What’s the Difference: Brand Designer vs Graphic Designer

Mar 19, 2024 | core identity, design, messaging, personality, positioning

We’re walking through the difference between a graphic designer, brand designer and brand strategist, as well as who to hire and when.


If you spend any time online, you’ve probably seen the titles graphic designer and brand designer and brand strategist thrown around like confetti. Because of this, one of the most common questions I see is, “Well, which one do I need to hire for my business?”

And it makes sense. When there’s so many options and quite a bit of gray area, it can be a little (or a lot) confusing. So, let’s break it down – today we’re walking through the key differences between a graphic designer, brand designer and brand strategist, and giving you some insight into which type of partner makes the most sense to bring in, and when.

What is a graphic designer?

The Interaction Design Foundation shares this definition: Graphic designers create visual content to communicate messages. By applying visual hierarchy and page layout techniques, designers use typography and pictures to meet users’ specific needs and focus on the logic of displaying elements in interactive designs, to optimize the user experience.

Said in a simpler way, a graphic designer’s role is to create graphics for published, printed or electronic media. Think social media graphics, business cards, brochures and presentations.

They take the brand identity of a business and bring it to life through marketing and visual content. And just like every other industry, graphic designers can specialize in different areas like website design, illustration, animation, user experience or presentation design.

From a process standpoint, it’s their job to apply the basic design principles when creating something which means design and aesthetic are at the forefront. Strategy isn’t necessarily the priority, but rather, how it looks and functions.

What is a brand designer?

Ziprecruiter shares this definition: A brand designer is a creative professional with an expertise in branding. Their job is to help companies and clients develop a brand identity that conveys a specific idea or feeling to customers.

Here, here for a simple and easy-to-understand definition!

The role of the brand designer is to create a visual identity on behalf of the brand while maintaining brand integrity. This means they’re responsible for designing the business’s logo and variations, patterns, iconography, etc. in alignment with the brand’ strategy.

Sometimes this can also include graphic design work (brochures, business cards, social media graphics); but it’s worth noting that the brand’s experience and integrity is always top-of-mind.

What is a brand strategist?

Workable shares this definition: A Brand Strategist is a professional who develops position recommendations for companies looking at developing or expanding their brands. They also help guide market research analysis and define a company’s tone so that everything matches with campaign initiatives.

Once again, let’s simplify this a little. Said another way, a brand strategist is someone who focuses on the overarching communication plan for your brand.

Their role is to define the guidelines or boundaries your brand will use to connect with your right audience.

They aren’t necessarily hands-on with the creative work but rather, more focused on the behind-the-scenes planning of getting your brand into existence.

This can look like developing your brand’s position or differentiation strategy, message, personality, purpose and vision statements. It’s really all the elements that won’t necessarily be seen outright by your audience/market but have a significant effect on how your brand is communicated.


Want even more branding support? Join the newsletter!

Brand designer vs graphic designer

The common misconception is that a brand designer = graphic designer. However, there are some key differences between the two that can impact the outcome and results you receive.

Expectations with deliverables

When you hire a graphic designer, they’re going to create visuals for communicating your business. Think rack cards and social media graphics and presentations.

Versus brand designers, who focus on creating a brand identity for the business. This usually includes a logo, its variations, custom pattern or iconography.

Expectations with direction

Often, when you bring in a graphic designer, you’re leading the conversation and creative direction, especially when it comes to your brand. As the business owner, you define the parameters and relay that to the designer, who uses design principles to create the deliverable. The benefit here is that the process isn’t as in-depth and the turnaround is usually pretty quick.

On the other hand, when you work with a brand designer, they’re generally guiding the visual direction because their expertise is in the relationship between brand and business – for example, I utilize psychology principles like color psychology and brand archetypes to make design decisions. Additionally, brand designers typically have more experience and focus on designing the various elements of a brand’s identity.

Is there ever any overlap?

Many brand designers get started as graphic designers and as they gain more experience working on brand identities, they make the transition to focus on brand design. Because of this, it’s likely that the brand partner you work with will also have experience in designing graphics for communication.

Quick disclaimer: just because someone doesn’t use the title doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of doing the work. For example, a very talented friend and brand designer identifies first as a graphic designer because she does a variety of projects, not just brand design. So it’s important to know that this isn’t the be-all-end-all. At the end of the day, go with what feels good, titles be damned.

Brand designer vs brand strategist

So where does a brand strategist fit into this mix?

The common misunderstanding is that it’s assumed a brand designer has brand strategy experience, and vice versa.

How do they work together?

When you look at the 30,000-foot view of the brand process, it always starts with strategy. The strategist identifies what the brand stands for, what it is all about and what it needs to communicate. And then the designer brings that communication plan to life by creating the branding elements like the logo, colors and pattern.

Can there be any overlap?

Yes, a brand strategist can also be a brand designer (case in point = myself). When this happens, the person will probably have one area stronger than the other. For example, I would consider myself a brand strategist first and a brand designer second. Compare that to when you work with a brand studio or agency, there’s a higher likelihood that the two roles will be separated between two (or more) different people.

How (and when) to hire the right person for your business

The first consideration is to think about what type of support you’re looking for. Do you need someone to make marketing collateral pieces like brochures and social media graphics, or do you need support with logo updates and color palette changes, or do you need help defining your vision, message and personality?

By getting clear on the scope of support, you will be able to determine who is a good fit for your needs.

A graphic designer is a great fit if…

You need brand and marketing collateral designed like:

  • Presentations
  • Business cards
  • Social media graphics
  • Ebooks
  • Brochures

A brand designer is a great fit if…

You need updates to your existing brand identity or want to create something new from scratch, like:

  • Primary logo
  • Logo variations
  • Brand patterns
  • Typography recommendations
  • Color palette recommendations

A brand strategist is a great fit if…

You need support with the behind-the-scenes communication plan for your brand, like:

  • Purpose, mission, vision
  • Core message
  • Positioning
  • Personality
  • Ideal client persona(s)

From there, it’s time to start researching and meeting with potential right fits. Especially if you’re looking to hire brand support, it’s important to keep in mind that the process requires a lot of 1:1 work and the stronger connection you have with them, the better the outcome.

Next?

Do your due diligence. Ask about their experience and what the process is for the work. If you’re looking for branding help, make sure the strategy is taken into account. If you need templates created for your Instagram grid, have a clear brand style guide so you know the standards will be adhered to.

At the end of the day, YOU are the business owner and YOU get to make the decision on what is the best fit for your needs.

Open and clear communication goes a long way in having a great relationship with whomever you decide to bring on.

Happy branding!

All my best,

Want to dig in even more? Read these next!

Learn the 6 key elements that are essential to creating an effective website strategy for your purpose-driven brand in this post.

A brand audit can help you get crystal clear on what your brand is doing well and where it can improve, as well as what next rights steps to take with the audit results. Learn the brand audit process in this post.

Follow this easy-to-implement brand strategy template to create a brand foundation that’s grounded in connection and meaning.

Learn how to build a brand that's fueled by meaningful connection:

Every other week, receive strategic brand building stories, resources and ideas to support your intentional business-building journey.