The Differences between Art and Design

One of my biggest pet peeves as a designer is I am often confused by others as being an artist. The more I am recognized as an artist as opposed to a designer, the more I started to question myself about what a designer is. I decided to do some digging and find out for myself how to design differentiates itself from art. This has been a widely debated subject amongst the design community, although there are a lot of overlapping aspects in both fields, at their core, I believe they are entirely different.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Design is Art. Art is Design.

From a fundamental standpoint, I can see that there are many similarities between the two fields. Both Art and Design are a means to communicate ideas. The concept of aesthetics is very much used by both fields to exaggerate their “voice.”

The Core Difference

To better understand the two, I went and looked at their basic definitions, From the Oxford Dictionary:

Photo by Mateo Abrahan on Unsplash

Art is defined as:

“the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power”

Photo by Mateo Abrahan on Unsplash

Design is defined as:

“Purpose or planning that exists behind an action, fact, or object.”


The primary goal of art is to induce an emotion, whereas the primary purpose of design is to cause an action.

Design is Problem Solving

Design is the process of finding solutions to problems, taking into account all the factors involved in the challenge. I think that this is a major differentiating factor from art. From a workflow standpoint, art is relatively open-ended, meaning that it can start from nothing and turn into anything. In contrast, design begins and ends, with one thing in mind, and that is trying to solve a problem. Design focuses on the market in general and art has a more personal connection with the subject

“We have always thought about design as being so much more than just the way something looks. It’s the whole thing: the way something works on so many different levels. Ultimately, of course, design defines so much of our experience.”

Jony Ive

What do you think?

Now one can argue that artists can solve problems as well, but how does a painting solve a problem?

I am by no means an expert on defining what art is and what is not, and as an industrial designer, I have a bias on this topic for obvious reasons. Though, I would love to hear from those of you on the other side of the coin.

I’ll leave you with this quote from an article I came across during my research, by Miklos Philips:

“How do we decide what is art and what is design, and why is the relationship between the two so fractured? Is it the difference between what is functional (design) and what is non-functional (art) that creates the dissension? Is a Noguchi coffee table or a Rennie Mackintosh chair merely a functional object, or is it art that happens to have a function? – It is not art versus design, but the unity of the two that is at the core of any superior design. In other words, good design incorporates art.”

Published by

Kevin Reglos

Product Designer

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