Graphic Designer vs. Brand Designer: Differences & Who You Should Hire

Have you ever heard a designer label themselves as a “graphic designer” or “brand designer” and wondered what the real difference is? If you follow them on social media, you may feel like the final results they share look much the same. If you’re not certain about what the real difference between the two is, you’re not alone. 

While the results they produce can look the same at face value, the truth is they are performing two very different services. Many business owners feel confused about who they should hire and whether the often additional cost of hiring a brand designer is worth it. 

Today, I’m going to guide you through the roles graphic designers and brand designers play and how to decide who you need to hire.

What is a graphic designer?

A graphic designer’s job is to pay attention to aesthetics: their sole focus is on using basic design principles to create something aesthetically pleasing. They may use your brand guidelines to create a flyer, business card, or social media posts, and if you don’t have brand guidelines they’ll follow your instructions to realise your vision. While you should always look to the professionals you work with for their expertise, the role of the graphic designer is to fulfill a brief. 

In most cases, they’re creating a graphic that communicates information to the viewer and while they’ll use their expertise to make sure this information is expressed in the best way possible, they don’t (or shouldn’t) have much control over the colours, fonts, and other assets used in the graphic – these elements of branding should be set in stone before a project is given to a designer. 

It’s worth noting that “graphic designer” is also a catch-all term – a bit like “photographer”. If someone simply tells you they’re a photographer, they could be a wedding photographer or a sports photographer, or they haven’t chosen an area of expertise yet. The same is true for graphic designers. A graphic designer usually executes a wide variety of graphics but may niche by serving a particular community that their style works well for. 

A graphic designer uses their expertise to execute an established vision.

What is a brand designer?

A brand designer can not only create assets for you, such as a logo or templates for client documents, but they will help develop a strategy that brings intention and clarity to all your visuals, helping maintain that direction throughout your brand. They keep a high-level view of the brand at all times. 

Generally, your brand designer will first help you create a powerful brand strategy and brand identity before you start creating any assets. They’ll create your brand identity (learn about what a brand identity is here) to help you define your place in the market and attract ideal customers. 

In some cases, a brand designer will help you hone your strategy and then create all the assets your business needs, while others will create your brand, brand guidelines, and central assets, and then you can work with graphic designers to create new assets for you, such as email marketing graphics, ads, and so on. 

Working with a brand designer is usually a collaborative process, and you’ll typically have much more contact with your brand designer than you would a graphic designer. You may have a strategy call, you may have calls to clarify your ideal customer, and so on.  They guide you through all the steps necessary to establish a distinct brand so your audience identifies with you. 

A brand designer is focused on ensuring your branding represents your goals and resonates with your ideal customer.

Do I need a graphic designer or a brand designer?

Once you know the difference between a graphic designer and a brand designer, it becomes much easier to decide which one you should be hiring. What it comes down to is the scope of the work and what you want out of it – if you are purely focused on execution, you should hire a graphic designer. If you have a brand identity that’s resonating with your ideal audience, you simply need the expertise of someone who can bring your vision to life (and hopefully exceed your expectations). However, if you are looking for guidance on your brand strategy, messaging and purpose, don’t yet feel clear about your brand, or feel like you’ve outgrown your brand, you’ll need a brand designer. You need a brand designer if you feel like your brand isn’t connecting with your audience, looks too much like everyone else in your field, and doesn’t “fit” what your brand really is or has become. They create the vision other specialists can use to guide them to help your brand come to life.

Is a brand strategist and brand designer the same thing?

Yes, in many cases, but not always. Most brand strategists will also do at least some element of brand design, so you’ll usually work with someone to create a strategy and the key brand design elements. 

A brand strategist develops the foundation for your business, helping you gain clarity around who you are, what your aims are, and how you should appear so your ideal customer thinks, “yes, this is where I want to be” when they come in contact with your brand. A brand designer creates your brand identity and other major brand assets for your business, based on what was created by the brand strategist. Many brand strategists and designers do both aspects as part of their branding services, but in large brand agencies, these two roles may be separate.

What you need to remember is that a graphic designer creates something for a brief which should include some element of brand guidelines, while a brand strategist and designer (like me) will help you get clear on where you’re going, who you’re serving, and what resonates with those people. They’ll then create the brand visuals you need to bring all that foundational brand work to life.To find out more about my brand design services and what I include as a brand strategist and brand designer, click here.

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