Digital design is an often misunderstood concept. Though simple in definition, it is complex in development and execution since the medium it is destined for has unique features and capabilities.
We’ll be exploring what is digital design and what sets it apart from other more traditional forms, its processes, goals, types and why it is so important for any business’s digital strategy.
Table of contents
What is Digital Design?
Design for digital environments
Digital Design vs Print Design
Influencing user behavior
Characteristics Of Digital Design
➤ Made of code
Types Of Digital Design
➤ Web Design
➤ App Design
Why It Is So Important
Design can be defined as functional art, made with practical purposes in mind: to improve usability, shape experience, create identity, promote engagement and generate impact, depending on the medium it uses. Design is everywhere: from furniture construction to branding and advertisements, developed in different materials and scenarios.
Digital design, however, is created for and exists only in digital environments, being meant to be viewed and interacted with on a screen. It goes beyond the graphic or physical dimension and incorporates features only possible in the digital environment.
It’s dynamic, interactive, and malleable by nature and amasses other disciplines and techniques beyond graphic design, like programming, multimedia, and data analytics. Digital designers work closely with developers during the implementation stages and with the marketing department: since it has a measurable impact, it should be planned with specific targets in mind.
A common misconception is saying all design is digital because it's all done on computers. The difference between digital and graphic design is not on the tools they use but on the deliverables they produce, the mediums they use, and the type of relationship created with users.
Print designers usually work for analog mediums, mostly paper-based or similar. Here are a few examples of print design:
- Magazine spreads, newspaper graphics, leaflets
- Book covers and graphics
- Print ads, from small formats to outdoors
- Business cards, stationery, logos
- Flyers and posters
- Product packaging
Digital Designers create digital deliverables, such as:
- Website elements and pages
- Interactive visuals
- Data visualizations
But more importantly, it’s the idioms they use that set these two areas of design apart. If Print Design works mainly the visual aspect, Digital Design is inherently a dynamic, interactive experience that uses programming languages to generate motion and embed other media elements in the final results.
The paradox lies in that digital design is the most intangible of the two but the one we interact with the most.
Digital Design takes into account the way users relate to their screens: the way they read, the responses they have, what decisions they make. The resulting data is used to improve the thinking process behind each design iteration and make it more effective.
Good design has the power to influence split-second decisions and move users towards the intended goal. On the other hand, bad design fails to reach them: a button with an ineffective size or color can reduce the impact of a Call to Action; a layout poorly built can impair users’ comprehension of the information presented.
Effective design is always based on behavioral insights, which come as data in the digital world. In digital design, you can analyze how users navigate and interact with the different elements and navigate their way around. That information is important to test new versions of the design, compare them for further analysis and tweaking, and even be adapted for specific audiences.
A digital design responds to the users’ actions and this response can be updated according to the gathered data. A roadside ad has fewer chances to be improved.
We’ve already uncovered a few of the main aspects of Digital Design, but let’s break down some of its core concepts.
Digital designs live on many different screens and devices. So, it must fit any device specifications in the highest possible quality and adapt to the way users interact with it. Remember when video used to be shot in panoramic view? Users' habits and devices ultimately rule digital design’s definitions.
When people think of design, they think of colors, shapes, typography. Digital design includes motion and element changes to its features. Most websites use motion techniques like parallax or apply color changes into active elements. To improve navigation, they also use shape-shifting objects, like hamburger menus, that extend to lists when activated. Unlike print, designers can assign dynamic attributes to items.
The main feature of digital content is the possibility of interactivity. It all started with hyperlinks, where a word or a phrase could take us to a different page. That’s when digital design began because there wasn’t much concern over typography or web page layouts besides their functionality and organizational aspects (both awfully basic back in the early days of the web).
Now there was an element that had a specific functionality. The solution was to underline and color the linked words blue. Nowadays, the principle is the same, but the visual possibilities are immense.
A digital designer doesn't have to be an expert programmer, but knowing how to transform a static mockup into a live product and what technical possibilities are available to experiment with new ideas is appreciated. 3D modeling and motion graphics are otherskills designers are increasingly mastering.
Design performance can be analyzed and tested. More than being attractive, digital design must capture the attention of users but also lead them smoothly to the intended. Heatmaps, click reports, navigation treemaps, and other tools can help designers develop several iterations and put them to the test in direct comparison through A/B testing.
Digital design is something we use and interact with, and that’s why it has a different complexity than print design. We’re not called users by accident. It is made to be functional and lead to specific actions.!
Under the Digital Design umbrella, we can find several design types, from digital banners and ads to newsletter design, from online presentations to ebooks. Even icons, logos, and other small elements used in other types of digital design can be included, but let's address the most common.
Since every company needs a website, this is the most popular type of digital design. Web designers work on the layout and actions of websites and how they look and work on different devices.
Landing page design is a specialized area of web design, focused on creating pages that lead to a specific action:
- Sign up for a conference.
- Subscribe to a newsletter.
- Buy a product.
- Download a freebie.
Landing pages are the favorites of marketing departments everywhere because they can be tailored to different products, audiences, and intended actions.
Apps are designed with a specific function in mind and exist as standalone units. We do things with apps: shop, listen to music, check the weather, follow a plan, schedule, take notes, tune instruments, order food, car rides, and find love. If you need anything, there's probably an app for that. Apps are made to perform while webpages mostly inform.
So, the thinking process behind app development is quite unique. Apps are mostly built to work with mobile devices, requiring very specific technologies and environments.
Two of the most emerging fields in digital design are UX (User Experience) and UI (User Interface) designs. They are closely connected but are quite different in scope of action.
UX focuses on how the user interacts with the product, making sure it is accessible and enjoyable. UX designers create wireframes, user flows, and prototypes to define the user's journey and improve it through research and testing in all development stages.
UI is responsible for how the product looks and feels. UI designers create the style of the digital product. They ensure the layout, colors, shapes, and typography work together to build identity and support the UX findings. They are also responsible for creating assets like style guides and libraries for a consistent visual style across all platforms.
There are two sides to digital design: it is a representation of the organization behind it, but also it is the interface users engage with. Digital designers must cater to these two perspectives.
There are three main values for thinking design for an organization:
Identity - what are the elements that promote immediate user recognition? Think how the Banking sector companies follow pretty much the same visual language and color palette but how it is easy to identify each one easily.
Personality - how does design convey the values and character of the organization? Depending on their target consumers, clothing stores exhibit different patterns and visual tones in their digital presence: streetwear stores have different visuals, layouts, and navigation than formal clothing stores.
Consistency - the previous two items must be consistent across all the versions, formats, and devices where they're presented. Amazon always looks the same, no matter the store, the language, the product, or the device.
These factors were already put into practice in print design, but digital design also considers how the users interact with it.
Experience - as stated before, digital design shapes user experience by captivating attention but also by not getting in the way of the main goal. It should promote an enjoyable, practical, and obstacle-free experience.
Journey - it also should direct the user to the end goal of the page, website, application, or product, no matter the paths available to get there. It’s like gaming, but without the opposition.
Satisfaction - by creating an easy and lean experience, user satisfaction will be higher. Digital design’s main purpose is to promote specific actions in an enjoyable setting while being useful and easy to engage.
Digital Design is a wide field that encompasses many disciplines, from user experience to typography, from data analysis to data visualization.It’s a process in ongoing development that, unlike printables, is not finished after delivery. Even the most trivial change can make a huge difference in the final outcome, so auditing their impact can turn beautiful designs into beautiful and effective designs.
It's a multidisciplinary practice, fundamental for every organization's digital strategy since it defines their presence and relationship with users.
And yours, too.