with the statement that not every web designer needs to have formal design education but surely, if possible it would make sense. Graphic design and website design are essentially trying to do the same thing, get the customer interested and keep them interested.

  13. I found it one time but I can’t remember the name. You can create your own profile and either submit designs like logos, business cards, and website designs or create criteria for your own company. The person making an offer decides which design they like best and pays the designer for it.

  14. Graphic designers are web designers.
    I’m a web designer but I consider myself a graphic designer too. Web designers are like a programmer graphic designer hybrid of some sort. ^_^

  15. web designing is very important especially if you own a web. i always prefer to maintain my webs of my own. i learn both graphic and web designing from various sites and then create them on my web page.

  16. it depends. i’m a graphic designer but cannot make web design, simply because i didn’t learn how to use dreamweaver. But i know how to build nice web layout with adobe photoshop.

    Great web design is one of important factor today to get visitors. I personally love to visit some websites & blogs which have great layout design…

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