What Is Communication Design?

Graphic designer working on computer

If a picture says a thousand words, how much more impactful could a picture be when combined with words? If you’re passionate about telling stories and conveying important messages with both visual and written content, you might consider pursuing a career in communication design. What is communication design, and what types of careers does this specialty lead to?

Explore this subfield below and start planning your own career pathway in design and visual communications. You’ll get the answers to commonly asked questions, such as What is design and visual communications? and What types of careers are available in communication design?

In This Article:

What Is Design and Visual Communications?

Communication design is the development of visual and written elements that convey a message. This is a rather broad definition, and so to better understand the answer, it can be helpful to take a look at some specific examples, such as:

  • A billboard that shows an image of a convertible being driven by a smiling, happy person and the words “Find your next ride at Miller’s Autos”
  • A digital display in a public area that shows a steaming cup of coffee along with the slogan of a local coffee chain
  • A personal health tracking app that provides motivational images and reminders to people who are trying to be healthier
  • A website for a veterans’ services organization that displays an image of a wounded servicemember receiving counseling

These are just a few examples of what communication design professionals can produce. In essence, their goal is to create a visually attractive and compelling image that conveys an important message. That message might be to buy from a certain brand, donate money to a worthy cause or access public services in a certain area. Due to the versatility of design and visual communications, this skill is applicable across sectors and industries.

Design and Visual Communications: Three Types To Consider

Now that you’re familiar with the basics of communication design, it’s time to take a look at a couple of closely related disciplines. Communication design is often confused with graphic design or visual communication — which is understandable, because there is quite a bit of overlap — but they aren’t all the same thing.

Graphic Design

“Graphic design” is a catch-all term that people have been using for years to refer to visual content. Graphic designers can work on a wide array of products, from video games and apps to websites and printed marketing materials. The job of a graphic designer is twofold: to create a visually compelling and eye-catching element, and to convey a message. 

For instance, a graphic designer working on fundraising materials for a children’s cancer hospital might work on images of happy children and grateful parents leaving the hospital after achieving remission. Graphic designers seek to convey messages in various ways, and not all of them are as obvious as happy children leaving a hospital. For instance, when working on a website for a financial services firm, the graphic designer will select specific colors (e.g., green) to convey wealth. Even the font choice can subtly reinforce the company’s brand.

Communication Design

A graphic designer can do a lot with just an image. However, one thing that a graphic designer does not do is create the written content for the image. That is the main difference between graphic design and communication design; communication design involves both visual and written elements. Furthermore, a communication designer focuses on aligning those elements with the overall strategy for the campaign and brand.

Visual Communication

To visualize these two definitions, imagine two overlapping circles. One of them is graphic design and the other is communication design. Next, imagine a larger circle that encompasses both graphic design and communication design. That larger circle is visual communication.

“Visual communication” is the umbrella term that encompasses both of those subfields. Essentially, visual communication involves conveying a message with images, designs or symbols. Visual communication blends together color theory, typography, branding and data visualization.

Exploring Careers in Communication Design

Because communication design touches many aspects of daily life, a diverse range of career possibilities may be open to those who specialize in communication design. For example, many communication design experts work in marketing and advertising — the first of three potential career fields explored below:

Marketing and Advertising

Marketing and advertising is one of the leading industries for communication design professionals. A communication designer may work directly for a corporation on their marketing campaigns, or they may work for a marketing agency. At a marketing agency, a communication designer can work on the visual and written elements in marketing campaigns for a wide range of companies. Some of these agencies or designers may specialize in a particular type of client, such as healthcare or information technology (IT).

When designing marketing materials, communication designers strive to create eye-catching images and compelling messages that persuade people to buy a product or pay for a service. They can take various approaches to accomplish this, such as by using humor, offering advice or informing consumers. In some cases, companies may also use communication design to launch public awareness campaigns. For instance, a car manufacturer might launch a campaign intended to raise awareness about impaired driving.


Although many communication designers use communication design to urge the viewer to take some sort of action (e.g., to buy a certain product), the job of a photojournalist is not to sell anything or urge any sort of action. Rather, much like a journalist, a photojournalist seeks to convey truthful, yet thought-provoking stories through their images. Photojournalists are responsible for documenting current events, social issues and the news through their photography and their writing.

Photojournalists will first carefully research the event or social issue, and then identify promising subjects to photograph. They aim to take photographs that tell the story of that issue or event, in either a microcosmic or macrocosmic way. In addition, photojournalists write captions for their photography, and some will also write accompanying articles. Some photojournalists write books as well, informing their audience about issues using both photography and written text.

App Design

In an increasingly mobile-friendly world, app designers play an important role in enabling people to complete tasks on their mobile devices. An app designer is different from an app developer. Whereas an app developer writes the code that creates the program, an app designer will determine how the interface looks and how users will navigate the app. 

An app designer might work on anything from a gaming app to a financial services app to a health tracking app. They will develop the visual images and the accompanying text, along with establishing how users can navigate the program.

Pursue a Graphic Design or Communications Degree

There are many possibilities in the visual communication field. If you’ve decided to pursue one of these careers, your next step after high school is to earn a graphic design or communications degree. Because the field of communication design combines both of these subfields, it’s a good idea to consider declaring a minor in whichever discipline you do not major in. For instance, you could major in communications and minor in graphic design, or vice versa.

If you’re passionate about communications and design, you can fuse your passion with purpose at Grand Canyon University. With the Bachelor of Arts in Communications degree program you can position yourself for potential careers such as communications campaign manager or corporate communications specialist. Complete the form on this page to learn more about earning a communications degree at GCU.


Approved by the assistant dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences on June 26, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.