Skip to main content
People pointing at 3d design on laptop

How to successfully transition between different design fields

If you got your start in traditional print or graphic design, it’s easy to make the switch to a digital or product-driven career.

The world of design has fractured slightly over the last few years. As the digital landscape became more sophisticated, design itself became more specialised. Many graphic designers morphed into digital designers, then mobile, UX and UI designers. Customer design and service design came next, blurring the lines between art, useability, product, customer and service even further.

But here’s the good news: if you got your start in traditional print or graphic design, it’s incredibly easy to make the switch to a digital or product-driven career. You’ll need a few new skills, but these can be learned reasonably quickly, and your artistic training might even give you an edge over other graduates.

So, here's how to move from one design field to another: 


Print design to Digital design


It doesn’t matter if you’ve spent your career making brochures, books and print ads. It’s never too late to transition into digital design (and with widely available online shortcourses, it’s never been easier, either). You should already have several transferrable skills, including layout, typography and colour, but there are some obvious leaps from paper to screen: CMYK becomes RGB, for example, font tracking and kerning will subtly change, and you’ll need to give some thought to mobile layouts. The best place to start is with key digital design software, like Adobe InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop. Some coding courses in JavaScript, HTML or Python will also come in handy.


Graphic design to UX or UI


In a lot of ways, the principles of graphic design help inform User Experience Design (UX) and User Interface Design (UI). So you’re off to a good start. Clarity, negative space and simplicity are all hallmarks of good UX. The biggest shift here is almost a mental one: you’re really transitioning from creative artist to forensic problem solver. UX and UI are as much about user testing, motivation, psychology and research as they are about good design. You’ll need to learn some basic wireframing and prototyping, user flows, plus specialised UX software – FIGMA, Sketch, InVision and Illustrator are all common in the industry. Start with a shortcourse to build your skills.


UX design to Brand design


Perhaps you want to go the other way: from UX designer to something more ‘creative’, like brand design. This requires a whole new skillset, but with a solid knowledge of user trends, web layouts and online behaviour, you’re already well placed to make the switch. To be a good brand designer, you need to “put on your brand hat”, as they say. That means thinking as much about a brand’s emotional impact, creative design, recognition, positioning and market fit as you would about aesthetics or useability. A combination of digital graphic design, brand experience and even brand marketing will hold you in good stead. In terms of software skills, you should have everything you need already: brand designers don’t usually stray too far beyond basic Adobe suite. 


Digital design to Graphic design


With digital being so prominent, many designers cut their teeth on web layouts and FIGMA, without touching the fundamentals of graphic design at all. If you’ve reached the point where logos, colour palettes and typography are more interesting than user flows and wireframes, it’s easy to transition from digital to pure graphic design. There’s a lot of overlap between the two fields anyway. The best place to start is a graphic design short course, and then follow up with more specialised study, perhaps in print design or typography, depending on your interests. You probably have most of the necessary digital skills (Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop are your bread and butter) but good graphic design relies more on principles than software. Those are the things you’ll really need to master.


Graphic design to Customer design


This might be the biggest ‘design’ leap. Moving from a purely visual medium (graphic design) into a more holistic design experience (CX design). Customer experience design is less about visuals than the journey. The path a customer takes from first contact through to purchase, and beyond. As a CX designer, it’s your job to optimise that journey, with mapping, prototyping, research and customer-centric design solutions. You’ll need to learn the fundamentals of CX strategy, data analysis, empathy mapping, personas and prototyping, but your innate creativity will certainly come in handy. If you’re looking to really shake up your design career, CX is a great way to go. There’s been huge job growth over the last few years, and you can jump from here into related fields, like Service design and Product design.


Ready to switch design careers or start your design journey? Check out out suite of Design courses here.

This article was originally published on 22 November 2022