What is the difference between design and art?

Yesterday, I had a conversation with my colleague regarding the difference between art and design. We both felt they are clearly not the same thing, however, found it quite difficult to explain what it is exactly that separates them.

I always thought that the difference lies in the reason design and art are created. Art, from my point of view (as a designer) is born from someone’s need to express themselves. Design, however, is focused on whoever is going to interact with the design. It seems to me that you need to understand who your “user” is, who your market is, and who your client is in order to produce good design. You need to learn to understand yourself in order to produce good art. Naturally, you need to understand yourself to become a good designer, but I don’t think it is as crucial as it is in art. But I’m not an artist.

While my colleague and I were discussing this, we thought that it may also have something to do with constraints versus freedom. Artists seem to have more freedom and to be able to handle it better than some designers may. Personally, I find constraints to be a crucial creativity inducer. I don’t cope well with blank sheets of paper and no brief. In order to start creating something, I have to at list create my own brief. Do artists do that as well?

Looking for an answer to what the difference between the two may be, I came across this post. It suggests the following differences:

Good Art Inspires. Good Design Motivates.

Good Art Is Interpreted. Good Design Is Understood.

Good Art Is a Taste. Good Design Is an Opinion.

Good Art Is a Talent. Good Design Is a Skill.

Good Art Sends a Different Message to Everyone.

Good Design Sends the Same Message to Everyone.

I find these statements to be quite frustrating. I can’t agree with any of the statements regarding design. For example, I don’t think that good design is a skill versus talent. If that was true, every designer that had practice would have been a top designer. Also, I believe great designs have another layer to them – not just the layer someone can understand, but also one that someone can interpret. Does that mean it is art?

What I appreciated about the post is that it does not claim to know the answer, but merely to share a hypothesis.

I’m left with trying to make more sense of this, and I should probably sit down for a good conversation with an artist one day. Any volunteers?


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