The distinction between what makes something “art” and what makes it “design” has been long debated. It’s not hard to see why they might be considered very similar by some people. In both instances, the creator uses compositions to develop something aesthetically interesting for viewers. Elements and principles such as form, contrast, and balance, are used by both artists and designers.
I can’t argue that the development of the final compositions in art and design have similarities. The difference, I would say, comes from WHY the compositions are developed. The reason behind the creations, and the desired results for each type of creation are very different in each case. So let’s look at that.
Design is specifically about problem-solving
The purpose of design is to provide a solution to a problem. It’s not about looking pretty for pretty’s sake. There should always be a reason behind every design decision. As a graphic and brand designer, the kind of problems I provide solutions include things like communicating a message to a specific group of people or representing a certain idea through images. I made decisions about colours, typography and photos to use based on the results my client is looking to achieve.
Art doesn’t need to provide answers. In fact, sometimes it’s purpose can be to raise questions in its audience. The end result of consuming art can also be very different, from person to person. That brings me to my next point.
Design communicates the same message to everyone
Art is often highly interpretive and can be understood in a million different ways by a million different people. This is unlike design which is developed to solve a specific problem and be understood in a single way. While in art it could be argued that there’s no wrong way to interpret a piece of work, in design there is such a thing as miscommunication and misinterpretation.
If a piece of design work doesn’t lead its users to behave in the way it intended, then the design is failing. If a button on a website doesn’t look like a button and people click away from a page without wanting to, then that’s bad design.
Design motivates action
You can appreciate art, enjoy looking at it, and be inspired by it, but it doesn’t necessarily need to lead to actions or results. Design, on the other hand, is created with a specific intention in mind. As I mentioned earlier — design solves problems — and that means it should motivate its users to act in a certain manner. It could be motivating users to read a specific line of copy. Click a button. Sign up for a newsletter. Buy a product.
When we’re talking about design, we’re talking about how to get people to act. What is the end result you’re seeking, and how do we make it happen? Good design leads the people using it to behave in predetermined ways.
Why your business relies on design
Whether you’ve realised it already, or not, design plays a huge part in the success of your business. Every business is made up of lots of bits and pieces. Things like online checkout systems, packaging, advertising, logos, social media accounts, brochures and forms. All these things have an element of design to them. It doesn’t even matter if you hired a professional to create them or not — there’s still design going on. (Potentially just less effective design than a professional could have made.)
The design of these things will affect the relationship with your customers. It has an impact on how easily your customers can navigate their use of your website, whether they remember to use your business again in the future, and how high they rate the quality of your products or services. It determines whether your business looks trustworthy, and if it communicates the right tone, and if it even targets the right kind of customers at all.
Okay, there’s definitely some examples of work out there that blurs the lines between “art” and “design”, but in general I think the reasons above give a good distinction between the two. And I think it’s a mistake that some business owners make to confuse design with art, and to see design as something non-essential to their business. Design isn’t some flowery extra thing that is sprinkled over the top of things at the end to make them look “nice”. Instead, you’ve got to see design as an integral part of any process or tool your business uses. As a business owner, no doubt you’ve got some kind of problem in your business you’re looking to solve right now. And you know what? It’s just a matter designing the right solution.
What are your thoughts on art and design?
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4 thoughts on “The difference between art and design, and how design solves business problems”
Thank you for your insight on the difference between art and design. Very helpful 🙂
If you have a chance, I have a conundrum and I would be interested on your prescriptive.
Here’s the thing… as I was doing research for my new art co. (Cosa Modern) I came across a company called Honeymoon Hotel (https://honeymoonhotel.co.uk/). They specialize in creating and selling art prints. What’s interesting (and confusing) to me is that they describe themselves as a design and print studio.
Is clear that they create art (although its tactile but digital), still, why would they call themselves a design studio???
I’d be curious to hear your take!
Thank you so much again!! Keep up the amazing work 🙂
That’s a really interesting example! I think it’s definitely a case where the distinction between art and design is pretty blurred. You’re right — they make art, at least in the definition of art being something you can decorate your walls with. But I don’t think it’s incorrect to say they design it. They’re producing the work with the purpose of creating products to sell, which I think makes it fall into the “design” realm. It’s hard because “design” has such a loose definition! And of course, what people consider “art” varies a lot, too.
I feel like I could almost write a whole new post on this topic haha! You’ve got me thinking about it a lot. Thanks for sharing the example 🙂
Thanks for responding!
I definitely see your point. You what’s interesting is that they just changed their About statement. It now reads:
OUR COMPANY WAS BORN IN 2012 UPON REALISING THAT THE MARKET LACKED CHIC, STATEMENT ART: SOMETHING WHICH PERFECTLY FUSED OUR PASSION FOR DESIGN WITH OUR LOVE FOR THE WRITTEN WORD AND EVERYTHING BEAUTIFUL IN BETWEEN. Starting small and initially designing upon request for friends and relatives, our dream born on a whim actualized itself into something that never sleeps. With our combined background’s stemming from Fashion Design and Graphics, we feel together we have formed the perfect blend of free-thinking creativity.
We are committed to creating a range that is considered, thoughtful and always current. As well as producing beautiful art, the importance of reflecting the very latest in colour, design and graphic trends is tantamount. Our brand message is all about originality and having no fear in expressing this from both our perspective as designers and the customer’s perspective when wishing to showcase something unique in their home.
Perhaps they felt their original description was too vague? Very interesting!
PS: I’m looking forward to studying your Branding Intro Workbook. No doubt I will learn something new and discover some aha moments! Thank you in advance 🙂
You’re welcome! Wishing you ALL the best with your branding, and I’d love to hear about any aha moments you might have.