How Graphic is the Web Design, and How Web is the Graphic Design

Illustration: Iconic graphic/web design Sorry for such a long heading, but it is the question which by itself is an answer to those trying to understand how the web design is different from the graphic design.

Designer and writer Armin Vit recently asked “[W]hat web sites could be considered landmarks for our profession?”. Ideally one should be able to name

A visual solution that not only enables, but also transcends, the message to become memorable in the eyes and minds of viewers.

He lists few examples from the field of graphic design: “Milton Glaser’s Dylan poster. Paul Rand’s IBM logo. Paula Scher’s Public Theater posters. Massimo Vignelli’s New York subway map. Kyle Cooper’s Seven opening titles”.

History Matters

Many people share the idea that graphic design has a very rich history while the web is a new sort of art platform which is changing rapidly. Although it is true about the fast changing tools (or better — practices) of the web design, it is even more important that the graphic design is to architecture what the web is to print design in a sense of history and noble examples.

Academics question the importance and the role of graphic design by drawing parallels with a professional architecture which has the history of thousands of years (see The Education of a Graphic Designer). Although such an approach is sometimes interesting, it doesn’t help to find great examples from different disciplines of art.

Design and engineering try to solve the problems of our everyday life. Engineering has to be practical and useful, but never should it be limited to ugly solutions. Equally the design has to be not only beautiful (can you think of a more suitable word?), but also a/effective and easy to use.

Design Sense and Web Sensibility

The design of Google and Amazon websites doesn’t change when they decide to use borders around certain elements or eliminate tabs from the navigation. If you have ever bought something from the Amazon, you now have an immediate comfort when browsing around their website, even if you are only searching for the reviews of a certain book.

You sense the design of a particular website only after a few clicks. The more you interact, the more familiar and aware you become of how the things are going to work. For posters you need time to read and view in order to understand the message. However, for websites you have to read, view and click to get the same level of comfort and understanding as when reading a magazine or a poster.

Graphic and web design are very similar in a way that they:

  • require clear structure and organization of the information which is being presented,
  • require contrast between textual and graphical elements to make the important things stand out,
  • share the principles of colour composition and basic text and image alignment.

But they are also very different, because

  • there is no physical interaction possible or required with print or video material,
  • the dimensions of a canvas for the web design are unpredictable and very different,
  • web designers canvas consists of many layered and linked sheets, not linear pages,
  • users of a website often know the type of information they are looking for. All the navigation options and their relevancy are up to the designer to decide.


There is a unique quest for writers and publishers to look for the best examples in every possible industry, art or craft, including web design. Although the word ‘design’ is used both in graphic design and web design, it still relates to the design in its broadest sense.

Both of these fields have different history and purpose, but they also share a lot of common practices among similar tasks of each discipline. Asking if one is superior over the other means asking the wrong question to which the answer would be useless.

Defining the best examples of work in each of these fields is a much better question. I agree with Joshua Porter who questions Do Canonical Web Designs Exist? and says that

Who do we credit for building Google? Larry and Sergei? How about Amazon? Jeff Bezos? People in the web development community know this is silly…thousands and thousands of people have worked on those sites, tweaking the user experience over many years. There is no single person we can point our accolades to. That’s part of the reason why I can’t make a list like Armin did…specific projects by specific people.

Overall the web design has far more ingredients than the graphic design, which is neither good or bad, but just a fact. And definitely there are true icons of web design, such as Amazon, Google or eBay. Each of these websites have different purpose, but they all are that something what the works of Jan Tschichold, Siegfried Odermatt, Rosmarie Tissi or Paul Rand are to the graphic design.

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