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What is Visual Design?

In this article, we’ll be looking at visual design and its effects on user experience.

By visual design, we also mean ‘brand’ or ‘graphic design’, which is the process of adding aesthetics to your design. Aesthetics in this case means literally “how it looks and feels”. But this is a lot more than just adding pretty colours; there are several important things you should keep in mind.

Typography describes what you use for writing text: body text, headlines, and buttons. This includes things such as font, text sizes, and colours

Colours are something you can use to draw attention or categorise items, and colour schemes are also important for your branding

Image styles are really important for the look and feel of your page. So are you using, for example, photography or a cartoon image?

Spaces, shapes, and lines are ways to construct and visually divide your page and can help add clarity or emphasis

Symbols are icons you can use for menus, user actions, or content categories – these should be familiar visual cues to help a user

Finally, branding is important. What is the message that you’re trying to convey? You may be creating a brand from scratch, updating one or working within existing ‘brand guidelines’; each of which are different challenges in how you approach the above.

In contrast you may also hear of ‘functional design’ which describes how things work – such as features or interactions in your app or site – which show their behavior but without any visual styling. And ‘technical design’ is how the underlying technology will deliver the functional design, for example where data comes from or how components are to be built. All come together but are different elements you need to consider.

For more information on visual design, see the document in the ‘Downloads’ section on Moodboards and Colour theory.

Impact of Visual Design

How you communicate with your users through graphic or visuals is incredibly important. This is based on you understanding your users and knowing how you want to interact with them and how they should feel during those interactions.

Graphic and visual design is a way of you telling your users how they should feel about you and your product before they even get a chance to read your content. This can make or break the experience for your users. On the one hand, it can lead to a trustful experience and delight, if you set the right expectations. But on the other hand, it can lead to mistrust (e.g. poor or inappropriate branding) and misunderstanding (e.g. if your visual design is cluttered or unclear).


Now that we’re talking about the impact of visual design, why don’t you write down a couple of websites you know.

  • Are there any you can think of that you trust and you think are reputable?
  • Are there some that are obviously directed at an age group, such as children?
  • Lastly, can you write down one website that you don’t trust and wouldn’t recommend to anyone?

Now, go back to these websites with your ‘visual design thinking hat’ on. Ignoring the actual content, review what colour schemes and fonts they have used. What else has contributed to the feeling that you have about them?

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This article is from the free online course:

Digital Skills: User Experience