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What is Advertising Design?

By Sheri Cyprus
Updated May 16, 2024
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Advertising design refers to the creation and organization of visual artwork used in advertisements (ads) for products and services. The designs used in advertising are created by graphic designers, and advertising agencies as well as the advertising departments of corporations employ these professionals to create and execute brochures, direct mail, web ads, and print ads. The design elements used include fancy lettering, borders, cartoons, illustrations, and photographs. The main difference between ad design and regular mainstream artwork is that advertising art must be designed to reach and compel the target audience to purchase products and services.

People who design advertising are not only talented in the art of creative design, they understand marketing and how to promote products and services through visual communication. Whereas a freelance fine artist may work on one creative piece of artwork for months, a graphic artist must constantly keep generating original pieces to meet campaign deadlines. Examples are all around, and include the banner ads on websites as well as newspaper ads for products such as shoes and watches. Graphic designers also create logos and symbols used in advertising to help inspire consumers to develop brand recognition, such as McDonald’s® golden arches.

It’s important to realize that, although advertising design is used to promote virtually every product and service sold today, it’s not something new. For instance, the logo for Bavarian Motor Works’ popular BMW automobiles was first created in 1917. The signature light blue and white used in the design are the traditional colors of Bavaria, Germany, where the cars are manufactured. The striking triangular check pattern is said to symbolize the rotation of a propeller. BMW’s logo design has worked well for the company’s advertising and has undergone only minor changes in the font and outlining details since it was created.

The illustrations and lettering used on packaging for foods and other products are also considered a part of advertising design, since consumers are influenced by how a product looks when they decide whether to purchase it or choose a competing product. Graphic designers who work in the advertising industry usually require a four-year degree. Since creative jobs in advertising are competitive, a graphic designer may intern at an ad agency while still in school and then begin at an entry-level position after graduating college. These design professionals often work with copywriters who write the words used in ads to create complete pieces.

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Discussion Comments
By anon955863 — On Jun 10, 2014

I agree that a lot of people should discount the effect that print advertising in ads on the internet or in magazines

By wavy58 — On Feb 25, 2013

I'm constantly amazed by the talent of some graphic designers. I have seen ads in magazines and online that were basically art, and I don't know how the designer could come up with something like this in his or her imagination.

I know that advertising design is a collaborative process between the client, the copywriter, and the designer. However, the first two just describe to the designer what they want in terms of copy and colors. The designer is the one who makes it come to life on the page and injects beauty and flow into it.

I am not an artistic person, so I don't think I'd do well at an advertising design job. I greatly admire the people who do, though.

By StarJo — On Feb 24, 2013

@seag47 – You don't necessarily have to work for a big advertising design company to get experience. I started my graphic design career at a newspaper, and they were willing to train me extensively.

I already had a degree, but I didn't know how to use their design programs. Within a month, I had it all down, and I was doing well at my job.

I didn't want to stay there forever, though, because newspapers offer some of the lowest pay to graphic designers on the market. It was a great learning experience that I'm sure jump-started my career.

By JackWhack — On Feb 24, 2013

I work at an advertising design firm, and one of the most important aspects of designing either a logo or an ad is font choice. You have to choose a font that reflects the image of the business in order to create an effective campaign.

For serious businesses like law firms, I use simple but regal looking fonts. These are usually thin and delicate but stately, and they often have slight wisps on the edges of the letters.

For fun places like toy stores or cupcake shops, I use more cartoonish fonts that appeal to children or to a person's fun side. Curly letters tossed playfully around instead of placed in a straight line are helpful in getting the fun message across.

By seag47 — On Feb 23, 2013

If you are able to get an internship at an advertising design agency while still in college, by all means, take it! I was studying graphic design and I gave up the opportunity to take an internship so that I could have one last summer of freedom, and I have regretted it ever since. Getting a job has been so tough, and I know that if I had been able to put the internship experience on my resume, it would have been easier.

By wecallherana — On Sep 26, 2010

@babyksay - All of your points are really valid and I had completely forgotten about graphic design and how popular it has become. I wouldn't mind an advertising design career - I hear that they are a lot of fun, but very high stress. Then again, what job really wouldn't be stressful?

By babyksay — On Sep 26, 2010

@wecallherana - Graphic design advertising is combined with print a lot as well and that, I think, is a really important aspect you guys might be forgetting. Think about technological advertisements... especially computer wise. A lot of peoples advertising design services specialize in the retouching and graphic arts portion of design.

By wecallherana — On Sep 26, 2010

@plaid - Print advertising really has to deal with all the little details - what kind of spread do you want, how lucrative and well-known the magazine or paper might be, how long the ad will run and all of that good little extra stuff going on.

I have to disagree with your outlook that it's mainly geared towards female consumers - just look at men's magazines. A lot of creative advertising design is utilized in print.

By plaid — On Sep 26, 2010

I think a lot of people discount the effect that print advertising design still has and that's a shame, really. I know that the biggest impact is usually in magazines that appeal to female consumers. Other than that, I don't really see much of a point in paper or print advertising anymore. Isn't it costly anyhow?

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