Few problems fall solely into one design discipline’s skillset. The lines between them are blurry. For example, even a basic user interface problem has elements of communication design and experience design. Most designers are comfortable in more than just one area. Just like medical doctors, designers tend to go through some common training (like visual thinking for example), then they hone their skills further and specialize in certain areas over others.

Since you have selected Signs & Symbols, here is some further information on the design skillsets that may be needed in this category.

Communication design is a mixed discipline between design and information-development which is concerned with how media messaging and interventions such as printed, crafted, electronic media or presentations communicate with people. Communication design is not only concerned with developing the message aside from the aesthetics in media, but also with creating and adapting to new media channels to ensure the message reaches the target audience.

Graphic Design is the process of visual communication and problem-solving through the use of typography, photography, iconography and illustration. This design discipline is about creating symbols, images and text to form visual representations of ideas and messages. Common applications include corporate design (logos and branding), editorial design (magazines, newspapers and books), advertising, product packaging, and signage.

Design research is about carefully investigating human experience and behavior to spark and distill insight for teams to address people’s fundamental needs. It involves primary research that is embedded within the process of design, and while it is more likely to occur at the project's inception, it can also be a skillset that is needed across the lifecycle of a design project. Design research is aimed at understanding and improving design outcomes within a process rather than developing domain-specific knowledge within any professional field.

Common outputs or deliverables

Tips and tricks

  • Most designers can be flexible and adapt their skills, however, they are often more comfortable in a specific set of skills. Discuss your partner's philosophy for marrying different skill sets within one project.
  • When designing your investment you will want to ensure that your design partner has capabilities in these areas. However, perhaps not all these designers need to be fully present for the whole project, and you can work with your partner to ensure greater fluidity in the team.


  • Beware of proposals that are overly repetitive in the use of buzzwords and lack specific examples that demonstrate the relevant skillsets that you need. Look for a detailed explanation of the partner's approach to different design research methodologies.

Questions for potential partners

  • Can you share examples of your adaptability and versatility across the design skillsets you think you may need for this project?
  • Can you share examples of projects you have done addressing communications - messaging, branding, etc.? How do you approach the challenge needing to be overcome in this project?
  • Can you share examples of projects you have done where you've been asked to do more visual or graphic design? How do you structure these projects and what do you see as a strong final outcome?
  • Can you talk me through the project steps and explain how you will make decisions around bringing in the right expertise at the appropriate times?
  • Do you have all these design capabilities in house, or will you need to in some specific types of expertise?

Resources and links