Career Advice
October 11, 2021

How my graphic design background helps me as a UX Designer

How my graphic design background helps me as a UX Designer


For many, the pathway into UX is not linear. Whether it means transitioning into a new career after 50 years in one or while you are just getting started in another one, I believe we have a lot to learn from our past experiences. As I approach my two-year anniversary in UX it felt like the perfect time to reflect on how my past skill sets in the GraphicDesign space impact my work as an Experience Designer. Although these two industries vary greatly in terms of end products and processes, there is a lot of overlap in terms of the rules behind styling and aesthetics. Specifically, three rules come to mind so let’s break them down.

1. Color theory

At the most basic level, color theory is the science and art of using color. To take that into a more digestible manner, it is the explanation for how we perceive and interact with color consciously and subconsciously. Now that my dictionary writing days are behind me, the piece you have all been waiting for — how does this relate to UX?

The key here is that colors affect our emotions and behaviors consciously and subconsciously. Let me ask you this.Have you ever gone to the store and seen two of the same type of product on the shelf next to one another, but one was in boring packaging and the other in colorful and inviting packaging? If the answer is yes, which product did you buy? My bet will be the second one, the more fun and aesthetically pleasing one.

Why is this? It is because subconsciously we associate more eye catching design with quality. The one that stands out more looks as though more effort and time was put into it, although this easily could not be the case. To bring this back to UX, it means that if we understand how our users’ brains will work even subconsciously, then we can better design for this. In other words, if we continue with the same example from above, it would be helpful to design a product that is covered in a pattern or a bright color to help it stand out on the shelf. As you can see here, this will help your product be more successful, yet it is a concept I learned from my Graphic Design days.

2. Typography

On a similar note to color, typography plays a major role in how we interact with a product. In my Graphic Design days, I was taught to select fonts that fit with the style of the branding or industry the product fits within. It was a way to better help a user understand ultimately how they should react to it. For example, if I were to use a typeface that had droplets falling off it you would probably instantly think ofHalloween or something spooky, to name an extreme case. Yet, if I picked a script font it would feel more delicate and calming. Once again although I learned this in my Graphic Design classes, I still think about this impact when creating the branding for a website or app.

3. Alignment

At a high-level alignment is the arrangement of elements and their correlation to one another. Most often alignment is thought of in terms of left, right and center alignment for text.One lesson from my Graphic Design curriculum that has stuck with me is that of always left aligning paragraphs of text, rather than center or right align. To those of you out there busy making your portfolio you are probably skimming through your case studies in your head trying to remember if you left aligned or center aligned your paragraphs. Am I right?

Regardless of if I am, let me tell you why left align is always the rule. When text is left aligned, it will always start at the same x value on every new line. In other words, our brain will always know where to look to start reading the next line of text. If you center align your text you lose this, instead you end up with your new lines starting in all different locations. Now with right aligned, although all the text will be lined up in the same x location for every new line our brains have not been taught to look on the right side as the starting point (in the case of non-RTL languages). This here brings me back to why this is important for my work as aUX Designer. Try reading the same paragraph as left aligned, right aligned, and then center aligned. It may be hard to tell since we have taught our brains to react to all three styles, but innately left aligned text is easiest and quickest for our brains to read. Therefore, this design lesson helps me when I am designing a product since it reminds me to consider how alignment plays a role with easability and timing. To return to my portfolio example, since individuals looking at case studies barely have time to read them, this information is helpful since it reminds me that in order to create a better experience for my readers, I should left align all my text.

I began by talking about how there are many paths into UX and I want to reiterate that to prove that my way throughGraphic Design is definitely not the only way. Instead, my goal was to highlight what I have learned throughout my journey these last two years to possibly help others who are on similar trajectories.