The debate on what differentiates art from design is complex and has been going on for many years. Artists and designers share knowledge on the usual topics, but the reasons for giving light to their work are completely different.

Some designers consider themselves artists, but few artists consider themselves designers. So what exactly is the difference between art and design? In this article we will try to draw boundaries between the two professions, well aware that it is not a definitive guide but a starting point for further reflections.

Art inspires, while design motivates

Perhaps the main difference between the two is their purpose. Typically, the creation of a work of art starts from nothing, from a blank canvas. A work of art originates from a vision, an opinion or a feeling that the artist has within him. They create art to share that feeling with others, to ensure that the viewer can identify with it, learn from it and be inspired by it.

The most renowned and successful works of art are those that have established a strong emotional connection with the public.

At the same time, when a designer begins the creation of a new piece, she almost always has a fixed starting point, whether it is a message, an image, an idea or an action. The designer’s job is not to create something new, but to communicate something that already exists, for a purpose.

This purpose is almost always to motivate the viewer to do something: buy a product, use a service, visit a place, learn some information. The most successful designs are those that manage to convey the message efficiently and convince the viewer to take the action.

Art is interpreted, design is understood

Another difference between art and design is the way in which the message is perceived by the respective audience. Although the artist’s intention is to convey an opinion or a feeling, and there are original artwork for sale these do not necessarily have a single meaning. Art reaches people on different levels, because it is interpreted in different ways, and none of them are wrong.

Design is the complete opposite, many argue that if a design can be interpreted, then it has failed in its purpose. The main purpose of the design is to communicate a message and to motivate the viewer to do something.

If a design communicates a different message to what was originally intended, and the audience does something accordingly to that message, then it has not achieved its purpose. In good design work, the exact message you want to convey is received by the public.

If a piece of art is done well it is a matter of taste, if a design is done well it is an opinion.

For a modern art enthusiast, a contemporary work can be the pinnacle of artistic expression, while for an admirer of traditional art it may seem like an insult. This brings us back to interpretation, but taste is strictly about what a person likes and dislikes, more than the message perceived by a work. Design has an element of taste, but the difference between good design and bad design is more a matter of opinion. Good design can be efficient even if it is not to one’s taste, if it achieves the goal of being understood and motivating the viewer.

Art is mainly talent while design is mainly skill

Very often, an artist has a natural ability, from a young age the artist has a passion for his art and develops his skills. But the true value of the artist is talent, or natural ability. Good artists certainly have a profound skill, but skill without talent is of little use.

Design, on the other hand, is a skill that can truly be taught and learned. You don’t need to be a great artist to be a great designer, you just need to be able to achieve your goal with design. Some of the most respected designers in the world are known for their minimalist style, they don’t use many colors or textures, but they pay great attention to size, element placement and spacing, all of which can be learned.

Good art sends a different message, good design sends the same message

Here we return to the second point, but it is a fundamental point. Many designers consider themselves artists because they create something visually appealing, something they would be proud to hang on the wall and admire.

But a visual composition with the aim of fulfilling a specific purpose or communicating a specific message, however beautiful to look at, is not art, but a form of communication. Few artists consider themselves designers because they seem to understand the difference better. Artists do not create their works to sell products or promote services, they just make art ad a personal need to express feelings beyond a specific scope or commercial reason.