How is design different from art?

When I was in school, I was a terrible Art student. I couldn’t draw, paint, or do the easiest thing in the world- fill colors without spilling them. No matter how hard my teacher tried to teach me the nuances of the art, she miserably failed. Poor lady!

If there was one thing that I was sure of, it was this- Art is not for me. I can never be an artist. Decades later, I am not surprised at the choice of my profession. I’m a designer, miles away from art. I thought that I have finally overcome the popular belief that a designer has to be artistic.

Difference between design and art

Until recently, I was jolted back to reality. I delivered one of my projects and got the following appreciation from our partners- “This is incredible! You are an artist!”

And that got me thinking- has life come full circle?

While I am convinced that it was just a “figure of speech”, it made me think about the difference between the two. And here’s what I feel about it-

The word Artmakes me think of ancient paintings, sculptures, Beatles music, dance forms, architecture. I think of creativity and the enormous amount of talent their creators must have possessed. For me, an artist is someone who can provoke thoughts and emotions in humans who otherwise find it difficult to accept the reality of the world.

On the other hand, when I hear the wordDesign, I think of mobile and web apps. I think of products that make my life easier on a day to day basis. I think of the brainstorming sessions, wireframes, prototypes. I think of the creativity and thought that must have gone into the making of that product.

The relationship between art and design is connected through a thread of creativity. However, there are many stark differences between design and art which make both these fields very different from each other.

What’s the difference between design and art?

Here’s a beautiful excerpt from Frank Chimero’s The Shape of DesignQuote from the book "Shape of Design"

It made me realize that every art form in the world can drive inspiration from the other. But whether the idea that you’re trying to portray is conveyed successfully or not, that’s what makes the creator a master storyteller.

From my experience, I can say that design must move things, it must make things functional.

Good design can be art but it’s initiated when you know its purpose- why, what, for whom, and when. Art, in the context of Design, has no purpose. It’s for everyone.

Good design helps the users see the impact in their life as they use the designed product. It intensifies their desire to be more productive or effective. Art, on the other hand, gathers praises or criticism but doesn’t add value to the interaction with users.

Good design gains value, gathers momentum, and passes on through word of mouth and turns into an experience to help humankind be better. Art, on the other hand, feels like it’s just for the elite. Very few people really understand it.

Please don’t misconstrue that I’m against art. I’d be a fool to say that. Art is the purest form to derive expression. It’s an innate ability to express yourself, irrespective of your background. Art can take many forms and manifest itself in the simplest of things such as words.

The only idea that I want to share is that good design is not about art alone and it should be used in the design with thoughtful consideration rather than just an addition to make it visually appealing.

I agree that sometimes there will be instances in your project which will exemplify both art and design. They will collide and they’ll be inseparable. In that case, accept art as a part of Design, wholeheartedly. Just make sure that you pay attention to key details that make the design, delightful.

Apart from that, Design doesn’t need art to be more user-centric or empathetic.

Just remember-

Don’t separate creativity and purpose from design; if possible keep it separate from art.

With these thoughts, I’ll wrap up. I would love to hear your thoughts on the same topic. What do you think? Please drop your comments in the thread below and let’s learn from each other.

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