Basics of digital design — terms, types and tools

Author Nina Tudor
Category Design
Date Jul 27, 2020
6 min read

A simple explanation says that digital design would be any design that is made for interaction on a digital device. However, this sentence only scratches the surface of what digital design is — so let’s try and bring this term a little bit closer to you.

As I already mentioned, digital design is an incredibly broad subject. Some would say that it is graphic design that focuses purely on digital devices. Now, when we talk about graphic design, we usually talk about design that is meant to be printed, and digital design is the one you will find in the digital world. But of course, today, these terms often collide and mix together as one can’t go without the other. To keep up with today’s world, a lot of graphic designers will also know about digital design since the demand for it continues to grow.

If you are spending a lot of time browsing the internet, you encounter the work of digital designers on a daily basis without even thinking about it.

Here’s a small list of things digital designers create, so you can get a perspective of the broadness of their work:

  • Website elements
  • UX wireframes
  • Graphics for ebooks or reports
  • Infographics
  • Banner ads

…the list goes on and on, but you get the gist!

DIGITAL DESIGN TERMS

When discussing a project with a digital designer, you should be aware of these terms as they will probably be used more than once.

UX design

User experience (UX) is a massive and fascinating part of design. It alone makes a huge difference when it comes to creating solutions for users, and can be a reason why a digital product fails or succeeds. UX refers to any kind of emotion and interaction a user makes towards or with a product or a service.

User experience design tries to be inside every step a customer might take and define what their experience might be (is it easy to navigate, how do users feel…). It combines research (which is often the most important step), product development, design and strategy to create the best possible experience for the customer.

Because, as we all know, the better the experience the more they will return and interact with your product or service again and again.

UI design

User interface design is often closely connected to UX design — that is the reason why we usually use a single term and just say UX/UI. But since we already explained what UX is, it’s only fair to do the same for UI.

UI stands for user interface and it encompasses all the buttons you click on, text, images, sliders, text entry fields, and anything else you might interact with inside a digital solution. Its goal is to ensure that a solution we’re creating is not only aesthetically pleasing, but that it also serves a purpose.

IA (Information Architecture)

Information Architecture refers to the way content on a page is structured. IA focuses on structuring the content in a most effective way — this means that the user must be able to navigate through the site without a lot of problems, and easily find everything they are looking for.

SPECIFIC TYPES OF DIGITAL DESIGNERS

Graphic designers

As we mentioned earlier, graphic design often refers to print, but it is also a general term used for many design works. In the context of this blog, we can think of graphic designers as digital designers who work with static images such as designing logos, infographics, illustrations, and so on.

Web designers

The job of web designers revolves around creating elements and content for websites. They focus on designing a layout of the website, as well as any and all interactive elements that appear on it.

Mobile designers

To be a good mobile designer, you need to be aware of how users use mobile devices and you need to be willing to learn new technologies. Since mobile devices come with a wide variety of screen sizes and different operating systems with specific best practices, understanding those intricacies is one of the key elements of mobile design.

UX designers

User experience (UX) designers primarily focus on why (what motivates their users), what (what functionalities and features would they like), and how (how to make things they create accessible and aesthetic). They use research to improve the usability and functionality of the product they’re working on.

UI designers

User interface (UI) designers create interactive elements of digital design such as buttons and text fields. They are often the ones delivering style guides and template sheets for interactive elements on websites, apps and software since they have to create consistency in designing the interface.

Product designers

This is a relatively new term and, in some companies, this term is completely connected to UX designers. However, they go beyond the user experience of the product — they are in charge of deciding how the product should work and what services it should offer.

Interaction designers

The job of interaction designers revolves around creating a better experience when navigating through the web, app or software. Here’s a basic example of what it means — if the user presses a button, it must be visible through design that they did it.

Animation designers

Their job is a cross between graphic design and video editing. Animation designers create custom animations that are needed in digital design, such as various types of transitions and movement of specific elements within a website, application or other digital solutions.

WHAT TOOLS ARE DIGITAL DESIGNERS USING?

Now that we know what digital designers are and what type of work they do, let’s talk about some specific tools and applications they use to create design. Here are a few of the most commonly used ones.

Adobe Creative Cloud

Adobe is the name you will hear often in the digital design world. They have been around for quite some time and, even though their applications are very pricey, they are irreplaceable to many designers. Adobe has a lot of different apps, but for digital designers, some of the most used ones are Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Adobe After Effects and Adobe XD.

GIMP

When you’re just starting out, Adobe’s apps can easily overwhelm you with their options and everything you can do with them — it can take years to master then, and even then you can’t be sure that you know all of the tricks. That isn’t the case with GIMP. With a simple interface, a smaller number of available functions and a very competitive pricing (it’s hard to beat something that’s completely free), it can be a great choice for beginners and smaller to medium projects.

Sketch

For years, Sketch has been a top choice for many interface designers (now it’s being strongly challenged by Figma, but we’ll talk about that later). Sketch is primarily used for UX/UI design of websites and mobile apps. When it was released, Sketch offered its users much more than anything else on the market and was an instant hit, but it came with a few caveats — its price and the fact that it works exclusively on Apple computers.

Figma

Figma, just like Adobe XD, has a free version that is fully functional. On terms of functionalities, it is a web app that manages to outrun the performance of Sketch and other available tools. But unlike Sketch, Figma runs on any operating system.

We recently we did a poll on our Instagram profile in which we wanted to see how do people prefer Sketch or Figma, and we have to say it was a close call — Figma won by 8 votes.

DESIGN IS AN IMPORTANT PART OF YOUR PROJECT

With this blog, we gave you just a little glimpse into the world of digital design. If you’re looking for a designer to work on your project or you’re interested in pursuing that career path, think of design as problem-solving that has a strong potential to take your business to the next level.

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