02 March 2022

12 Mins Read



Design vs Art

Over the past few years, the conversations around design and art have gotten deeper and more intertwined. While the two concepts keep gaining ground within society, the question of what differentiates design from art hovers constantly.

In this article, Sarpomah Boakye, David Ofiare, Ariyike Adetimehin, and Morenike Olusanya attempt to explain how art differs from design, their roles, and their collective influence on today’s society.

School of Athens

What is Art? What is Design?

While defining the terms, they all agreed on one key element—that Art is chiefly a form of expression while Design is primarily targeted at problem-solving. To Sarpomah, Design is a specification of a process, referring to requirements to be satisfied and thus conditions to be met for them to solve a problem while Art is the creative and emotional expression of mental imagery. David also shares similar sentiment on the definition of Design. He rules that Design is simply problem-solving. For every design task, the designer comes in as an external element (in most cases) to throw light to rather dark situations or to make dim ones better, through visual communication. On the other hand, he looks at Art on a higher level, which is human expression. Art for him is not subject to debate or criticism; the Artist can choose to close their ears to feedback.

Ariyike and Morenike also share similar sentiments on what Art is; expression for aesthetic purposes. Morenike also goes ahead to rule that defining or putting art in a box is almost impossible because it is present in so many forms; from paintings to music, to dance. So, art is very subjective and we cannot classify art in one way, because it’s so many things.

Are art and design different?

David opines that indeed they are, for the simple reason that Art is more prestigious (which he offers as a personal opinion), because the artist is King and has a ‘throne.’ “You cannot unseat him.”

Sarpomah however gives a different perspective. Asserting that while Art and Design are separate ideas, they still share common mediums. Both art and design are meant to communicate. Art communicates indirectly while design communicates directly. Both require a medium (stone, paint, electronic screen) to become obvious. But beyond the medium of expression, they do not share any similarities. According to him;

“Design is focused on achieving solutions with measurable results whereas art is more concerned with expressing ideas through emotions that may have more than one sense. Art does not have a set of standard rules whereas design does. Art is something you make, it’s not necessarily just something you look at but to perceive and have a thought about what has been created, in other words, Art usually asks questions. Art is created to provoke thought and emotions in the consumer to be appreciated.”

Art provokes Emotions

Do the opinions people have about the “Design vs Art” debate affect how they do their work?

For Morenike, she agrees that this perception affects how she views her work. She says;

“I was a designer for 3 years of my life and I studied design in school. While I wouldn’t say design is harder than art, we can say it is more technical and complicated and it requires a more defined thought process because the design is always for a purpose. Meanwhile, art is not always for a purpose; you can create art just for the sake of creating art. So, when I was in school when people referred to my design works as art, it made me feel some sort of way because it is not the same.”

David has a rather direct answer to this, citing feedback as a major determinant of this. For him, opinions on design should always affect how the Designer works, because feedback is very important in communication, which is what design aims to provide. While for art? Nobody wants your feedback, except the artiste wants to involve you. 

Sarpomah explains that a variety of reasons affect this, including time and the actual designer or artist. For him; 

“Art forms have always been created to communicate important messages and to inspire people to act and think. Before humankind learned to read, we depended solely on word of mouth or visual symbols to express meanings and to learn something. This is not a new idea.

Audiences have always been varied. Mostly different, defined by different social and geographic perceptions/constraints and whether or not they shared or share similar sets of meanings. With increased communication between groups may come increasingly different levels of literacy and social diversity within and the awareness of this between societies, as well as a possible increased social interaction between societies, hopefully, humans can learn to respect one another’s differences. Design is very personal and individual, it’s a good thing too because it would be awful if every company’s website looked the same. We’ve seen a big shift in design as businesses have moved away from busy, colorful pages full of content in favor of lots of whitespaces, layout design, text alignment, simple messaging, and pages that are elegant, functional, and direct.

So basically, art is used to communicate different messages within different contexts. Art forms continue to communicate to people but it does so in a varied way to a potentially wider mix of diverse audiences. Making art for a specific audience requires that the art-makers think of their audience when they create. The human experience is not massive or unilinear (in the sense of traveling from simple to complex), Different views of the world are expressed in the process of making art to different audiences. Not everyone ‘gets it’ at the same time”

Design for Problem Solving

Ariyike Adetimehin espouses that it does. She adds this

 “I would like to think that it does cause your opinion of how things work. When I create art, I am typically doing stuff like illustration, I have a personal illustration account where I put up glimpses of thought that I had during my day or crazy things I am thinking in my head and then I just try to put it down. For me, I don’t put too much thought into it. So sometimes, I have some very off-brand things there but at that particular moment, that was what was in my head, that was what I was thinking about and that is what I want to share with people. Design is different because when I design, it tends to be a bit more structured, I follow a process, I take time to read more about what people are doing, what are the new things that people are designing particularly in my field of product design. So, it affects how I do my work in that way but I can’t speak for other people cause I am not in their heads.”

Which came first? Design or Art?

For this question, everyone had a similar standpoint. That Art came first. 

Sarpomah offers an academic explanation of the history of art. According to him, we understand that Art came first; the first real drawings and paintings were those created by Cro-Magnon man 30000 years ago on cave walls and that the first real sculptures and clay models were those of Upper Paleolithic Eurasia. Art started with the cavemen as they were living in the prehistoric era, the cavemen started with paintings of animals on their walls in the caves, especially when they go hunting, as to what they see out there. They come back and draw/decorate/engrave on the walls of their caves.

“Graphic design proper began after the invention of the printing press in 1440, but the roots of visual communication stretch back to caveman times. Subjom animals to hand imprints to events like hunting, and they’ve been found all over the world (Australia, Spain, Indonesia, France, Argentina, just to name a few). Historians debate the fine details as to who these were meant to communicate with (whether each other or their gods), but one clear thing is, right from tone clear thing played a knack for communicating with visuals.”

Morenike also shares a similar sentiment with Sarpomah, citing that she believes that art came first and then the design was a gradual offshoot after people realized that art could also solve communication problems as opposed to just providing a means of expression and aesthetics

What role do they both play in today’s world?

Ariyike thinks that for different situations and contexts, both art and design have their uses and are important for a variety of reasons. To her, design is very very important in creating societies and systems that work for the people they are being designed for; whether it be in education, in the design of major cities, governments, and down to the creation of solutions like applications and even Industrial Design. And then, art to her is more relevant on the expressive side. An outlet to let go and express emotions and feelings per time. She says this; 

“For me, design ultimately is utilitarian. Its purpose is to ensure that whatever solution is being created, in whatever way, whatever kind of solution it is, whether it is something abstract or tangible, that that solution serves the people it is being created for and helps them achieve that goal effectively, in the most effective way possible. Good design makes sure that people use solutions that have been created for them in a very ubiquitous manner, they don’t have to think too much about it. And then, art is more of a means of expression, it is an outlet for letting go of emotions and thoughts and bringing people together, creating common ground for sharing ideas and stuff like that in the way that music does or the way that art that pushes you to think, when I say art I mean like paintings and stuff like that. I think that is the role that art plays, bringing  people together and helping them find a common ground.”

For Sarpomah, art and design have three major roles in our society today; economic value, cultural promotion, and fostering learning and innovation. He adds that from a cultural standpoint, strong art education can give young people an appreciation of why art matters, where it comes from, and where it fits in a wider social, historical and political context. As well as being an enjoyable and pleasurable subject to study, art gives students an understanding of the world, and themselves, by looking at what’s been expressed by others before them. While providing that cultural appreciation, art and design are skills that are transferable to every other subject on the school curriculum, and critically, are necessary for a wide array of jobs. He adds that it’s a misnomer to believe that children (and adults) are either ‘scientific’ or ‘artistic’ (for instance). Art and design have a central role in the pursuit of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects, encouraging innovation, analysis, and evaluation – skills that are undoubtedly valuable in school, and well beyond into the workplace.

Morenike has this to say on the roles of design and art;

“Design solves communication problems. I feel like design is a very important part of this world and it is everything. And it is evolving very quickly. I think they both play very very important roles. Design (more communication and solving role). Art (more expression and aesthetics roles and therapeutic roles as well)”

UX Wireframes

Does this argument matter?

David has a firm stance and says this argument matters because he “thinks people need to understand the differences, to know where to draw the line.”

Ariyike and Morenike however have a different perspective, citing that the argument isn’t very important. For Ariyike, they are both important for different things and she thinks the argument is a waste of time. 

She adds; 

“There are different situations where you are making art and that is what you are doing and then there are situations where you are designing and that is what you are doing and both are necessary. I don’t think the argument is important.”

CrunchTalksDearDesignerDesigners in Nigeria

Other Posts

DearDesigner Icon

Join Our Community

DearDesigner Icon