Are Art and Design Really so Different?'s Hero Image

Are Art and Design Really so Different?

As any designer or artist will tell you, design and art are two very different beasts. From an outside perspective they might look extremely similar, but to the trained eye they’re practically polar opposites. In fact, the notion that they’re different is so pervasive that it permeates just about every conversation that I’ve had with my fellow designers.

In the classroom, professors and students engage in lively debates about how art is not design and vice versa. Online there is article after article detailing their differences. Heck, I’ve even heard this debate at my local coffee shop on a Sunday morning. And with the rising importance of user-centered design, and user experience generally, the divide between art and design continues to grow farther apart.

I must admit that for a long time I not only believed that this divide was necessary, I actively championed it to the point that I became dismissive of art. Being immersed in the design community, designing every day and embracing user research and testing, it was easy for me to start thinking that design was superior to art. Thoughts like “design solves problems so what’s the point of art” frequently swirled through my mind, and the only thing that kept my designs aesthetically pleasing was my understanding that it would make them more usable.

Fortunately, I recently received a wake up call - funny enough, in the form of art - and realized that maybe, just maybe, art and design have more in common than I had always believed. As I strolled the grounds of Austin’s Laguna Gloria and looked at all of the sculptures on display, it dawned on me that art and design are both fundamentally about communication. In fact, if you think even bigger than art and design, you could even say that everything we do as humans is about communication. Mathematics, physics, government, marketing, accounting, parenting, and the rest of the human experience is about using a specialized set of tools and contexts to communicate to ourselves and each other.

With this in mind, the notion that art and design exist as dichotomic entities is absolutely ludicrous. They are more related than many folks in the design community realize or care to admit because they both exist as means of communication. Therefore, instead of siloing art and design into two separate worlds we should embrace each other. We should challenge our status quo and recognize that through the emotion and beauty of art we can create better design and with the rigor and process of design we can produce better art. And why stop here? Let’s continue to make a conscious effort to include the methods of communication we’ve learned in our other interests into our designs.

To wrap this all up, I could wax philosophical about how as I grow older and wiser, more of these revelations will happen and I’ll be a better designer because of it. But in reality, I think that I’d still be the old me if I hadn’t taken that stroll through the statue garden. The art scattered around communicated this idea to me, and it excites me to no end to think about harnessing that same ability to provoke thought in our own designs.

Nick Basile's Profile Picture

Nick Basile

Lead UI/UX Engineer

Nick is the Lead UI/UX Engineer at Metric Loop. He lives in Austin, TX and spends his free time taking long strolls on South Lamar. If you see him, be sure to honk.