Media design: What it is and how it differs from design

Media design

UI-design, UX-design, web-design, graphic design – sounds, it seems, understandable. Well, for those who are at least a little bit familiar with it: untrained person to understand what the difference is more complicated: for example, why can’t a web designer draw a sign for a coffee shop, and a graphic designer can’t make an adequate prototype or lendosik?

And everything would be fine, but on the expanse of the media has appeared and media design. Who this is, how it differs from others, and whether it is really necessary for Internet projects – we decided to find out.

Where does media design come from?

People no longer perceive the Internet as a collection of links in a search engine results for a given query. For them it is a new digital world, where there are digital magazines, stores, workspaces, hobby clubs and so on. And if corporate websites, online stores, and landing pages often look quite traditional, then digital media have started to have quite unusual projects, which are difficult to classify as belonging to any usual category.

These are the “lingering longreads” that keep people interested in reading for a long time. And someone has to compose them. Some people call such specialists media designers, while others are in no hurry to put labels on them. In any case, such a designer understands: people are not interested in reading a simple canvas of text with rare pictures.

This design is closely linked to the story, it complements the journalistic format. This work with data, visualization and attention management.

Media story design is often free of controversy. Graphic or web design professionals usually have the most controversy when working with a client. Hence those “play with colors” memes and endless edits.

And while graphic designers work on customer brand perception, web designers create creative working tools for doing business online, media designers are responsible for presenting a story in a measured and consistent manner for the reader’s benefit.

What counts as media design

In magazines and media, you often see big investigations, explanations of some phenomena, or big collaborations with brands. Some of these are hastily assembled long-form pieces that are hard to classify as media design. Some of them are thoroughly developed visual stories that have a lot of interactive elements, movement, animation, and non-standard layout on the page, in addition to good text. And it all looks very cool.

For example, New York Times correspondents climbed to the top of Mount El Capitan and carefully documented their approach. Then they went back to the newsroom, handed the story over to the design department, and readers got a compelling story they could almost participate in in person. The story provides the effect of presence: it’s as if you’re climbing the mountain with the participants in the events.

Another experiment is an interactive comic strip from Bloomberg. The journalists put together a long story with a horizontal scroll in the style of an 8-bit game. The reader is no longer just immersed in a canvas of endless text, but is watching an animated fight between two politicians.

The visual shows the entire technological process, attracting attention and interest – a project with this kind of presentation has a better chance that a buyer will leave a bid here and now.

The project for Dairy Culture shows the journey of a cup of milk. The visitor sees the creation process and remembers the numbers and facts about milk production. The unifying element of the entire promotional page is an animated cup falling from scroll to scroll.

When this kind of storytelling works for the product, a “wow effect” occurs. The visitor to the page compares in his head previous experience of interaction with competitors’ sites and remembers exactly what stands out.

Where to apply media design

In addition to entertainment and educational projects in the media, media design can solve business problems.

A company launches a new product on the market, an online university promotes a new direction and wants to attract students, a factory wants to tell about technology and production – all that is difficult to convey only in text. The format requires illustrations, interactivity, and animation. Not only media designers, but also marketers, illustrators, and even video producers can be involved in the big story.


It may seem that for such a task well suits some website builder: business owners can insert and move the blocks, add text and pictures, and then quickly put the project on the Internet and rejoice.

Yes, but no:) The more complex and unconventional the pitch, the better the story will be remembered. Designers can do a lot, but still, their options are limited.

On our Farbe and Dadim case study pages, we used an unconventional pitch and went to a lot of trouble with the layout. These pages can also be classified as media design.)

There are no limits to the use of interactive stories: a company can talk about its founding, a music band can launch an interactive tour of its story, and a blockchain startup can convey its project idea to investors.

Media design

How media design is different

We tried to distinguish between graphic, web and media design, but let’s face it: it’s not a good idea.) All because the same web can include elements of storytelling, like media design, and media design can use elements of graphic and web technologies. But nevertheless, the table:

Media design can hardly be called a separate-alone direction in design: rather, it takes the best of graphic and web design and skillfully combines it in projects where you need to tell a story in a non-trivial way and engage the visitor to the page.

And the fact that digital media are increasingly using such an interactive format proves that the problem with “too many letters” is only getting worse. So please be more diligent about how you present your content, whether it’s a Medusa page or a website.

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