Interface Design vs. Graphic Design - The Differences

almost 9 years ago from , Lead Designer at Agrilyst

I'm writing an article on how to transition from graphic/print design to interface design for some friends who find themselves in that position. I'm developing a list of key differences in thought process between the disciplines, and I'd love your input.

Here's what I have so far:

  1. Think functionally, not visually.
  2. Design from the core interaction outwards.
  3. Design to be device/size/environment agnostic.
  4. Design for the biases of the medium.

All these will be elaborated on in the article, of course.

Thoughts? Any more I should add?


  • Eric HuEric Hu, almost 9 years ago (edited almost 9 years ago )

    I have an issue with the first one. There are a lot of functional considerations in print. Legibility, usability, readability, all play a big part. Any designer working in print worth their salt will deal with a ton of functional challenges. Books, especially. Also interface design still falls under graphic design as a whole IMO.

    3 points
    • Tim GauthierTim Gauthier, almost 9 years ago

      yeah, but its quite different, it isn't just about the font being legible, but also the technical issues or technical debt associated. I think it is important to discuss.

      0 points
      • Eric HuEric Hu, almost 9 years ago (edited almost 9 years ago )

        I'm not saying it's about just the font being legible, that's such a small part of it and that's exactly what the opposite of my point again, there's a lot of other considerations with technical issues/restraints and debt to be had especially with production that designers need to consider as well as much more complex considerations in sequential design if it's a book. If you were doing signage for a museum or other public space and you have to consider the wayfinding system, legibility is the least of worries. You'd be using similar practices of expectation, navigation, iconography, etc to help people get to or perform where they want to be—and it WOULD matter. If you're doing a map, if you're doing a reference book, you will have to think functionally before visually. Remember the 2000 election fiasco of the butterfly ballots? that was print design gone wrong. Readers are still users.

        But my point being is that functionality is deeply ingrained in all of graphic design—maybe it's more obvious in interaction design but I reject the phrasing that this is unique to interaction design and I think it's important to mention this because I've observed this air of superiority that some interaction designers think to have thinking they're above "graphic" design which is ludicrous. When I was doing mostly print design and someone told me in order to transition I'd have to think functionally more than visually I'd think they'd have no idea what I do.

        And where this fits in with your discussion is that it's going to hurt your message and it certainly won't help your cause. I suggest you saying that the technical and functionality concerns are different but not that unique to this area of design.

        1 point
        • Jordan Koschei, almost 9 years ago

          Really great feedback, particularly the butterfly ballot example.

          It sounds like I need to clarify the phrasing – there are definitely functional considerations in graphic design as well, so I suppose what I'm really talking about is the approach that designers have to take in approaching visual vs. functional considerations.

          Maybe I should clarify what I mean by "functional," as well, since it seems like we're all using different meanings. I'm talking about the way the design works, rather than the way it's implemented.

          0 points
          • Tim GauthierTim Gauthier, almost 9 years ago

            I agree with the rebuttal to my point, but I think it is very important to discuss the way that function changes when the designs become interactive. It is more like how an Industrial Designer deals with function then a graphic designer. So i think it is helpful to discuss how that applies differently. How does that transition to this, how does this work when they back out of the processes, what does the other steps look like etc.

            0 points
  • Marcus H, almost 9 years ago

    Where will you be posting the article? as I'd love to read it when it's done.

    2 points
  • Account deleted almost 9 years ago

    Difference? Don't you aware that you are trying to compare cars to toyota. Graphic Design is about solving visual problem. Imposing aesthetic heavy vision. You just can't downsize it's purpose to only 'print'. After taking this education it's up to you what you are going to be professional about.

    Interface Design is mostly about the experience. To be an Interface Designer, Graphic Design education is not mantadory. It's a plus but engineering is also a plus. So as communications. Coding also. Planning too. Also it's also a plus if you are a marketer, analyst, computer scientist... etc I can keep going. Interface design is creating the bridge between machine and human. It's up to the 'constructer' and needs of the user whether it's going to visually balanced (eg. iOS) or it's going to be useful without visuals (eg. terminal). There rules of every platform and you create the bridge around those rules. So that doesn't mean graphic designer's cannot design UI's. (like you can't tap a circle smaller then 44px because avarage size of finger is 44px. that's a physical limitation and if you break this rule your button can't be tapped which means it's going to be unsuable)

    Next time maybe you should read about the terminologies before posting about your friends lectures. Both titles have design at the end yes but that doesn't mean one is better or worse then other.

    1 point
  • Chris LeeChris Lee, almost 9 years ago

    I think the big, game-changing difference is the concept of a fluid canvas. Even before responsive design, this was a massive difference. Much of the best graphic design is built around the marriage between the content and the canvas.

    With web/interface design, you have to essentially throw the canvas out the window, and with it goes a whole lot of assumptions we've built up over the years (some dating back to Gutenberg).

    It could be argued that the opposite is true and that the canvas is more important than ever. But, in either case, the canvas is no longer the security blanket it once was, and that completely changes everything.

    1 point
  • Simon O’SheaSimon O’Shea, almost 9 years ago

    Time. In addition to transitions, basic animation techniques, etc... how much time is someone going to spend on a screen, interacting with an element or reading specific copy. Thinking about this helps with the hierarchy and importance of things.

    1 point
  • Ryan MurphyRyan Murphy, almost 9 years ago

    Read guidelines. Then read them again. Afterwards, have a cup of tea, and read the guidelines.

    1 point
  • Jordan Koschei, almost 9 years ago

    Finished! Thanks for all your feedback – here's the result: Interface Design for Non-Interface Designers

    0 points
  • Jeff DomkeJeff Domke, almost 9 years ago

    Graphic/print is all about pleasing your client – and you never get much tangible feedback on how well your logo/book/etc does in the real world.

    Interface is all about moving some kind of metric or outcome. And you can absolutely measure it in real time. You can build, measure, learn and improve in concrete terms.

    0 points
  • Cihad TurhanCihad Turhan, almost 9 years ago (edited almost 9 years ago )


    On graphic/print design your final medium is paper which has no problem on rendering. When you flip the page all the graphics are on the paper already but think about digital interfaces. Your final environment will be a mobile device or a web browser so you need to make it load and work fast. Otherwise, you'll lose customer each milisecond. So graphics designers need to learn which renders faster, when to chose a svg or raster image, how to optimize an image, how much time does it take to load a font family and which file format is supported etc.

    0 points
  • Marc EdwardsMarc Edwards, almost 9 years ago

    The technical constraints can be drastically different, too. That may be worth mentioning?

    0 points