A year has passed since I started my first post on this blog. (Welcoming the digital world into the Year of the Dog) I was about to join a new world surrounded by English and digital design. Please pardon my writings here as I am still trying hard to improve it. In this post, I would rather share my thoughts as a visual designer, that has skills specialised in branding, working in a digital world. Let’s talk about it by answering three questions:
Is visual designer = UI designer?
I found this question on the internet, an article about the difference between visual designer and UI designer. My opinion is that this question has to be elaborated to get a better answer. Visual Designer is actually a very broad definition. Visual designers in an advertising agency work on visual to compel the customers. Visual designers in a brand agency work on visual to help brand communicate in a correct tone of voice. Visual designers in signage design company work on visual to help people navigate.
Therefore, when this question is asked. We need to clarify what the visual designer is responsible for and their purpose. Is he/she just responsible for dealing with the visual, be it the illustration or images on the digital product to make it compelling and help customers to make correct consuming decision? Or is he/she responsible for dealing with making sure the brand tone of voice consistent across different products or platforms so that the customers don’t get confused? Or if the visual designers are here to help users navigate, perform certain actions based on their needs with the help of the signages?
People argue that UI designers’ responsibilities is more functional, is about usability and accessibility on a digital product, but visual designers only need to ensure the visual is appealing.
However, after we clarify the responsibilities, we can see that visual designers and UI designers are clearly having certain similarities or part of their role are overlapping at certain level. When there is visual, it affects human’s reaction and performances. When a visual is designed, it serves certain kind of purpose and have certain functions. Therefore, it is not easy to say if visual design and UI design are the same. It highly depends on the company’s needs and scales, hence their distribution of work.
Then, does UI designers has to be aware of brand visual?
There has been a discussion continually that the digital world has made the visual more and more similar among different brands. One day, the illustration on an e-commerce website becomes trend as they attract more users and other people just follow. More brand logos are going for a minimal design as it’s a trend. Designers are afraid of using different fonts apart from san-serifs as it looks clearer on digital devices.
I think this is indeed quite a pathetic phenomenon. Brand image and it’s tone of voice are important as they build trust and prevent chaos. It is easier to understand in a physical world. Through the brand visual on a packaging, a customer will be able to expect what they are paying for. Imagine all kinds of spirit are now all branded as same as all kinds of milk. How much time the customers need to spend to understand which brand are providing what they need? And how confusing it is for marketing when they want to help the brand communicate?
Some also argued that only limited fonts are useful for digital devices because of their legibility and readability. I agree that this is still an important consideration as you would like to make sure users can be able to read the messages on any devices. I will, however, still keep an open mind on this. As technology is getting more advance, screen resolutions are getting higher, I am sure more varieties of fonts are getting qualified. Let's not belittle fonts can help a brand speaks for its own.
I believes that it would be helpful for any business to grow and to represent itself if the UI designers don’t just think only on the functionality but think of the brand you are working for, you may find more opportunities to develop the UI for the product and build a more representative visual language for it.
Does brand visual designers has to be aware of UI design?
When there are always requests for visual elements to be used for digital platform nowadays, visual designer are now inevitably should know better on how their specialities can be contributed to different platforms. Before the digital age, when the brand visual designers build the brand guideline for a company, they need to let people from different departments understand the brand story and its tone of voice. Apart from explaining the usage of visual elements for designers, the guideline can also help people from marketing team, business development teams to understand what the brand story and tone of voice is when they need to represent the company or when they communicate for it. Now, under the demands from digital platforms, it would be helpful to also let UI designers understand the brand so they can build the UI around and be specifically for the brand.
I once heard from a brand visual designer complaining a marketing person who was forcing her to make a button on a website into bright red as they wanted to attract people to click on it. The designer holding the brand guideline with no guidance on any digital-related solutions at all, she knew it was a wrong move if she needed to keep the brand image. Yet on the other hand, she had no clue how she could help solving the UI problem. If this person has a bit of UI design knowledge, she would go and understand the reasons of users needed to click that button, and reasons the users were not clicking at that time. By doing that, she would be able to look for a way to achieve the same result while not violating the brand guideline, or if necessarily, she had to add and extend the guideline so the visual rules for UI can be clearer.
Looking forward to 2019
I am glad that in this year, I am able to experience how helpful it is to combine the skills as a brand visual designer and UI designer. Technology kills and at the same time creats different jobs. In the foreseeable future, the line between different design roles will be more vague. It is important to identify each one’s responsibilities and skills, to figure out how these can be used to face the fast-changing world. Who knows what kind of jobs AI will be creating, but I am sure no matter how the medium change, the nature and the function of a visual designer will still be the same, which is to use visual to achieve certain purposes, be it to compel, to communicate, or to give directions. The coming years may be unstable politically and economically, but staying calm and be clear of the strength you have will surely help you face any challenges ahead. Let's not worry too much and hold together for a better future. I wish you all a happy new year!