Anthony Coggine
Anthony Coggine

The debate surrounding whether design corresponds to art has been waging for a long time, ever since digital design rose to the forefront of app and website development in the mid-2000’s.

Designers have always straddled a line between art, technical skill and juggling responsibilities between the needs of a user and a business. Artists walk a similar line between their artistic vision, their own ability with their chosen medium and a desire to connect with their audience.

But how similar are art and design really? In the past few years, it seems that a consensus has been reached: design is not art, and to associate the two together is a mistake. I believe that consensus is wrong.

I know I’m in the minority when I say this, but I think art and design are the same thing, and I think I can prove it to you. Sure, they may be different professions, but they share a lot of commonality, so much in fact that I propose they are two sides of the same coin. Let me illustrate this concept with three points:

The origins of art and design

Both art and design can be considered acts of translation. Artists attempt to translate ideas and emotions into a physical form, and designers translate a business’s needs and a user’s goals into one cohesive design. In both cases, there’s the intangible ideal, the ambitious thought, and there’s the reality, the constraints of the market and the medium.

It’s the job of both the artist and the designer to create that ideal, but to also account for the limits of reality and to work around those constraints. Despite the idea that art is created within and design without, in fact, both processes start by grasping an issue and finding a way to articulate it in the real world.

The process to completion

Any designer worth their salt will tell you that great design is a process of iteration. You sketch an idea — maybe on a napkin when inspiration strikes at a local restaurant — then you take it to the computer, prototype it, test it and redesign until it meets the needs of both the business and the consumer. Art is no different, often beginning in sketching, then to outlining a canvas in pencil, to introducing paints or oils, if we take painting as a specific example, with each step allowing the artist to correct previous mistakes.

There are exceptions to this, such as Jackson Pollock, who didn’t engage in the same iterative process and whose paintings embrace mistakes and chaos, but there are exceptions to design too, in which a designer has one great idea that informs their design for the rest of the project and survives the iterative process. In the same way that a painter will mix and adjust colors and continually paint on a canvas until they achieve what they are looking for, so too do designers rework their designs until they find the needed solution for their business.

The end result and emotional connection

With both art and design, there’s an end goal of creating something that fits the market. “Art for art’s sake” exists, but most artists can’t sustain a living with such a mentality, and instead play to their strengths and create art that will sell, which distinguishes itself from other art. Designers too work to create something that fits into whatever industry their design is for.

In both cases, the success of art and design is dependent on the consumer emotionally connecting with the end product. Indeed, emotion is crucial to the design process, and creating emotional sustainability in branding and product design is a core part of successful design. When it comes to art, if a consumer doesn’t feel something when looking at an artist’s work, then that art is effectively a failure. In this way, art and design achieve the same thing, even if the resulting emotions differ.

These three points reveal the similarities between art and design across the entire process. Sure, art focuses more on provoking ideas in people, and design focuses on usability and problem solving for users, but the process to reach each goal isn’t different.

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Anthony Coggine is a HR professional turned business writer. He has been covering a range of topics including training, HR, recruiting and cryptocurrency news.