There are so many fields of design out there, trying to figure out what type of design career is right for you can feel overwhelming. You might be the kind of person (like me) that wants to learn everything about everything. This article contains tips on how to go about figuring out which type of design career might be right for you, as well as defining a few areas: UX, UI, Branding & Identity, and Print.
Now, you might be asking ‘Do I have to pick just one area?’. A valid question. Different recruiters and employers have slightly different opinions on specialization vs. generalization, but one opinion is generally consistent: unless you’re truly hoping to be a generalist, you should try to focus on building up deep expertise in one or two areas of design. Then, you should showcase those projects most prominently in your design portfolio for relevant jobs, while also showing a few projects that demonstrate your breadth of abilities. So, you certainly can learn many different areas of design, but it might be best to put focus on one or two areas you’re most passionate about.
Speaking of different areas of design, here’s some information about a few, as well as some links to websites where you can find out more information and/or view design portfolio work…
UX (User Experience) & UI (User Interface) Design
From Wikipedia, User experience “refers to a person’s emotions and attitudes about using a particular product, system or service”. So UX design is design based on how a person feels (e.g. positive vs. negative) when interacting with a product.
To quote Y Media Labs: “UX work happens ‘behind the scenes’. You don’t think about it unless it’s done poorly. If you ever ask yourself ‘what the heck am I supposed to do now to complete my task?’ then you are looking at a bad user experience”.
This video from UX Mastery mentions that if you’re the type of person that asks a lot of questions, UX Design might be for you. It also has a good general overview of UX Design. The UX Mastery website itself also has a trove of information and resources regarding a UX career.
If UX Design happens ‘behind the scenes’, UI Design is what happens ‘on stage’. UI is everything users interact with directly, what they see, touch and hear. It’s the layout, colours, typography, animation, sounds, styling and location of different elements such as buttons, etc.
So, a UX designer is concerned with how the product feels to users, whereas a UI Designer is concerned with how it looks and is laid out. Co.Design’s article goes into more detail about the specifics, tools of the trade, deliverables, etc. You can also see examples of UX & UI portfolio work in Behance’s UX/UI category.
Branding & Identity
Brand is the perceived emotional corporate image as a whole (i.e. how people feel about a business). For example, Apple is a brand. Identity is the visual aspects that form how consumers see and experience the overall brand (e.g. websites, business cards, products, packaging, etc.). The elements that make up each of these components include typography, imagery, logo, color treatment, etc.
A large portion of a brand’s identity lies in how easily recognizable it is to consumers. Apple has an incredibly strong and distinctive brand identity, from the instantly recognizable apple logo to the overall look and feel of their products and advertising, which use cohesive typography, color, and other design elements to instantly tell consumers that the product they’re looking at is intuitively an Apple product.
If you’re interested in the idea of translating a company’s products, mission, and overall mission into a cohesive and recognizable brand identity, then this field could be great for you. If you find yourself swooning over the gut feelings that logos like the Airbnb Belo or the
Print design is “design printed on a tangible surface, designed to be printed on paper, as opposed to presented on a digital platform” (from Wikipedia). So, it differs from web design, having different things to take into account. Canva has a very good article about the difference in designing for Print vs. The Web.
If you work in print design, you’ll be primarily focusing on traditional Graphic Design, using Photoshop and Illustrator to create amazing packaging, print materials for businesses like posters and business cards, marketing collateral, etc. To see some examples of print design projects, check out Behance’s Print Design section.
If after learning about these different areas you’re still unsure on what you’d like to specialise in here’s some questions you could ask yourself:
- From things I’ve done in the past (either in education or as a hobby), are there any major themes or similarities between my favorite projects and/or the projects I think show my strongest work?
- What are my current strengths and weaknesses in terms of design?
- What aspects of design are most interesting to me?
- Do I feel most passionate about a particular type of work?
If you don’t have sufficient past work to answer these questions, that’s fine. You could always look on websites like Behance and Dribble, and see what of other people’s designs you’re most drawn to/interested in instead. If you look at a type of design work and think: ‘I wonder how they did that, I’d love to learn how to’ then that could be an area worth looking into.
If you still can’t decide, then it’s fine to just try a bunch of different types of projects and see what you like best! Test the waters across various disciplines and types of work, and see what is most exciting to you. Once you know that, then you can start specializing in that area or areas. This will also demonstrate your breadth of abilities in your design portfolio, as discussed earlier in the article. You might also find UX Mastery’s article about design ikigai beneficial.
That’s it for this article! If you found it useful, I’d appreciate you sharing it, so that more people can benefit. Good luck in your search and future career!
About the author: Damian Summersall is a graphic designer from the United Kingdom and works on the marketing team at RookieUp. Damian loves helping aspiring designers figure out their niche and build amazing creative careers.
Want help figuring out what kind of design career is right for you? Our Portfolio Starter Kit has tons of resources and projects across UX/UI, Branding, and Print design.
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