The Difference Between Art and Design

By Raymond Stone on August 31, 2019

This article is also on Medium.

Art communicates and design solves problems. If you read just one sentence, the opening sentence to this article defines the broad differences between art and design. However, art can also solve problems and design can also communicate. In fact, I would argue that both art and design both communicate and solve problems. But to reiterate: art primarily exists to communicate and design primarily exists to problem solve. Okay—enough of the repetition.

Before continuing I will go on a tangent this paragraph to say that ten minutes before writing this I had no intention of covering this topic. However, I've committed to writing monthly articles related to creativity, and due to creative block I have yet to write anything for the month of August 2019 as it nears its conclusion. When I get creative block I return to the basics. Returning to basics during a period of creative block has resulted in generic topics for my latest YouTube videos (video) as well as a generic topic for this article. Now back to the main topic.

Art tells stories, always about the artist but often about the world in which the artist lives. A painting from any period of time provides the viewer a window into the artist's mind. The painting also contains artifacts that provide the viewer a window into the nature of the world in which the painting came into existence. Lastly, the painting also reveals a part of the viewer's mind since the viewer will not interpret the painting exactly how another viewer interprets the painting. So while creatives utilize art to communicate, art acts as a form of documentation to solve the problem of immortalizing both the inner and outer worlds of the artist. Art enables those worlds to last forever in the abstract.

Design provides solutions to problems, both in the form of a process and a final product. As a process design enables creators to dissect, diagnose, and document a solution to a problem. As a final product design defines the optimal tool in which the user seeking a solution to a problem can effectively solve it. A social media app contains interactive elements that enable the user to communicate with a network of people potentially much wider than the user previously had access to in the pre-social media world. Each of those interactive elements contain unique messages and clues directing the user to different areas of the application. So while creatives utilize design to solve problems, design acts as a form of communication to assist users in solving their unique problems.

Art communicates more effectively than design, but design communicates. Design solves problems more effectively than art, but art solves problems.

Photo: Batman 1989 drawing from my art sketchbook (2018).


Raymond Stone
BA in Art Practice, UC Berkeley
User Experience Designer

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