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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