What is visual design?

DSM Digital School of Marketing- visual design

The Interaction Design Foundation defines visual design as shaping and improving the user experience through considering the effects of illustrations, photography, typography, space, layouts, and colour on the usability of products and on their aesthetic appeal. In a broad sense, visual design can be found in everything physical product we buy or sell. Product designers have to consider the look of the item, and if it will be accepted and appreciated by the consumers. We’re looking at visual design in the marketing sense, juxtaposing it against graphic design, and looking at a few elements of visual design, below:

Visual design defined in marketing terms

In the content marketing world, visual design has one singular goal: to attract and hold the attention of a viewer. As a field, visual design has grown out of graphic design and user interface (UI). The two are combined, in predominantly digital content, to appeal to the reader and prompt them to take an action.

The strategic implementation of images, colours, and fonts ensures that marketing content remains central on the page or feed. Visual designers targeting diverse audiences need to consider factors like the emotional impact of colours, what phrases and symbols mean to different cultures, the demographical split, and others.

Visual design vs graphic design

They might sound like the same thing, but there are differences between the two that set them apart. For one, visual designers earn around 33% more than graphic designers. Another difference has to do with scope. Graphic designers focus on designing the specific pieces of visual content that are used in marketing campaigns. They ensure that website banner images are polished, that fonts blend well against their backgrounds, etc.

Visual designers, on the other hand, look at things in the broader sense. Instead of focusing on individual elements, they assess the aesthetic appeal of the campaign holistically. For example, a website visual designer will give opinions on how different elements integrate with those around them, giving a general ‘look and feel’ that needs to be optimal for maximum conversion potential. Let’s face it: people like looking at nice things.

Elements of visual design

Visual designers are people who just know how something should look. They assess a number of factors that make up the aesthetic of a piece of content, including:

  • Hierarchy

This refers to the importance readers will infer based on the size of certain elements. Larger text will always be seen as more important.

  • Unity

This visual design element has to do with how well all of the piece of content’s element fit together and create a harmonious aesthetic.

  • Balance

Similar to unity, balance is all about ensuring that the elements are spatially equal to each other and the visible area (screen, mobile phone, magazine page).

  • Dominance

Dominance helps to emphasise an important visual elements, like clickable buttons or text boxes. Applying dominance can include the use of colour, contrast, and scale.

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