Both of these are chairs. One created by an artist, another by a designer.

Actually, design and art could not be more apart even if they tried.

Art creates problems.

Throughout the history there have been numerous incidents where art in its many forms was deemed problematic and was under attack by at least one group. Someone always has problems with a piece of art.

One of artist Banksy’s problems.

Modern art is attacked by traditionalists, traditional art is confronted by new-age thinkers. Paintings are destroyed because someone was offended. Artists were killed because they poked where they shouldn’t have poked.

Design solves problems.

Design as a process observes a certain situation, a certain problem, and addresses it with a solution. Design helps us in our lives by speeding things up, by removing friction between us and the end result we want to achieve. Design makes us safer — it is good design that created seat-belts and airbags, not art. Design keeps us warm, design keeps us fed.

Art is interpretative.

When an observer looks at a piece of art, or when some piece of art is being manipulated it is up to the person to interpret what the artist meant by it. In this interpretation it is not uncommon that different people come to different conclusions what that piece of art is representing. Art requires thinking and repetitive observation.

Design is unanimous.

Every user of a design piece has to come to the same conclusion as to what that piece is about. There should be no conflicting thoughts between two users. Design is supposed to require (almost) no thinking, it should be intuitive from the very first time users connect with that design piece.

Art is exploration.

Wonderful pieces of art and whole new artistic epochs were created as a result of exploration. Artists do have phases in which they iterate a certain theme, but a foundation of art is exploration of new themes, new techniques and new mediums.

Design is observation and iteration.

Design on the other hand observes and exploits what it finds. For example, if an observation in web design field finds out that people would rather click on a button which physically looks like a real button — design will exploit that knowledge and create such a button. Progress in design is, for the most part, created through iteration and correction based on observing previously designed objects.

Art has no goal.

Except when commissioned, art has no clear goal. Artists spawn pieces as a direct extension of their soul with no goal other than to be observed.

Design has specific goal.

This iconic juice squeezer “Juicy Salif“ is art, not design.

Design has a goal and objects are created and refined with a specific result, a specific goal in mind. Design pieces cannot be created for design’s sake — they would be meaningless.

They would then become art.

Juicy Salif, the iconic juice squeezer is not design. Yes, it can squeeze juice, but anyone can see that there are just too many elements here which make this tool be impractical and inefficient. Where do the seeds fall? Right in the glass. Salif is art, not design.

Art is creating for the artist.

Artists as a rule create pieces of art for themselves. Artists do what they do to satisfy the urge they have, the urge to create, the urge to express their feelings and to give us a piece of their mind. Of course, some pieces of art are commissioned from the artist, but even then artists create those pieces reaching deep into their minds and into their thoughts.

Design is creating for the end user.

Designers create pieces with the end user in mind. Often the designer is not even the target for a given piece, designer might not ever actually use that object. That means that designer must put put himself in shoes of the user in order to create a good piece, leaving own ego behind. Of course, every designer has a signature marking his work, but this signature is never in conflict with the end result.


People believe there is a fine line between art and design, when in reality there is a wide, colossal, gap between art and design. This can be observed in all aspect of designer’s lives in contrast to artist’s lives. Designers have functional kitchens, easy to use objects, they simplify their life. Artists love chaos and unpredictability.

Designers follow function, artists follow form.

© Mike Rohde

However, there is something artistic about the design. The methods of visual design work are artistic. Since most people only see this outer layer of design they tend to associate design with art.

Sketching web site wireframe on a piece of paper seems like art. It seems like there is not so much difference between that and painter’s sketches for the next master piece.

What we do not see, and is not obvious, are the mental processes going on in the mind of a designer as well as all the background work, research and experience.

Design is engineering.