User Experience in Graphic Design & Why it Matters

When people think of user experience in design, they often think specifically of web design or even app development. While user experience is a crucial aspect of these fields, it can also apply to nearly any engagement that we have with media, and therefore it is something you should consider as a graphic designer even if you are not specifically working in web design.

What Do We Mean By User Experience?

When we talk about user experience, we are referring to the way people interact and engage with something. In web design, it usually refers to usability: navigability, how fast the page loads, hierarchy, etc. These principles are also important for mobile app design, but user experience in this setting also includes the way we utilize gestures and controls and whether they are intuitive.

Here are some other examples of design where user experience is important:

  • Print Design
  • Packaging Design
  • Out of Home Advertising
  • Motion Graphics

User Experience in Print Design

If you’re a print designer, user experience means something very different than it does in web design—though there is some overlap. When dealing with print design, one of the first obstacles you’ll tackle is readability. You have to determine whether the information can be read easily by most people. This means paying attention to font choices, color and contrast of backgrounds and type as well as general typography concerns like tracking, kerning and leading.

While this may seem obvious when considering the user experience, there are also more subtle elements to consider. A prime example of this is business cards. You have to consider how the business card will be used and who will be receiving it, as well as how it is being delivered to them. One trend is to utilize QR codes within business cards. While many people disagree with this and think of it as a gimmick, it can actually be a unique way to make print design interactive if done well. For example, a business card can have a QR code that leads users to a video thanking them for taking your card and reintroducing yourself with more information about your work.

Even without this element, business cards can offer a gateway to other platforms such as your website or social media presence as well. Part of the user experience is making sure the branding in your print media is consistent with your digital presence. This is something that can be challenging when different designers work on these projects, unless they are part of the same team or the client or employer is emphasizing consistency when giving direction.

When designing brochures, one has to consider the user experience in terms of the priority of information and how someone is likely to proceed through it. This means understanding how to establish a visual hierarchy and lead the user through the content in the appropriate order.

92nd Street Y / 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center Brochure | www.92y.org

92nd Street Y / 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center Brochure | www.92y.org

92Y_Poetry_1stSpread

92Y_Poetry_inside

These are just a few simple examples of how user experience matters in print design. If something is difficult to read or interpret the order of how they are supposed to use the information, it can immediately become frustrating and translate to a bad user experience—which, in turn, can result in a negative impression of the brand and the designer.

User Experience in Packaging Design

The user experience of packaging design is vital as it can impact the ability of a product to be sold. Packaging design must be functional, of course, but it must also draw attention and prompt the user to buy the product. Sometimes the packaging actually impacts the functionality of the product and is designed with that in mind from the beginning. Packaging design can be more demanding where a good user experience is concerned because the designer must account for tangibility; people are meant to pick something up and handle it directly. Often they have to be able to intuit what the packaging contains about in a fraction of a second or lose all interest, and thus a sale could be lost.

Adirondack Dog & Cat Food Packaging — Ideas that Kick, Minneapolis; www.ideasthatkick.com

Adirondack Dog Food Packaging — Ideas that Kick, Minneapolis; www.ideasthatkick.com

Out of Home Advertising and User Experience

For the uninitiated, out of home advertising (OOH) usually takes the form of billboards and posters. You may feel that billboards are dead, but they are still prevalent and make a significant impact in advertising. You may not realize how much thought has to go into user interaction when designing a billboard. Because of the speed vehicles travel at, a designer has to know how to convey a message that is unambiguous and clear in the short window of time that someone has to view it while passing on the road. This window of time is usually 5-15 seconds; that is all the time you get. With this in mind, designers have to reduce the design to as few words as possible and an impactful image that can be memorable or drive a call to action.

119Advertising for AMC’s The Walking Dead by San Diego Portfolio Studio Henry Hikima (creative director), Christian Capuchino (art director/designer/photographer), Richard Miller (writer). Student entry into the Print Legends in Advertising Awards. 315216

Digital out of home advertising has the added challenge of considering the experience that users will have when interacting with it and their mobile devices. Print out of home advertising is also becoming a gateway media to social media, websites and even video. It is important to make sure the user experience is consistent and that they know there are in the right place.

User Experience and Motion Graphics Design

When working with motion graphics, timing is literally everything. A good user experience means that someone has enough time to interpret what just appeared on the screen. Many new designers or non-designers who first start with motion graphics tend to make sequences either too short or too long. When you are interested in getting information or entertainment you don’t want to sit through an intro title sequence too long. You’ll likely get bored and go elsewhere if it isn’t interesting and setting the tone for the video that follows.

When creating lower thirds or fly-in graphics, it is important to not unnecessarily obscure the video when you are producing this type of overlay. This is another common mistake that disrupts the experience of watching the video. A good experience of motion graphics in videos will provide context and create additional value by making the video less static and more engaging. The trick is to be subtle and to use these effects appropriately.

Cinematics from Pier Paolo on Vimeo.

Interested in learning about animation design? HOW Design University offers a helpful Motion Graphics and Animation design course.

Why Designers Need to Focus on Creating Awesome User Experiences

If a user has a bad experience of any media, whether it is a mobile app, a website or a piece of print media, that impression will reflect poorly on the product, company or individual it is associated with. As designers, we are not only artists or developers—we are the front line of the marketing effort for a brand (even if it’s your personal brand). Ensuring a quality user experience means that your users will have a good feeling about that brand. That is part of our responsibility and it comes down to more than something looking good; it has to make sense and meet the needs of your users.

User experience in design begins with being able to grab someone’s attention in the right way, so they click on a banner, or pick up a brochure or respond well to a billboard. Afterward it is a matter of keeping their attention and ensuring that they feel their expectations have been met and they are getting the experience that they wanted. This means that all elements of a design must be clear, consistent, concise and well-crafted. Positive user experiences are not the exclusive domain of web designers and web developers. All designers and marketers need to be aware of how to create engaging and thoughtful experiences for their end users. This includes everything from how something looks, to how it works, to the wording of the body copy. All of these elements are important to the user, so they should be important to you as well.


T8455Whether you’re familiar with the name or not, Henry Dreyfuss is a figure most prominently remembered as the father of industrial design, as well as the pioneer of a user-centered approach to design. In Beautiful Users by Ellen Lupton, discover various practices of UX design — an approach that prioritizes studying people’s behaviors and attitudes in order to develop successful products.

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