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What does a graphic designer do for your content strategy?

What does a graphic designer do for your content strategy?

We all know that graphic designers are impressive artistic wizards, but are they actually essential to content marketing?

The short answer is yes. The simple fact of it is that people respond to visuals. Think about it: Would you be more drawn to a solid block of text or a funky looking infographic?

But there is a catch. People like images only when they are relevant to the information that they are taking in. Unrelated stock images, or even worse, animation reels, are at best a distraction, and at worst a total off put.

This is where graphic designers come in. They can ‘visualise’ your content but in a way that enhances your message, rather than detracts from it.

So let’s dig into exactly what graphic designers can offer, what key skills they need and how they can enhance your content marketing.

What is a graphic designer?

Okay so let’s get down to basics. What exactly is a graphic designer? This may seem like a very simple role to define, but as we will see later there are now a number of design jobs within companies and it’s important not to get them confused.

A graphic designer as an artist who uses their imagination alongside skill with color, typography, and design formatting to communicate an idea or message through either print, web or visual design. In the marketing world the message they are communicating is usually a branding or content concept conveyed to end users. Graphic designers usually work within marketing or advertising teams and are tasked with sending the organisation’s message through visual mediums and brining otherwise dull marketing materials to life. These typically include infographics, web design, animated videos and brand design.

What skills do graphic designers need?

To succeed,a graphic designer needs a number of skill both innate and developed through higher education. The majority of designers will have completed a BA-level degree in their field, though this can be replaced by relevant diplomas and years of work experience.

Graphic designers need to be skilled in:

  • Creativity: Unsurprisingly graphic designers need a good dollop of creativity in order to bring to life designs that will interest and engage your target audience. Not only that, they will need to be quick on their feet with creativity, and able to pull together many ideas in a short space of time to meet deadlines. A good way to judge someone’s creativity is to look through their portfolio or set them a quick design task at interview.
  • Typography: Many designs in the corporate world revolve around the written word. Being able to manipulate typefaces to make them visually appealing and enhance the message of the piece is essential. This is alongside ensuring the writing is legible.
  • Adobe suite: Adobe’s creative software (Illustrator, InDesign and Photoshop) is one of the main technical packages that designers  use, and certainly one of the most fundamental skills for anyone involved in graphics.
  • Interactive media: This is a catch-all term for active or moving visuals, such as video, animation, GIFs or even games. Moving images are fast becoming a staple for engaging content so having these skills is essential.
  • Coding: The world of images is getting more and more digital and web centric. Therefore having at least a basic grasp of HTML, CSS and some JavaScript can be a huge help.
  • Communication: Graphic designers are constantly collaborating with different figures in the business and outside of it in order to get the best mix of information and aesthetic appeal. Great verbal and online communication is crucial to nailing the project.

How are graphic designers different to UX designers?

In the modern workplace there is now a need for several types of designer whose responsibilities differ from graphic designers.

Typically this includes: user experience designers (UX designers) and user interface designers (UI Design) alongside graphic design. So what are the key differences between these roles and how can you know which you need?

Graphic designers

Best understood as the central point of design. Graphic designers are a jack-of-all-trades, able to design most things from websites to print books and everything in between. They commonly use Corel Draw, Adobe InDesign, Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop to create impressive finished products.

  • Do you need them? If you need a general designer for a specific project or consistent design work, a graphic designers broad design expertise is probably your best starting point.

UX designers

User experience design differs quite sharply from traditional graphic design. UX designers focus on the logic and structure of how products are used to ensure the best experience for customers. This contrasts to making graphic design decisions merely for aesthetics. They ensure that things like software services, websites and even newsletters are user-centric, intuitive and easy to use.

UX designers are often far more technically inclined and engage in building wireframes, application flows and data analysis to see if the product is working correctly for users. They use a large number of software applications from UX maps, wire frames, web flows and Adobe suites.

  • Do you need them? If you have a specific digital application that requires significant user interaction, it may be worth utilising the skills of a UX designer to ensure that customers can easily navigate your offering.

UI designers

User interface designers are particularly concerned with the look and feel of products. They often work alongside UX designers and handle the design of each interface. They are responsible for visually communicating the user experience as laid out by the UX map. Most of their work revolves around interactive elements of digital products, such as buttons, colour schemes, input fields, typography and any drop down menus. Ideally the can create a consistent design, working with graphic designers to adapt colour schemes, typography and visual identity to the products.

UI designers use software such as Adobe XD, Sketch, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Zeplin and Invision App.

  • Do you need them? UI designers are necessary if you are creating a digital product with a specific UX strategy.

How can graphic design benefit your content marketing strategy?

Now to the nub of the question. Graphic designers can be as skilled in the visual arts as a tech savvy Picasso, but will their ‘mad skillz’ actually contribute anything to your content strategy?

Our wholehearted answer is yes.

Blog posts

Blogs are a go to for any content marketing strategy and provide a good store of keywords for Google and information for your target audience. But just because a blog article tends to be text focused, doesn’t mean that this highly searchable asset cannot be enhanced by visuals.

In fact we would highly recommend that you experiment with everything from simple design elements to in-house-produced GIFs to make your text content eye catching and captivating to your audience.

Adding relevant images to your text content helps to break up the text and bring visual appeal to your articles. Even better are images that help to quickly and clearly demonstrate your written point. For example, quick, easy-to-read graphs or image explainers. Not only does this support your point but it could also save you a couple of paragraphs of difficult text.

A great example of this is the king of visual designed content: the infographic. A staple of any successful blog, infographics can take many forms and can significantly increase web traffic. Infographics are visual designs supported by facts that quickly and simply explain a subject in a creative fashion.

Social media

Social media is a key marketing channel and a great way to amplify meaningful content. For the time-poor, scroll-happy audience that inhabits this platform, grabbing attention quickly is the aim of the game. And in this regard, nothing works better than striking visuals.

In fact, Buzzsumo research found that Facebook posts tend to get 2.3 times more engagement if they include a graphic. Similarly well honed pictures open up social avenues such as Instagram, which revolve around the arresting image.

Branding

Branding is how you present your business in all marketing efforts, and should be the basis of all your content. It’s never too early or too late to put together a set of robust brand guidelines and adapt them to your current business goals and target audience.

Honing the visuals of your brand image is something that is significantly helped by the expertise of a graphic designer. They can design smart logos, an aesthetically pleasing colour scheme and typographies that match your business intention. These can feel like small details but the visual aspects of your brand have a huge impact on customer first impressions.

Website

In the digital age your website is often the first place that people will interact with your brand – and your window of time to make an impression is fleeting. You need your page to convey brand trust and the information users are looking for.

In fact according to research by the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, 46 per cent of people said the most important determinant of website credibility was the design. Shoddy websites are an instinctive off-put for your audience. Having a skilled graphic designer work to make your website pleasing, professional and also unique gives you the change to resonate with your audience immediately.

Inhouse graphic design vs. agency

One of the key questions facing companies who need graphic design work is where to get their talent from. Do agencies offer everything you need or is it preferable to have an in-house expert?

Here are some pros and cons of each

Pros of in-house graphic design

  • They know your brand: An in-house designer knows your brand inside and out. They are a part of every marketing effort and are firmly imbued in your business culture – no one knows your tone and style quite like they do.
  • Collaboration is close at hand: One of the big advantages of an in-house designer is that they can be physically present at marketing meetings, and be a part of wider conversations. This can sometimes speed up communications and allow for quick changes of plan.
  • Speedy: This is not always the case, but having someone who is solely focused on your business output can equate to faster turnaround times. It can also mean quicker edits and therefore a smoother process from start to finish.

Pros of agency graphic design

  • Veteran expertise: Agencies hire the best of the best and their designers have experience on all projects big and small – name it they have done it. If your company is just starting out with design work and you aren’t too sure where to start, agency designers will be more than prepared to offer their wisdom and lead you down the right avenues. Equally if you have a very specific idea of what you want they can create it quickly and to a high professional standard.
  • A fresh perspective: Coming from outside your brand means they can shine a light on things that may be less easy to spot from within. From a creative perspective this is gold dust and can lead to new exciting designs and ways of achieving your goals.
  • Lower/flexible costs: Agencies can work project to project or on rolling contracts – essentially they can be flexible and work to your budget and project needs. This can be really useful if you need design work but don’t have enough to warrant a full time designer.
  • Speed: Anyone who has worked at an agency will tell you that deadlines are their bread and butter. As such these are organisations used to quick turnarounds and if they promised it will be with you by Monday, it will be come hell or high water.

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Cathy Breed
Cathy Breed About the author

With a degree from Downing College at Cambridge University and experience as a Marketing Executive in London Cathy comes to the Castleford Blog with a reputation for deep research and high-level subject-matter expertise. Her current writing portfolio covers artificial intelligence, financial services, the property sector and not-for-profits. Clients include Stackchat, Surf Life Saving New South Wales, Fiserv and Investa.

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