I’m sure you’ve listened sometime this statement: “Design and art are not the same”. There’s a lot written about it, but the same way I did with branding and logo, I’m going to express my own personal perspective, with a different angle from what I’ve seen so far. 

TL;DR: They are not the same.

Design and art are very similar in their technique

Before identifying their differences, I’d like to analyze which are the shared points in order to detect the source of the confusion between them. Both design and art use the same means to achieve their goal:

  • Creativity exercise: They both focus their effort on creating something unique, that was never made before, thinking outside the box or simply providing a different point of view.
  • Aesthetics to reach their target: They both frequently utilise beautiful visual resources. For that purpose, they study theory of color, composition rules, psychology of perception…
  • Adaptation to the context of the period: They get inspired by the world around them and try to create impact on it. They keep in mind the politic, economic, social and cultural context.
  • Artistic techniques to communicate: Painting and photography, and audiovisual means as well, are techniques (called artistic) that are used in both fields.

As we can observe, it’s undeniable that the how of both fields are really similar. The big difference between them lies in the function that these resources fulfil. 

Design’s and art’s goals are completely different

Painting colors

They arise from different needs

From the Sistine Chapel to The Scream by Edvard Munch. Art arose as a tool of expression and communication throughout history. Thus, the different categories of art are based on the means by which the artist expresses himself. Some examples are painting, sculpture or literature, which represent those means. 

On the other hand, design arose from the necessity of solving a particular problem and the different categories of design are classified by the type of problem they solve. In contrast to painting, sculpture and literature, we could name graphic design, industrial design and editorial design.

We can observe that arts are focused on the message they want to communicate. Meanwhile, design looks for the way to that message or function to be delivered the best and simplest way possible. 

Color swatches
John Schaidler – Unsplash

The purpose of reaching their public is different

Artists seek to have their projected vision as accurate as possible. And their quality is measured by their resonance with the rest of the world. They aren’t aiming anyone specifically, but trying to inspire others through their work. In fact, the interpretation of their public can be diverse depending on the person. But their main purpose is to make people reflect

On the other side, design offers solutions to specific needs for the day-to-day. The public designers aim in this case isn’t everybody, but the ones that are affected by that problem. And their purpose isn’t reflection, but all the contrary. They seek to improve people’s lives so that they don’t need to think. In fact, a design that is interpreted in a way it wasn’t thought of isn’t a good design. 

Can someone be a designer and an artist at the same time?

Just as we saw before, once that the technical needs are covered, someone could wonder if a person can be a designer and an artist at the same time. As a wise person once said: “Opinions are like buttholes; everybody has one”, and this is my own personal opinion about this topic. 

Good artists or designers should have the technical ability to be whatever they choose. But this is often defined by the type of person and their mentality in that moment.

I actually think that the two of them require different emotional abilities. And they should be worked in a different way to become a proper professional. 

An artist is reflective 

Abstract 3D lines
Christian Perner – Unsplash

In order to become artists, designers will require a deep introspection, an own opinion and a particular sensitivity towards the world around them, with a reflective vision (or even philosophical) thereon. I think that the greatest virtue of an artist is being highly receptive to external stimuli and the capability to interpret them in a creative way. Artists show their point of view about issues that they find relevant and they portray those to make them visible to the rest of the world. 

A designer is empathic 

Abstract 3D curves
Jean Philippe Delberghe – Unsplash

In order to become designers, artists will need to work on their empathy and put themselves in the position of people who aren’t like them with ease. In a sense, they will also have to be sensitive towards the world around them, but to find a solution that solves the problems that they detect.

But… can someone be an artist and a designer at the same time?

I consider that someone can perfectly have the qualities that are necessary for fulfilling any of both works. But that doesn’t mean that this person is a good at their job.

In fact, we could say that an artist is unprofessional when he fails to convey what he wants to people. And a designer is unprofessional when he focuses on finding a solution for himself to someone else’s problem.

However, being a GREAT artist or designer (in capitals) requires exploring the ins and outs of the discipline and time to master it. Technically, it requires almost the same, but the mental state and the processes needed are very different.

Abstract 3D forms
David Jorre – Unsplash

Even so, I also believe that the limit isn’t clearly defined. There are designs and designers that transcend beyond the fully functional, so they may end up being considered artists by many people as well. On the other hand, it’s rare to see the same thing happening in reverse. In other words, an artist is unlikely to accidentally solve a specific problem without consciously thinking about it.

In my opinion, the difference between design and art is a topic that doesn’t have to be neither black nor white. So I encourage you to comment below either if you share my opinion or if you have a different one.