Hi there and welcome to my portfolio! My name is Kirsten Bolender and I am a visual designer from California.

Social Links

Designers vs. Artists

Designers are not Artists

“I am a designer.” When people ask me what my profession is, I often give them this short but, in my opinion, precise answer. Over the years, however, I have found that this term is often misinterpreted, especially by people, who are less familiar with this professional field. It’s not uncommon for many non-designers to pigeonhole us designers as artists. The reason for this might be that the term design, like art, is associated with creativity, aesthetics and inventiveness.

But can these terms, design and art, really be used interchangeably? In my opinion there is only one clear answer to that question: No! For many, the difference between these two professions would be minor, but in fact it feeds prejudices that are already existing in this area, why many designers have to work even harder to establish a proper reputation. Let me say in advance that even this article may not draw a clear line between these two terms.

However, it is my goal to give a brief but concise overview of the major differences between design and art and to shed some light on the confusion. First, let’s dive into the terminology of design and art. It is important to note that there are no ultimate definitions because both terms have a long history and cover a wide range of matters.

What is Art?

According to the Oxford dictionary Art is “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination”. The Britannica Dictionary describes art as “something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings”. 

Simplified, it can be said that people use the form of art to express, for example, their feelings, ideas or visions.

What is Design?

The term design ultimately derives from the latin word ‘designare’ which in other word means to designate, determine or plan. In italian language ‘disegnare’ means to ‘draw’ or to ‘designate’. Simply put, if we use the term design, we indicate to the planning process that is needed to create an object, process, or system. The term can be used equally as a verb to describe the way in which we act or decide to achieve the desired result. 

Design is earmarked.

Both of these definitions clarify that artists as well as designers create with the goal to communicate something to society. However, if we look at the definitions more closely, it becomes clear that design is subject to a conscious decision-making process, which is always linked to certain parameters, a task, a goal or a problem. Design is therefore more a form of problem solving. Designers can never fully unfold or design in a self-serving way. Designers respond to the needs of the society of their time. Well known design approaches such as design thinking or human-centered design process help them to create in a human-centered way to meet the needs of the market. 

Artists, on the other hand, are mostly free to decide what purpose their artwork should fulfil. Art does not always have to be purpose-bound and does not have to address external factors or requirements. This does not mean that art must always be random, since there are certain steps that must be followed as well. It also does not mean that artists have no intention behind their works. However, artists have rather the requirement to stimulate our senses and emotions with their works or intend to make us think.

Design is commercial.

Designers should always act in the sense of the economy and the market to ensure their existence. It should not be underestimated that money can obviously be made with art as well and can therefore also take on capitalistic characteristics. Nevertheless, money is usually not what artists pursue in the first place. Their purpose is to create unique pieces of art that come with their own character and are one of a kind. And as we know, money usually follows great talent. Designers, on the other hand, create artefacts with the goal of reproducing them, which is why they tend to work more in the commercial sector. Designers also have the goal of creating something unique. But for them it’s more about innovation. The design object should be desirable and feasible. And according to the innovation framework by Isaac Jeffries, it must also be profitable.

Design is functional.

Design thrives to be more functional than art. This assumption can be made by taking a closer look at the ten statements made by Dieter Rams about good design. The German industrial designer who was a significant contributor to the functionalist design movement, laid the base for the”Form follows Function” approach in design. In his opinion and according to his statements, good design must be innovative, usable and understandable. In other words, design has to not only look good but it needs to be functional. Art work can just exist, it does not have to have utilitarian purposes. Although it also depends on the context, the artist’s purpose and how it is perceived by the viewer.

Although both fields, design and art, are equally important, I hope that this article will help more designers and non-designers to be able to distinguish more between the terms and especially the professional fields.