Tech 101: What is Digital Design?
At its core tech is a creativity industry, and that creativity comes in lots of different forms. Sure, plenty of it is handled by the 0s and 1s programmers string together, but don’t let’s forget that every programmer’s digital creation starts with a vision and plan. And that’s where the most-definitely-NOT-programming-centric field of digital design comes in.
Whether you have experience in graphic or print design, or you’re simply a creative problem solver looking for a new challenge, design might be your own personal entry point to all the perks tech offers.
But with all sorts of “designer” titles out there—graphic designer, web designer, UX designer—what exactly is digital design? What kinds of jobs can you get if you complete a digital design course? And is it as lucrative as it sounds—or should every creative just throw in the towel and go back for an MBA?
We’ve got those details covered (and more!) in this “everything you wanted to know and then some” guide to digital design.
Table of Contents
What is Digital Design?
Digital design is the process of mapping out the look and feel of the content that people view and interact with on a computer, tablet, or phone screen.
Sound a bit broad? That’s because it is.
Digital design is an umbrella term that covers several different roles. Yes, each of these jobs involves design—and specifically designing what people see on their screen by way of websites or mobile apps—but the most common “digital design” roles focus on different elements.
When you study digital design, you’re learning the fundamental values that apply to all types of design in tech: web design, UX, design thinking…the list goes on. The brilliant thing about digital design is that once you’ve learned the best practices, you’ll start to see how they function across roles. It’s sort of like realizing that when you’re fluent in a couple of romance languages, you can pick up Spanish or Italian or Portuguese. The other bonus of understanding digital design more generally? You’ll be able to better communicate with tech teams, seeing all sides of a project.
To give a thumbnail, basic digital design skills and tools include things like:
- Color Theory
- Adobe Photoshop
- Adobe Illustrator
- Adobe InDesign
Sound great? Well if you’re still trying to grasp what that means, let’s try this. Since breaking down these individual roles helps to explain what digital design is all about, here’s a list of the top three jobs that make up the digital design field
What Are Web Designers?
When talking about digital design jobs, web design is usually at the top of the list (to the point where “web designer” and “digital designer” are thrown around interchangeably). So what do web designers do?
Web designers are responsible for creating the overall vision of what websites and mobile apps will look like—decisions including a site’s layout, color palette, fonts, icons, buttons, and visual themes. Typical web designer duties include:
- Designing web pages or whole websites/web applications
- Designing site navigations
- Mocking up mobile-first and/or responsive websites that look good on all sizes of screens
- Coding pages or sites using basic languages like HTML and/or styling those projects via stylesheets and CSS (this is increasingly part of the role, though not universal)
- Project managing, including overseeing teams and/or clients
Who Should Be a Web Designer?
Because of the visual nature of the job, you might think web design is a natural transition for people with print or graphic design backgrounds. Aaand you would be right, BUT this doesn’t mean you need a traditional design background to work as a web designer.
Yes, if you’re familiar with print design you already have an eye for how design works universally (and you have some skills that can transfer pretty directly between mediums), but you can also work in web design without ever once drawing or sketching an idea in a traditional sense. Designing for the web ultimately comes down to an eye for how things fit and click together on a page, not necessarily creating images on your own.
What Skills Do Web Designers Need to Know?
- Layout and navigation principles
- Color and typography
- Responsive / mobile first design
- Design software such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and Sketch
- Wireframing / prototyping approaches, practices, and software
- HTML/CSS (not required, but a great bonus to have)
Where Can You Learn Web Designer Skills?
You can start diving into web design basics with any of these free offerings from Coursera. Then, when you’re ready to really get serious, it’s time to consider a paid, instructor-led class like our own Skillcrush Web Design Course. This online class is designed to be completed in three months by spending just an hour a day on the materials.
Web Designer Jobs and Salaries:
What Are UX Designers?:
User Experience (UX if you speak dev) is a tech field that includes more than design, but it’s often referred to generically as “UX design.” So yeah, not all UX is UX design, but UX design DOES play a big part in UX (and it’s one of the three tentpoles of contemporary digital design).
UX, generally speaking, involves researching users’ experiences with digital products (like websites and mobile apps), and using that research to create designs that improve the user experience. It’s during the last stage where digital design combines with UX to create UX design. But what makes this different than web design?
Web design tends to involve a designer working on a project for a client or employer, completing the scope of work, and moving on to the next project. UX design is a more iterative process, where a UX designer may be working with a UX team on an individual project or brand for years at a time. UX design is also less about the “look” of a digital product and more about the “feel.”
While design considerations like layouts and typefaces still come into play, UX design focuses on how users feel about the way a button presses on screen, or how appealing a certain menu fade-in or fade-out technique is to its audience. UX design duties include:
- Participating in user research and implementing findings to create a UX strategy and design
- Developing product prototypes and conducting product testing
- Communicating with stakeholders about the product development process and test results
- Creating site maps, user journey maps, and product navigation schemes
- Participating in user research and interviews
- Managing data models based on user research
Who Should Be a UX Designer:
So here’s a hot tip about UX design: even more than web design, it doesn’t matter if you have traditional design experience. UX design is waaay more about empathizing with users and coming up with creative solutions to problems than it is creating visual images. Do you like listening to people and helping them? Are you a critical thinker who enjoys solving puzzles? Are you a creative person who’s drawn to the idea of working in tech but you’ve convinced yourself you’re not “tech” enough? Then BOOM, you have a future in UX design.
What Skills do UX Designers Need:
- Personas (fictional user profiles used to model customer groups)
- Journey Mapping (building visual representations of a user’s “journey” with a product)
- Design Ideation (the UX version of “brainstorming,” sometimes done alongside clients and product stakeholders)
- Navigation and Layout Best Practices (while traditional design has best practices for elements like color and typography, UX design has its own best practices when it website and web application layout and design, as described in this UX Planet article)
- Wireframing (the process of creating visual wireframe models used to map out the basic structure of a website or application.
- Prototyping (the next step up from wireframing—prototypes are a more fleshed out website or app model, building on basic wireframe concepts and giving users a sample version of a product that they can interact with)
- Figma (an industry-standard design tool for creating website and web application wireframes)
- Invision (a powerful software tool that lets UX designers create interactive website prototypes to test with real user
Where Can You Learn UX Design Skills:
UX Planet has this go-to list for online UX classes and tutorials (many of them free). Meanwhile, you can learn all the skills you need to start working in UX (design or otherwise) as well as get hands on time with Figma and Invision if you enroll in our Skillcrush User Experience Course. This is another online class designed to be completed in three months by spending only an hour a day on the materials.
UX Design Jobs and Salaries:
What Are UI Designers:
Yes, you read it correctly, we’re now talking about UI (not to be confused with UX) designers. If there’s a confusing similarity to the names, that’s because they ARE related. UI design is actually a subset of UX design, and rounds out our trio of digital design roles.
So what separates UI from UX? It’s all in the name: UI stands for User Interface, and UI design is a digital design role dedicated to users’ experiences with a products interface—the collection of menus, buttons, and icons that users interact with to make a website or web application “work.” While there are aspects of UI design in web design AND UX design jobs, UI designers take the deepest dive possible into making the UI experience seamless.
UI design duties include:
- Designing and user testing a product’s screens or pages
- Coordinating a product’s interface and layout with an overall UX strategy
- Creating interface prototypes and product style guides
- Designing and user testing a product’s interaction elements (how buttons, menus, and other features work on screen)
- Ensuring interactions are consistent with results from user research
- Creating product interaction prototypes
Who Should Be a UI Designer?
Similar to UX design, UI design is a great fit for empathetic, creative problem solvers. So why specialize in UI design instead of more general UX? UI design is for the creative problem solver who’s also meticulous about details. If you’re the kind of person who likes making sure place settings are “just so” or who enjoys spending time lining up the furniture in your living room just right, you might be a UI designer. You’ll be spending a lot of time perfecting all the little details that go into an effective user interface.
What Skills Do UI Designers Need?
A UI design skill set follows very closely to the skills you’ll need for UX design (same skills, different focus). When it comes to UI design though, the three UX/UI skills to really zero in on are:
- Navigation and Layout Best Practices
You’ll also want to be sure you’re up to speed with those industry standard tools like Figma and Invision.
Where You Can Learn the Skills:
Look no further than Invision’s own free UI design tutorial to start learning the basics of UI design. When you’re ready for more, the Skillcrush User Experience course (which also teaches the skills you’ll need for UI) will be waiting. You can also think about rounding out your entire digital design package by brushing up on your visual design skills with our Skillcrush Visual Designer Course.