The Difference Between Art and Design

The subject of what separates art and design is convoluted and has been debated for a long time.

Artists and designers both create visual compositions using a shared knowledge base, but their reasons for doing so are entirely different.

Some designers consider themselves artists, but few artists consider themselves designers.

So what exactly is the difference between art and design? In this post, we’ll examine and compare some of the core principles of each craft.

This is a subject that people have strong opinions about, and I’m looking forward to reading the various points of view in the comments.

This post isn’t a definitive guide, but rather the starting point for a conversation, so let’s be open-minded!


Good Art Inspires. Good Design Motivates.

Perhaps the most fundamental difference between art and design that we can all agree on is their purposes.

Typically, the process of creating a work of art starts with nothing, a blank canvas. A work of art stems from a view or opinion or feeling that the artist holds within him or herself.

They create the art to share that feeling with others, to allow the viewers to relate to it, learn from it or be inspired by it.

The most renowned (and successful) works of art today are those that establish the strongest emotional bond between the artist and their audience.

By contrast, when a designer sets out to create a new piece, they almost always have a fixed starting point, whether a message, an image, an idea or an action.

The designer’s job isn’t to invent something new, but to communicate something that already exists, for a purpose.

That purpose is almost always to motivate the audience to do something: buy a product, use a service, visit a location, learn certain information. The most successful designs are those that most effectively communicate their message and motivate their consumers to carry out a task.


Good Art Is Interpreted. Good Design Is Understood.

Another difference between art and design is how the messages of each are interpreted by their respective audiences.

Although an artist sets out to convey a viewpoint or emotion, that is not to say that the viewpoint or emotion has a single meaning.

Art connects with people in different ways, because it’s interpreted differently.

Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa has been interpreted and discussed for many years. Just why is she smiling? Scientists say it’s an illusion created by your peripheral vision. Romantics say she is in love. Skeptics say there is no reason. None of them are wrong.

Design is the very opposite. Many will say that if a design can be “interpreted” at all, it has failed in its purpose.

The fundamental purpose of design is to communicate a message and motivate the viewer to do something.

If your design communicates a message other than the one you intended, and your viewer goes and does something based on that other message, then it has not met its requirement. With a good piece of design, the designer’s exact message is understood by the viewer.


Good Art Is a Taste. Good Design Is an Opinion.

Art is judged by opinion, and opinion is governed by taste.

To a forward-thinking modern art enthusiast, Tracey Emin’s piece “My Bed”, which was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1999, may be the height of artistic expression.

To a follower of more traditional art, it may be an insult to the medium. This goes back to our point about interpretation, but taste is more about people’s particular likes and dislikes rather than the message they take away from a piece.

Design has an element of taste, but the difference between good and bad design is largely a matter of opinion.

A good piece of design can still be successful without being to your taste. If it accomplishes its objective of being understood and motivates people to do something, then whether it’s good or not is a matter of opinion.

We could go on discussing this particular point, but hopefully the underlying principle is clear.


Good Art Is a Talent. Good Design Is a Skill.

What about the creator’s abilities?

More often than not, an artist has natural ability. Of course, from a young age, the artist grows up drawing, painting, sculpting and developing their abilities.

But the true value of an artist is in the talent (or natural ability) they are born with. There is some overlap here: good artists certainly have skill, but artistic skill without talent is, arguably, worthless.

Design, though, is really a skill that is taught and learned. You do not have to be a great artist to be a great designer; you just have to be able to achieve the objectives of design.

Some of the most respected designers in the world are best known for their minimalist styles. They don’t use much color or texture, but they pay great attention to size, positioning, and spacing, all of which can be learned without innate talent.


Good Art Sends a Different Message to Everyone. Good Design Sends the Same Message to Everyone.

This really falls under the second point about interpretation and understanding. But if you take only one thing away from this article, take this point.

Many designers consider themselves artists because they create something visually attractive, something they would be proud for people to hang on a wall and admire.

But a visual composition intended to accomplish a specific task or communicate a particular message, no matter how beautiful, is not art. It is a form of communication, simply a window to the message it contains.

Few artists call themselves designers because they seem to better understand the difference. Artists do not create their work to sell a product or promote a service. They create it solely as a means of self-expression, so that it can be viewed and appreciated by others. The message, if we can even call it that, is not a fact but a feeling.


What Do You Think?

Depending on how you look at it, the difference between art and design can be clear-cut or hazy. The two certainly overlap, but art is more personal, evoking strong reactions in those who connect with the subject.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Craig Elimeliah, who covered this subject in a fantastic article for AIGA, which I discovered during my research for this post.

“I do not claim to be an expert on defining what art is and what it is not, but I do know that if we look at the differences between art and design we will see a very clear line drawn between the two.

An engineer, if given the exact co-ordinates to place different colored pixels in specific places, could render a beautiful website or ad simply by following instructions; most design projects have a detailed set of instructions and most design is based on current trends and influences.

An artist, on the other hand, could never be given any specific instructions in creating a new chaotic and unique masterpiece because his emotions and soul is dictating the movement of his hands and the impulses for the usage of the medium.

No art director is going to yell at an artist for producing something completely unique because that is what makes an artist an artist and not a designer.”


Further Reading and Sources


If you would like large copies of the images used in this post, to use as desktop wallpaper or for any projects, you can download the, below.


What’s your opinion? Do you think we can draw clearer distinctions between art and design? Or do you think they overlap too much to be truly different? 


  • Dragonant

    This is great I am both an artist and graphic Designer it is true in a way but very good post.

    • Elsep

      u can’t say “i’m an artist”. People will call u “an artist” if your work makes them doing so.
      On the opposite u can say “i’m a designer” because it is a much professionnal activity.
      Being an artist means nothing. Everybody’s an artist, but not everybody listens to his artistics feelings, and some hide them so well they dont even know they got some. Relearn to hear your heart.

      • Nika

        Anybody can learn to be a designer, especially now with the computer programs; but nobody can learn to be an artist. To be an artist you have to have a talent and it has to be inside you. You are right, the problem is that many people do not know how to show artistic feelings. It is hard to do it.

      • Sai

        You need POTENTIAL to be a good artist. People don’t get “good” over night, they work at it for years. I hate it when people mix the two. :/

  • Fil

    I always thought that art doesn’t have to have a purpose and design does….but in my oppinion in a real world situation as long as the intended message is put across then really it is what it is.

    • dayanithi

      you are right buddy!

  • Ryan Gensel

    I think you make valid points, but the section that is most relevant to my experience is below:

    “Few artists call themselves designers because they seem to better understand the difference. Artists do not create their work to sell a product or promote a service. They create it solely as a means of self-expression, so that it can be viewed and appreciated by others. The message, if we can even call it that, is not a fact but a feeling.”

    Art is Patron-ed, Design is Purchased. Art existed before capitalism, before design was “bought”, things were merely improvements or innovations made by intelligent people or practical users. Art is an invention made by an individual, for individual interpretation.

    I think a new question could be is collaborative Art a Design?

    Ryan Gensel

  • Sayz

    The clear difference between art and design as the article mentioned, is to make your “design goal” works… but if we’re talking the beauty inside the art and design, there are many things we should consider. Designer always have their own judgement whether an design is effectively send their message to the audience, but when you ask the designer to define the beauty itself, just like art, each has their own taste.

    Talking about the goal of art and design, they are definitely different.
    But when you define the beauty and aesthetic of an art and design,
    each designer/artist has their own unique taste, and artist expressed themselves, designer expresses the brand/company/people with their unique taste. :)

    I’m only a beginner in this whole design things, but I hope this comment will share some of my insight.

  • Robert Bravery

    Excellent article.
    I am neither an artist nor a graphic designer. But I do design and develop web pages. Too many times see graphic designers try to develop web pages. All that they end up doing is showing off their great artistic and or graphic skills. Most times it has no form or function for the website.

    Why is it that Graphic designers, not all, seem do design for themselves instead of for the client.

    • Margery


      Your comment about graphic designers is rather cliche. As a graphic designer it’s my job to communicate information for my clients. That includes web sites. If it was just for “me” I wouldn’t have been in business for more than 20 years. A web site is another tool that requires the same sensibilities of information hierarchy, typography, use of color and image that is required in offline media. What I am not is a programmer/developer. I rely on experts in that field to take my design files and produce a site, just as I rely on printers to produce brochures, annual reports and the like.

      • Steve

        It is a cliche comment. But the sentiment applies to many apprentice level graphic designers.

        I’d say that most graphic designers grow out of the ‘design for me’ stage by five or seven years into it. Looking back, I experienced that stage. The one where I tried to experiment with client work by getting wild and experimental shooting for ‘ooh, I think that’s cool and others will too’. I look back at some of my stuff from 14 years ago and shudder, but some of it is still pretty cool to me:P

        The light comes on (sometimes earlier) for those in the craft at some point. Design is about skillful problem solving – not irrelevant decoration.

      • Jeff Spades

        Thank you Steve, now I know I’ll probably get through this phase :)

        I try to design for the client, but I tend to just want to create a “wow effect” design for my portfolio. You can’t show/say what “works” just by showing a design; I’ve never seen any portfolio saying: “When I redesigned this page/website, conversion rate went up 30%”. You can just show your knowledge about spacing, alignement, grid-based design, typography and use of color… Or maybe it’s just what I think, whilst great designers checking my portfolio can instantly judge what works and what doesn’t.

    • Katrina Miller

      I am both an artist, and a graphic designer, and a web designer. And I agree with you.

      I think though, that the key to design, is organizing information. Something (say a product, but it could be an idea, or a law or anything) and as a designer it’s my job to make that accessible, and understood (and I mean, at a core, feel it in your bones kind of way) by the “consumer”. In that same way, it’s NOT that different than programing. Graphic design, you are making information accessible to a viewer, a person, web development, you are making information accessible to a browser, search engine, etc. Really the same rules of organizing information apply. I think when done well, Graphic Design, and Web Development blend together very well, the skills are the same, once you realize it’s not about “making things pretty”.

      Why do they design for them selves? Because they REALLY are artists, who just want to try and make a living at it. :P

    • Bippin Da

      I completely agree with you. Since past 6 years I have been working with user-experience design companies in India and we are a group of designers belive in usable websites.

      It means a lot to the users and we study users’ requirements, mental model and behavior of the user to complete a task. Then we come up with wireframes of the tasks and upon approval of the wireframes we treat them visually with brand guidelines, and appropriate visual design strategy.

      I am also a graphic designer but I call myself a user-experience-designer.

      I hope your concern is addressed.

      Please feel free to get in touch…

    • media designer

      Designers that design for themselves are not business people. If it’s about business, you always design for the client. I’m a graphic designer that builds websites with the client in mind. If I want a fancy, artsy site, i’ll design it for myself. If I want to work, I will consult, write a creative brief and impress the client, not me.

      Design without a client is art. Art without a client is indulgence.

  • Elio

    Sorry, but none of the points stated here are currently true. The points about art might have been true in the 1890-1910, but they no longer apply. I suggest you to read Umberto Eco, Tomás Maldonado, Jordi Llovet or Marshall McLuhan. Patrick Charadeaux and Roland Barthes are also essential. Without a strong foundation, a chat about the difference between art and design is just a coffee chat.
    I will just say that art and design have only one point in common: they both need to continually reinvent themselves to keep their lead position. They need to do this to stand out from the rest, otherwise they would be lost in the text of each of their fields.
    Sorry if I am a bit rude, but our profession as designers lacks of a solid theorical foundation and we really need to address that issue so nobody else thinks about design as something “artistical”, something that merely draws things here and there, a whimsical expression of a designer.

    • chapolito

      I’m going to have to agree, your starting assumptions and limited definitions of art, artists, design and designers really paints a narrow picture. Of course, I don’t expect solid theory coming out of WDD and that’s not why I read it.

    • JohnONolan

      Thanks for your thoughts guys, I studied art history and art theory for several years. I choose not to take the same stance on it as you do. I am not ignorant to it.

    • Krystian Majewski

      Thank you! At least one sane person out there.

      The idea of “Art” that is presented here is archaic. Modern Art is more about ideas and less about craftmanship.

      The “Design” being presented here is limited to a very narrow band of functional/commercial graphic design.

      Also, I think this particular idea of “talent” being something you are born with is right out insulting.

      Here is how to fix all the captions: Replace “Art” with “Kitch” and “Design” with “Advertising”. Works much better then.

      Also, add Lens Flares and Scanlines. Because I think the “Screenshots” don’t quite use enough stale graphic design clichés. ;-)

      • Elio

        Krystian and chapolito, thanks, looks like I’m not the only one sane here.
        I will just say this: I’ve just bought a kawaii japanese fashion magazine for my wife, and I don’t understand one thing. Where’s the message? the “communication”? is it really important? no. What has been conceived as a design product in Japan is a piece of art for me. The kanjis that are supposed to be read looks like pure aesthetics to me.
        And “talent”? was Duchamp talented to sign the urinal? regarded as one of the first pieces of the art trouveè?
        Krystian, I agree with your suggestion to fix the captions, at least for this one particular article, because most of the points stated here could be kitsch or advertising.

      • Hunson

        Krystian, I do have to disagree with you. I’m a designer. I think more or less any artist will have some artistic gene in them. I don’t suggest that an artistic work is effortless, but it would additionally hard for someone who has limited art sense.

        In the other hand, I have been applying design knowledge into my work from basic design rules, by studying how color works, compositions and typography. I may come out with (good remark) designs, but I can never truly call myself an artist.

        We don’t ‘see it coming’ easier than an artist.

  • David Vera

    I agree with your post and also love the differences exposed. Because when I put different and uncommon elements to the canvas my clients love the result and think such details give wonderful perspectives of compression of the entire piece. So, mixing both spirits and devotions give me a strong position in the design field.

    “Good Art Is a Talent. Good Design Is a Skill.” Mix them!

  • Deanne

    I love this article. I paint in my spare time but am also a designer at work. They are such different things. I don’t consider any of my designs to be “art” and agree with what you say above about art being a talent and design being a skill. That is difficult, I think, for some designers to understand. They want to believe that anything they design that is attractive to the eye is also art, but if they did both they would see the difference between the two.

  • Tae

    Design is more than to transmit a message. Design is solving a problem, whatever. A house, a desktop app, a vehicle? All involve a design process.

    The art no need a problem.

    • Laura

      Maybe art creates the problem…? :)

    • Juan Viecco

      i think that product design solves a problem not graphic design.

      here we need to specify a design (graphic or ind.) to begin an interesting conversation.

      • alicia

        graphic design also solves problems. the problem being solved just isn’t a physical problem (i.e. making something more aerodynamic), it’s a problem of higher level intangibles such as messaging or reaching a client, etc.

        I’ve always considered the main difference between art and design the problem solving involved in design.

  • JKirchartz

    As I was reading this I thought to myself, “Man, that would make a great wallpaper”… when I got the the bottom of the post I squealed with glee, thanks buddy ^_^

  • Virtual Monk

    Very True.

  • Ryan D-C

    Really love the main differernces you’ve outlined. Obviously going some people will challenge them, but that’s the nature of art (& design). I’ve always thought as Design having a practical purpose, and art having a provoking purpose. But, like anything, that can be challenged too, because the line is painted sooooo thin (if at all)

    Anyway, great article John

  • Mario

    I don’t think comparing art and design is fair. Design needs a bit of talent though.

    • Aetoric Design


    • J-Bird

      I agree with Mario.

      I think to be a great designer you need to have talent. I don’t think anyone can just design great work.

      • Gen

        I took John Nolan to mean that one need not have innate “artistic” talent to be a great designer, and I agree with that. But I think one needs some kind of talent to be great at nearly anything. So, the successful designer is talented, too–but perhaps the talent is in the ability to communicate, or to see things easily from diverse viewers’ perspectives, and not necessarily a talent similar to the artist’s talent.

        Last night I was talking with a composer who did not accept that contemporary “classical” music generally doesn’t sound as engaging to the layperson’s ear as do, say, The Beatles. This composer has loads of innate talent…in music. Obviously he’s a kind of artist. But if he were in charge of designing radio programming that needed to appeal to diverse listeners, obviously he’d be a flop! He totally lacked the ability to objectively assess the way other people *subjectively* assess something–which in itself is a talent that great designers possess.

      • Mario

        I meant that. Thanks for all the replies.

    • Carolyn

      I agree: design requires talent.

      Design *usually* involves some skill, but just because you have “the skills” doesn’t mean you know how to use them to create good design. I think “design is a skill” is a direct result of design being so computer-driven today. For those of us who started designing using boards and paste-up (sounds ancient, but this applies to anyone in their mid to late thirties and up), it’s easier to see how the concepts of design and skill are separate.

      A designer also doesn’t have to possess all of the skills that are executed in a final piece (examples: an illustration, flash animation, etc.). I know and collaborate with many creative directors who don’t possess the skills themselves, but masterfully bring elements together = talent. :)

  • JohnONolan

    Thanks for all of the kind comments so far guys – some great additional points and opinions from everyone!

  • STPo

    Reminds me this (old) ALA article :

  • Lam Nguyen

    True, that’s true. I really love this article!

  • xRommelx

    thank you for the wallpapers

  • MattD1980

    Great post! This statement particularly caught my attention : “a visual composition intended to accomplish a specific task or communicate a particular message, no matter how beautiful, is not art” I’m always cautious when it comes to statements like those. I think that often the motivation behind art _is_ “to accomplish a specific task” AND “communicate a particular message.” Picasso’s Guernica to name one.

    That said, well done, your article made quite a few of us fall in lengthy conversations. Really enjoyed your post, thanks!

  • David Platt

    Art is subjective.
    Design is objective.

    (I do both) :)

  • Jaap Rood

    Artists can make work for themselves, they can express their own opinion through an art work. Great design is made by market demand. It’s the same with cars: you can build the fastest, best handling super car ever, but if there’s no demand for it it’ll turn out to be a flop. I think that one of the most important skills for a designer is to think the performance criteria of the end user and client, instead of their own.

    • Laura

      One of the things I’ve learnt as a designer – which kinda stems from the point you’ve made here – is that like an artist, to create a ‘great’ piece of design, you have to put your heart and soul into it. The difference then comes at the end; the artist stays very emotionally attached to the piece of work, while the designer has to learn to let go…to let their little piece of work fly the nest and enter into the big, bad world, for better or for worse, to receive all sorts of criticism!

  • Mars

    that was a great enlightenment

  • Doug C.

    I love the artwork used in this article, especially the first one. He-he, yeah I though the same thing too when I got to the end.

  • csselite

    Hi there,

    Very good article. It is something that should be as first chapter of ultimate book of web design.
    I’d like to translate it to my native language – can I ?

    Regards – Matt.

    • Walter

      Yes, as long as you link back to the original.


      • csselite

        OK – cheers. I’ll do it

      • csselite

        Hi Walter.

        Done – thank you.

  • Tim Stringer

    Love the “Artwork” accompanying this article has a really fresh theme to it and the colors just pop!

    • JohnONolan

      Thanks Tim! Hope that you find some use for them :)

  • J. Pedro Ribeiro

    I used to discuss this kind of subject with some designer friends and we could never find a conclusion. Those are some great points you pointed out there!

  • Kutunga

    Good Design is the perfect balance between form and function, Art, we still don’t know what that means and we will be disscussing it until the end of time, and as they said on this post: they both need to re-invent themselves constantly.

  • h1brd

    Great facts, great article and thx for the extra freebie in the end, good work :)
    The opinions expressed in the wallpapers are exactly right!

    • Walter

      John did a great job with this article and the wallpapers are right on target!

  • sahil

    just the kind of content i was looking for! this is awesome. mind if use this as a base for my talk at a designcamp here in pune? i’d be glad to mention your name on the ppt. lemme know. thanks. :)

    • JohnONolan

      Hi Sahil, provided that’s ok with Walter then please do – if you could video the talk I would absolutely love to see it! Feel free to shoot me an email on john [at]

    • Walter

      Sure, that’d be ok

  • GX

    Excellent article

  • Todd

    Like some of the other commenters, I’m new to the (graphic) design game.

    I especially appreciate the point about good design being understood. As a former engineer, I appreciate the challenge of finding simplicity and elegance to communicate without ambiguity.

    Tae also adds a good point about solving a problem. Nice.

  • Imad Sid

    what if we mixed art with design will be crazy !!
    great post , thanks .

  • nick healy

    To me the main difference between design and art has been having a client. I think any graphic designer will agree with me, that a finished piece of design is never fully your own. The account team, your creative director, the client, the client’s wife, etc, have all had a hand in what the final piece looks like and the message that is being said. Sometimes this works for the better and your original design is improved upon and sometimes it is for the worse…much worse.

    For my full time job I am a graphic designer and I like to purse creating art in my free time. When creating a piece of art, it is all me. I may consider opinions of friends and family that I show the work in progress to, but it is up to me to make the piece however I want. I create art (paint, draw, take photos, whatever) for me. This is not to say that my art does not have a message. Exceptional art to me is always trying to communicate something to the viewer. But it is mine and mine alone, if someone after wants to buy it or is moved to do something because of the piece great. If not, no biggie.

    Being able to do whatever I want to at home keeps me sane at work when I am just having one of those days where the client wants to put exclamation points all over the place, have their logo take up over 50% of the ad, or I have to change the overall color scheme of an entire brochure because someone on the board of directors doesn’t like the color purple.

  • Matt

    Reminds me of a recent quote from Mad Men. Don Draper, Creative Director for a major advertising company tells one of his Creative staff:

    “You’re not an artist — you solve problems”

    Pretty close to the world of web design, wouldn’t you say?

    • JohnONolan

      Great quote Matt, I absolutely love Mad Men, but I’ve only just started watching it so I don’t think I’ve come across that quote yet! :) I’ll keep an ear out for it!

  • Nate Eagle

    Weird: I wrote a post on this very subject today.

    I think this post explores our intuitions about the way the terms “art” and “design” are used very well: it says a lot of true things about our general feelings about these things. But, honestly, I don’t think most or even any of these distinctions hold up very well on close examination.

    “…the true value of an artist is in the talent (or natural ability) they are born with. There is some overlap here: good artists certainly have skill, but artistic skill without talent is, arguably, worthless.”

    I don’t think this holds up at all, largely because the concept of talent turns out to have no concept whatsoever. Great artists tend to have thousands of hours of practice under their belts, just like people who are great at anything else, like fencing, or bowling, or writing poetry. Why do we veer toward the term “art” with poetry, but not the other two? To me, it looks like the content is the main difference.

    The only difference that holds up between art and design, as the terms are used today, is that in art an artist’s relationship to his own intention is more abstract. Perhaps she is, herself, exploring her intent in an amorphous, undirected way. Whereas in design, the purpose tends to be more concrete: the message is KNOWN in a less abstract way, whether it come from the designer herself or from a client or from somewhere else.

    I just don’t think it’s productive to try to separate the terms art and design this way: it unnecessarily separates two activities that are ultimately, fundamentally the same. By letting the two terms naturally collide and merge into each other, each becomes more liberated and powerful. When we try to keep them in separate ghettos, we get incomprehensible “art pour l’art” and soulless corporate design.

    • JohnONolan

      Hi Nate, I agree with you in theory, but as I find myself saying rather a lot lately: In practice, if we all did what we agreed with in theory, then the world would be an entirely impractical place.

      I think that in practice, these points hold up very well. If you want to drill down a conceptual level, then sure, you’ll find holes in any statement if you look hard enough.

    • Cat

      Well put.

      • Cat

        Really liked this part: By letting the two terms naturally collide and merge into each other, each becomes more liberated and powerful.

  • Rae Anik

    Thank you for sharing…I totally agree! Thanks for the wallpaper :)

  • Liberal Arts

    The difference between art and design is simply *intent.*

    We may use the same words to describe them both, but they are miles apart. Art and design may each be described as beautiful, memorable, shocking or refreshing, but what makes the difference between the 2 is the intent of their creation.

    Art, may indeed, as one commenter pointed out, have a specific message to get across, but communicating an idea to our social consciousness is hardly marketing.

    Design may use beautiful images and superb talent to get across the message, but if it does not sell the product, is has failed, and thus it can hardly be called art.

    The intent of art is to communicate a need or an emotion of the human experience.

    The intent of design is to create a need or emotion that can only be filled by purchasing the product being sold.

    I believe the definition is very clear cut,and, once again, it comes back to the intent of the person creating the art and the person paid to create the design.

  • Edwin Vargas Cortés

    Excellent and inspirational post!, Would be interesting to see a follow-up dealing with a mix of both fields, for example: Design becoming art or vice-versa. Anyway Both the text and the images are very well conceibed and presented


    • JohnONolan

      I love this idea Edwin, I might explore it myself and see how far it can be taken! :)

      • Edwin Vargas Cortés

        hehehe you’re welcome;)

  • JohnONolan

    Thanks again for all these comments everyone, I’ve left threaded replies to many of you! Really appreciate you taking the time to give me your thoughts and opinions.

  • Peripheral kid

    Great article. I like the use of the design to illustrate your point. I think art and design can overlap sometimes though.

  • Phil Matthews

    Really interesting article, John. I love the quote:

    “Good Art Sends a Different Message to Everyone.
    Good Design Sends the Same Message to Everyone.”

    Really sums it up for me. Got that as my desktop wallpaper now! :)

  • Aaron

    I agree with the basic premise of this post. What we consider “art” is generally very relative and expressive, while we call “design” things that are very purposeful and communicate something specific.

    However the two do get blurred together quite a bit. For instance, what about being commissioned to create an art portrait? You are communicating something that already exists (a person, their appearance, their personality) and it really could fit all the descriptions above of a designer better than an artist. But no question that it’s art.

  • wizely

    Good article John – always going to be a subjective one because that’s art for you. Each point can be agreed and disagreed with to different degrees depending on personal opinion and taste, which again is what art is about.
    For me what defines the difference between art and design is simply ‘function’. Art doesn’t have to solve a problem but design better had or it fails.
    Funny how often ‘communication’ and the ‘message’ get mentioned in design but hardly ever the discipline of actually creating the message or communicating it!

  • Cheri

    I don’t think I understand one of the points stated here… Are you saying that if someone isn’t born with the ability to draw, then they’re useless as an artist? What’s wrong with teaching yourself how to draw and making your own unique style? o_O Maybe I’m way off base, who knows.

    And by this definition, I guess I’m considered an artist. Heh. Even though I don’t have “natural” abilities.

    Just as a thought, no one is born with the ability to photoshop. It’s taught. Does that make them less of an artist?

    Also, I absolutely adore the artwork in this piece. :D

  • Quixotequest

    Art is a cannibal. Design is a thief.

    • Gen

      I sure hope I don’t ever run into Art *or* Design in a darkened alley!

  • Ken Peters

    I must respectfully and strongly disagree with each of the definitions set forth in your post, as well as the logic that lead you to them.

    Design is a fine art. It is the most ubiquitous of the fine arts. To say that great design can be achieved via mere mechanical aptitude and doesn’t require “talent” is astonishingly short-sighted. Without a doubt, training is required, but knowing how to use Photoshop doesn’t make somebody a designer anymore than knowing how to scramble an egg makes them a chef. If you’re not bringing authentic talent to the equation – with anything – you’re merely executing mechanics. You can do that with painting as well as with graphic design.

    Art is a reflection of the artist. Self expression, at it’s core, is relatively easy, because there are absolutely no rules other than those that are self-imposed. Design must be a reflection of the client, or the client’s message. Design takes the designer out of self and not only requires him or her to see something from the client perspective, but from the consumer perspective. Self expression takes a back seat to communication and message. There are distinct parameters and rules and criteria and budget issues, etc. A designer’s hands are, often and to a great extent, tied. A designer must be intimately immersed in the project while at the same time remotely detached to avoid undo personal inflection. That’s a lot harder.

    To assert that it should not be open to interpretation is flatly wrong. We all see things through the lens of our varying experiences and backgrounds. The designer must take that into consideration, whereas the painter or sculptor is free to disregard such limitations. Design cannot control perception or outcome, it can only influence them. The goal of design is to influence, not to determine. Therefore, to say that design fails if it does not elicit the precise desired outcome simply misses the point entirely and represents a fundamental misunderstanding of visual communication.

    Design is not “opinion”. Opinion is a perception based on an individual’s understanding or lack of understanding. Design influences opinion.

    “Fine art”, as I assume you are defining it in your post, was commercialized and commodified long before design was defined or established as a practice. Design is not mere superfluous commercial dressing nor the red-headed stepchild of the traditional fine arts. Design is the animating principle of the creative process. Therefore, design is the animating principle of art. You can’t have art without design.

    • Benek Lisefski

      Thanks Ken for your thoughts. Your comment is far more enlightening than the original article. I tend to agree with you about the distinction between art and design. I’ve always felt that design is more a specialized form of art with a stronger purpose and intent. But most of the people I talk to don’t really see it that way.

      This is a really good discussion, and it’s not surprising that there are many different viewpoints because so much of this is quite conceptual and abstract. However, I’m sure we can all agree on one thing: both Art and Design use the same fundamental principles of aesthetics: shape, line, color, contrast, space, etc. etc. At the most fundamental level of the design process they are one and the same. Which means that the “talent” and “skill” (again, quite vague and arguable terms) are both required in equal measure for each discipline. As said above, it’s the purpose or intent that separates them more than anything.

      • Ken Peters

        Many thanks for your kind feedback on my comments. Sorry for this delayed response but I’ve only recently come back to visit this post :)

    • http://@XquiziteLizard Elizabeth Hall

      I absolutely agree with you. To seperate art and design in such a cut and dried way is foolish.
      You can’t have art without design, so true.
      We only need look at – Tiffany, Frank Lloyd Wright, William Morris and the Bauhaus just to name a few.
      Kudos to your well written response to this article.

      • Ken Peters

        Thank you for your kind feedback on my comments. Sorry for the delayed response but I haven’t been keeping up with this post :)

    • JohnONolan

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Ken, your views would be what I would call extremely elitist. There will always be at least one art critic somewhere who will vehemently disagree with anyone who tries to explain or define any part of the creative process. I stand by all of the points which I made in the original article, you may see that as “short sighted” – I see it as practical.

  • Craig Elimeliah

    Excellent article and even better visualizations!!! When I first started exploring this topic I had pages upon pages of discourse and was forced to truncate the study for the web. This is a topic that can be enjoyed and discussed for years and years… I will throw out a new question along these lines… now that “digital” is the new design medium, is an interface designer an artist?

  • L Dash

    I look at it from another perspective that design is a subset of Art. I really don’t agree that all art is started from the blank canvas or nothinginess. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man is based on human anatomy. I would say Design is art with a purpose to convey a message that can be understood by all. It would be hard to call a painter a designer just because he is supposed to paint a picture of a particular place. If he is asked to a paint a place he would surely not be starting from nothing. Just my opinion

  • Daquan Wright

    “Talent is actually the self-discovery and acknowledgment that you possess the interest and motivation needed to become exceptional in a specific area.”

    Someone who can draw flat out says she got good through self-discovery, not that she was a natural born genius so I’m going to have to reject the talent segment of the article.

    I do find that art is often about self-discovery and self-expression, while design is often tied to business and marketing. Both art require creativity and experimentation however to perfect your style. Without experimenting you are stuck with a static quality of work.

    • Tyler

      Very true.

  • xozan

    Excellent way of differentiating art and design. But i call design is a part of art, one’s talent of mix different kinda skill.
    Any Great posting!

  • Johnson Koh

    This is very enlightening. Many at times, I am required to produce a good Design decorated with good Art. Gathering comments from clients is tough sometimes. I should let them read this article =)

  • Vampire Heart

    Nice article!

  • Vivek Dani

    Amazing Article. Very true what you have said… it’s perfect way to separate the designers from Artists…

    An Artist with natural talent can become a great designer… but vise-versa is very difficult (I’m not saying impossible)…

    I am a Graphic Designer not an Artist but yes my dad is an natural Artist, he is a fine artist who does landscape paintings.

    There is a difference between mine & his designs, he never go for perfection
    (i.e. detailing in mm in case of print design) but goes for look & feel,
    I first go for perfection with the look…

    Good Art Is a Talent. Good Design Is a Skill.

  • Preston Lee

    This is the best way I’ve heard it put so far. Nice post and thanks!

  • Yoosuf

    its really an awesom post and thanks for the WallPapers, actually really simple and elegent WallPapers!

  • Elizabeth Hall

    I don’t agree with the statement – Good Art Is a Talent. Good Design Is a Skill.
    I know plenty of designers that have been to good designs schools and still aren’t good designers.
    I think to be a very good designer you still need talent, skill is not enough.
    I believe art and design cross over a lot more than your post allows for.
    For instance – Tiffany, Lloyd Wright, William Morris, the Bauhaus just to mention a few.

  • michael hepher

    The article makes some interesting points, but any discussion that draws a line between one creative process and another is sure to fall short by establishing a set of what are essentially guidelines to let you know if a person is an artist or a designer. I feel that the nuances between the two disciplines are more subtle. All art can be broken down to a series of decisions, however minute, that result in a beautiful work of art. The painter may make these with more intuition, the designer may use more grids and formulas, but at the root they are all following a creative process to a work that has purpose. Our process, whether artist or designer should draw us together, and we should hold each other, and ourselves, to high standards of creativity regardless of chosen medium.

  • Mike

    One of the better articles in a long time! And I’m using one of the wallpapers now!

  • cypherbox

    Very nice article. Well explained. Thanks for sharing.

  • Annemieke

    Maybe design is just the next step in the development of human expression. When art is the expression of an individual, than design is taking into account the reaction of others to that.

    Not just getting the expression out, but expression mixed with function and using feedback to create better work. At best without loosing yourself, but just building upon the reaction of others.

    Maybe art is more abstract and without inbuild function, while function is in the essence of design.

    Just some thoughts that come to mind while reading this great article and the very interesting comments.

  • RoaldA

    Great article, thanks! :)


    Design has well-defined rules in relation to art. The first uses the second to gain respect. The latter uses the former to assert themselves even more. nice post. Interesting

  • Doug C.

    I don’t get too cerebral about these things. I love to draw, so I draw. I love to design, so I design. It’s like Tolkien said about his writing, “I don’t care if it has any inner message or meaning; I simply do it for my own satisfaction.”

    • Cat

      I totally agree!

  • AskmeifIcare

    Good Art Inspires. Good Design Motivates.

    No, a designer can see great design and be inspired, or even hear a great song and see something or feel an inspiration. There’s no such thing as good art because its so personal and subjective.

    Good Art Is Interpreted. Good Design Is Understood.

    “Good” “art” is interpreted by those that give a shit. I tend to see art in terms of skill rather than interpretation. The Mona Lisa could have been an fuck up. Maybe Vince couldnt get the face right but yet, the “art” scholars and professors, historians and eventually art students gush over what that mouth is – smiling or serious… Im sorry, I dont give a serfs ass.

    Good Art Is a Taste. Good Design Is an Opinion.

    Wrong – Design does require taste in order to create visual interest and pleasantly, successfully present something. Art on the other hand is again, a personal thing, its truly on the eye of the beholder, again, if the beholder wants to stand there and spend time pondering it or giving it any importance. If anything Design IS important – art is NOT.

    Good Art Is a Talent. Good Design Is a Skill.

    I disagree passionatley. Skill is a talent – good art can be any type of art. For example – trash cans with wheels made of donuts or a large stone painted pink and people consider the artist “talented” – thats NOT talent. Thats bullshit.

    So then – since skill is a talent – you should be able to represent information whether visual or some other kind – accurately. Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (since you brought that up) then is a masterful representation of the artist amazing, genius talent of SKILL rather than art which does NOT require talent in general.

    Good Art Sends a Different Message to Everyone. Good Design Sends the Same Message to Everyone.

    This is probably the more accurate conclusion – yes as I stated above, art is subjective and personal to each individual thus it can be interpreted differently by each individual if presented the art alone… may depend on how intricate or obvious that “art” piece is.

    Good design is a great universal logo or symbol(s), system of graphics can be designed for anyone anywhere to use or interpret as information. Thats the essence of good design. It does NOT need art and its purpose is more important and critical.

    • JohnONolan

      Thanks for your feedback, though none of what you said was really constructive in any way. Perhaps next time you could attempt to add some value to the conversation instead of just a mindless rant?

    • gailwright

      I was really enjoying reading these posts until I got to yours – you know if had only been pleasant in your response it would have been ok – how about keeping the profanity on the doorstep.

      I have been doing online classes for four years majoring in Visual Communications. I have also enjoy writing, cooking, and black and white drawing which I have done since I was a child. In the 2nd – 3rd grade I remember staying after school to complete my drawings – they were not designs – they were works of art.

      In my opinion art is a talent – I have carried this talent all my life – though I have God given talent there are things I have had to learn – just as with design work.

      Talent, in my opinion is God given – skill is learned and developed.

  • Gaurav M

    Excellent post. Its a shame i dont know the difference. Now i know ;)
    And i also like the the option to download wallpaper too.

  • Doug C.

    Didn’t like that comment, eh?

  • AskmeifIcare

    Jesus… now that I take a good look at those wallpapers or, desktop pictures… your tracking is all off. Some of it is actually hard to read or unpleasant rather, to read. You did those in Illustrator right? Illustrator at times does some weird type shifting of the base line when you twist a line of type.

    So therefore – good design represents the designers use of effective implementing at the most basic level – typographical rules.

    • JohnONolan

      Glad that you came back to offer some more critiscism, but I have to let you know that your opinion doesn’t carry much (any) weight with me as you don’t seem to have the guts to leave your name, or a link back to any of your own work.

      None of the wallpapers were made with Illustrator – perhaps your expert eye isn’t quite as good as you seem to think it is?

      Either way, if you hated the article so much, why are you downloading the wallpapers to go with it? Stop being a keyboard warrior, if you think you can do a better job then send Walter an email and turn your reaction into something positive rather than all this negative bitching.

  • praveen

    That was really informative and useful article. Thanks a lot for posting.

  • Ross

    As I read this article I tended to agree with what was being said, as it seemed to add clarity to my thoughts on the subject. However, on reflection I think the distinctions are over-emphasised.

    Perhaps there is a continuum between raw unschooled ‘talent’-based expression of emotion on one side, to skilled, mechanical and scientific execution of a design for some logical purpose on the other. But I don’t think the extremes are representative of the norm.

    Some points to consider:

    – So called ‘talent’ CAN be learnt! Perhaps you have read about emotional intelligence, surprisingly it is a skill that can easily be developed.

    – No art is without purpose, even if that purpose is self-expression. Good art will achieve it’s purpose (even if it is unspoken), and the best art will have a good purpose, even if the motivation for it’s creation was emotion based.

    – The guiding principle of design is “form follows function”. This does not mean that function (or purpose) dictates form. There is very generous space for artistic expressions after the constraints of ‘function’ have been met. (Bad design is where the artistic expressions overrides the constraints of function.)

    Also, I think ‘skill’ is essential for producing good art. Take Picasso for example: his later works almost have a child-like simplicity to them, but this belies the training and skill that Picasso possessed. If you look at his early works you will see the keen skills he had already developed (I find his sketches particularly impressive. Here is a drawing he had done at age 12 )

    • JohnONolan

      Hi Ross, thanks for your feedback, and I agree with you – I did emphasise some points strongly, but that was in order to convey their core principles. Had the points been hazy, some people might not have understood the core principles at all ;)

  • Gijs

    In a Fully Designed World, Art is Violence.

  • Web 2.0

    That’s a really detailed article, thanks for the wallpapers :)

  • seeal

    nice post really good ¡¡

  • wien

    nice post

  • Nelson

    Very good article, and you folks always publish very interesting topics,
    Congratulations for that…


  • Michel

    Design, though, is really a skill that is taught and learned. You do not have to be a great artist to be a great designer; you just have to be able to achieve the objectives of design.

    Some of the most respected designers in the world are best known for their minimalist styles. They don’t use much color or texture, but they pay great attention to size, positioning, and spacing, all of which can be learned without innate talent.

    I totally disagree with this statement!

    You can have all the skills, bells & whistles, and still be a bad designer.

    You can have great talent, and be a very poor artist — imagine a violinist, who is a genius, but plays the violin 20 minutes a day instead of the normal 5-6 hours. You will never go to a concert to hear such an “artist”, as he/she won’t be able to play anything!

    So this statement is totally wrong, in its essence. It’s like saying “Artists have talent, designers don’t. Designers need no talent, artists need no skills.”!

    Apart from that, interesting article… :-)

    • JohnONolan

      Hi Michel,

      It is a fact that you can program the rules of effective design into a computer, and it can create something that works. It’s not foolproof, and it’s not perfect, and it doesn’t have any creativity – but it works.

      It is also a fact that you can be an artist even if you have absolutely no skill – take many of the impressionist artists around at the moment and their paint splatters, that requires no skill at all ;)

      • Michel

        Hello, John,

        “” It is a fact that you can program the rules of effective design into a computer, and it can create something that works. It’s not foolproof, and it’s not perfect, and it doesn’t have any creativity – but it works. “”

        Well, this is no serious argument. I can program the rules of music, too, and then the computer will ‘create’ some music for me — but will it match the music of Bach, Mozart, Tchaikovsky? I doubt that. It will not be perfect, but it will ‘work’, in a sort… but it’ll be cold and soulless…

        You can be a good designer (in theory) but your designs can be soulless, too.

        As to impressionists — let’s not forget Picasso could draw like a god, but then he decided not to and jumped into cubism… ;-)

  • Scott Radcliff

    I wouldn’t call myself a designer. I am not horrible at design I am just competent enough to be mediocre. That being said, I agree with most points here. Although, I would argue that some talent is required to be a good designer. A good designer needs to have a “good eye” for one.

    I can study about the history of graphic design all I want to, and know the principles of good design like the back of my hand, but if I can’t assemble the various elements tastefully, I can’t design.

    Also, in my opinion, websites that are artistic versus well designed are usually impractical. While there are outstanding visually, they serve no purpose, and usually fail from a business point of view.

  • arnchom

    yeah…..i agree. very interesting

  • Bob Bohle

    I like the comparisons. I wrote about this very idea in 2006. I agree with most of what you say. I think the main difference is the functional nature of design. Once something has a function, it is designed. If there is no function, it is art.

    From the article, “Design, unlike art, can be good or bad”:

    “First, all designs must attain a certain level of functional competency before they can be deemed good or even acceptable. Going back to our chair example, it must be able to function at least minimally at holding up a bent human form to even be called a chair. If you can’t sit on it, it isn’t a chair. In a sense, this functional aspect of design is integral to any concept and in fact arises instantly with the observation and naming of it. In other words, just by saying or even thinking chair or fan or ad or shoe or building, the functional nature of the item is in play. Everyone can have the ability to judge a design as good or bad on its functional characteristics.

    Judgment of the aesthetic side of design is where it begins to get interesting.”

  • Michael Savage

    Great article John! Love the wallpapers!

  • Jeff

    Anyone else tired of the notion that designers don’t need talent? It’s insulting to those of us who have it.

    Great example:
    “IDEO is very likely the best known and most respected design consultancy on earth. And while hundreds of thousands of words have been penned in attempts to sort out how they got there, we’re putting our money on a simple explanation: they hire astonishing talent.”

    • JohnONolan

      Hi Jeff, I assume from your comment that you are part of “those of us who have it” – so on that basis could you define for me what qualities of talent you posses that relate to your design work?

  • Maicon Sobczak

    Beautiful post.

  • rvr

    sorry, i came here via smashing mag, and wrote my comment thinking i was still on the site. my apologies.

    • rvr

      grr. you approved this but not my original comment?

  • naani

    wow its awesome …
    amazing article …

  • Tyler

    I agree with most of this article, but there are a few areas in which there is great overlap and one of those areas is sequential art or (nerd alert) comic art. The artist in that industry are extremely talented artists but still need that skill of design because there is that purpose in mind and they have to make a story flow seamlessly and direct the viewer to see in a specific sequence. Essentially there is a story to tell. At the same time each individual panel has an enormous amount of detail and individual interpretation to discover.

    Basically each panel of sequential art is 80% art and 20% design, the whole page of sequential art is 80% design and 20% art.

  • Peter

    I love Nohlan’s work, but these are bad. The bold emphasis on “art” and “design” is wrong and pointless, emphasis should be on the adjective, or nowhere.

  • Taliesin

    My favorite definition of design is “creativity with constraints”. Whereas artists are free to express themselves with few limitations (other than the cost of their media) designers (and illustrators) have to be creative within a ton of constraints. For example, a web designer is often constrained by HTML and technology (browsers, resolutions, etc.), time, budget, corporate graphic standards, art directors, client’s likes and dislikes, usability concerns, politics, business goals, etc. Such fettered creativity is a challenge and more liken to a craft or a skill than an art. Artists sometimes suffer a few of these constraints, but seldom all of them—or even half of them. Artists work on realizing their own, internal vision. Designers mostly work on realizing someone else’s.

    • Ian Storm Taylor

      I completely disagree with your premises.

      Designers are “constrained” by certain things, but that is the nature of design, and not an inconvenient afterthought. Design is about solving a problem, so obviously there are certain goals that need to be met. If a designer was free of all constraints, he would no longer be performing design.

      Designers don’t realize other people’s visions, they make are information and interface architects. They create experiences.

  • Lisa Ellwood

    Completely agree with posts 34 and 45. Im an artist/designer and strongly disagree with the notion that designers are not artists. You cant have art without design and you also cant have design without art. A commission or exhibition for an artist is quite often no different to a designer working on a project for a client. Fine art is as much a commodity as graphic design is. As Nate Eagle says in post 34 “I just don’t think it’s productive to try to separate the terms art and design this way: it unnecessarily separates two activities that are ultimately, fundamentally the same. By letting the two terms naturally collide and merge into each other, each becomes more liberated and powerful. When we try to keep them in separate ghettos, we get incomprehensible “art pour l’art” and soulless corporate design.”

    • JohnONolan

      “A commission or exhibition for an artist is quite often no different to a designer working on a project for a client.”

      It is 100% different, and I will tell you why in just 6 words:

      Artists don’t get asked for revisions.

      • Gen

        I really appreciated your article, and agreed with it in most ways. But you’re wrong on this point, and Lisa is correct. Artists do get asked for revisions. Just not every artist and not on every work. One might consider an artist fortunate who has never been asked for a revision, but it’s more likely that such an artist simply is not often commissioned or employed. :-)

        If an artist is lucky enough to have another source of income, or to be selling un-commissioned art, then no revisions get requested. But many artists–not least among them the great Renaissance artists–have worked for wealthy patrons–think the Medici family, the Catholic Church, or in our times, a big publishing house. And when the boss requires an artistic revision, a revision is often made.

      • Ian Storm Taylor

        I really wish your retorts to comments were actually constructive, seeing as you chastise your readers for it constantly.

  • http://redstage,com/magento Redstage Magento

    Thanks for the wallpapers and the outstanding article.

  • Redstage Magento

    I’m going to have to share this article. It would be a shame if I didn’t.

  • scarlett

    The difference between art and design has been an ongoing talk for ages between my friends and I, these are brilliant points, and are good points to consider over the difference. Many thanks for this article!

  • Adam

    Good and interesting post. I think you did a good job sort of breaking it down.

  • Ajay

    Now I see its true ! nice

  • Aske

    I had been waiting for a post like this… And it’s a very interesting debate. Your article did spark some doubts though, and I decided to write one of my own.

    So for further debate or more information head to !

  • Katrina Miller

    I really enjoyed your post. And I think I agree. But, I think it should be clear that it’s “Graphic Design” you are talking about. “Design” as a whole is much larger (fashion design, interior design, architecture design, product design) and some of the lines get blurred.

    I think that the art being produced for the creator, and design being produced for the client pretty much holds true for all of them.

  • Waheed Akhtar

    very nice post and illustrated difference very beautifully.
    thanks for sharing!

  • Mark Popkes

    First off, great post! I think you provide some very valid points and definitely add to the ongoing conversation of art vs. design. Although I may not agree with everything you said, this is definitely a post worth reading.

    There is one thing I want to comment on. You mentioned, “Art connects with people in different ways, because it’s interpreted differently, ” and use the Mona Lisa as your example for that, stating that people have different interpretations for why she is smiling. No one can deny the fact that there are many opinions into why DaVinci painted her with a smile, but to say that none of those opinions are wrong is flat out WRONG in itself. It does a disservice to the artist. What was Da Vinci’s intention, purpose, or reason behind painting the Mona Lisa this way? It’s the artist’s interpretation that gives the art it’s purpose. When someone interprets it differently than the artist, then it really comes down to the fact that they don’t understand the piece, or the artist for that matter. We can pretty much thank post-modernism for this, where everyone’s interpretation is right; where everything is gray; and there is no truth.

    If an artist sets out to convey a viewpoint or emotion through a piece of art and a viewer comes along says something else about it, I’d think the artist would come back to the viewer and need to explain the purposes behind each stroke (if it were a painting) so that they can bring the viewer into the correct interpretation. Am I wrong? Unless of course the purpose is supposed to be vague and meant to create a rouse of possible interpretations. That would be different.

    But to say that all interpretations are valid. Nope. I don’t agree. I don’t buy into the whole post-modernism.

    • JohnONolan

      “Unless of course the purpose is supposed to be vague and meant to create a rouse of possible interpretations. That would be different.”

      Who says that isn’t the case with the Mona Lisa? or any other piece of art? ;)

      • Bruno

        I’m really sorry but i strongly disagree to the fact that are right or wrong when you are reading a piece of art as well as any other image. This kind of point of view is the one that keeps separating people from art. It’s the kind of speech that the upper layers of society preech. An image is not like a text that if you don’t know the code you can’t read it. An image is open to interpretation, and you’ll read it according to the tools you have, and your personal baggage. And that works for ANY kind of image, art, design, photography, architecture, fashion, ANY kind of image at all. Off couse we have archetypes and preconcepts that envolves cultural and social groups and will interfere in this process and may get a lot of people to do the same reading of an image.
        I really think people should study art of all times before starting making theoretical full of flaws speeches based on medieval thoughts. And I really hope that Mark Popkes has something like 70 years old, because it makes me enourmously sad that someone young have such a narrow vision about things. I’m sorry if I didin’t wrote this right, but english is not my mother language.

  • Grafikal

    Great article. In my opinion Art has no definite purpose or practical use. It is the result of an expression by the artist. It’s purpose varies depending on the viewer. Design on the other hand, has a definite purpose and practical use whether it is to inform, sell and idea, product or service.

  • Walter

    John has done a tremendous job with this article and I think he brought some really interesting insights to the subject of art and design.

    This topic can be very controversial and I’d like to remind everyone to please keep a healthy debate here.

    This post should help us all grow and see points of view that may be different than ours.

    You do not have to accept them, but please be respectful of other people’s opinions and points of views.


  • nate hofer

    I’d like to redesign this. Not sure this best represents good design or good typography.
    However I love the concept.

  • Matt Hill

    This article seems to be talking specifically about graphic design. It might make more sense to make that clear from the outset, otherwise some of it could be seen as misleading. Design means different things depending on context: product design, industrial design, graphic design, web design etc.

    My take? Design, with a capital ‘D’, is problem solving. Art is a feeling. Anything else is down to the individual to decide.

  • Sascha Brossmann

    Mostly agree with #6 – here’s blind people discussing colour, sorry. I know that’s harsh and I sound very paternalising, but it’s quite obvious to anybody who did at least their basic homework in that respect. Speaking of which: I’d like to add at least Nelson Goodman: ‘Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols’ and Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ to Elio’s reading list.

    NB: I would not like to discourage anybody here from thinking further about the topic, but wanting to discuss something with foundations completely lacking is simply pointless.

    @Elio: I do not agree on design lacking theoretical foundation, though. It’s body is certainly not as vast as that of art theory, but there is quite some, nonetheless (you already mentioned Maldonado yourself). One could e.g. start with the writings by the Arts & Crafts movement in England and with Muthesius and the ‘Deutscher Werkbund’ (German Work Federation) in Germany. And if you’d like to see architecture as a design discipline (which not only I definitely do), there’s definitely much more and earlier.

  • Aske

    @Sascha: I’m not sure, but maybe Elio meant that designers should make more of an effort to become familiar with these texts? In any case, I do agree with you that there is a large body of academic works out there that are relevant to the field, ranging from art history to neuroscience. Keeping up with it might be as much an inspiration source as… wherever designers draw inspiration from :)

  • dp

    it’s sad you’re trying to start/have this conversation on the internet. with your poorly chosen bullet points and obvious lack of any real knowledge of the art & design worlds, and their massive amounts of clash.

    nearly every single point you attempt to make in this article falls flat due to it’s insane generalization. “The fundamental purpose of design is to communicate a message and motivate the viewer to do something.” and art never falls into this realm? design never falls out of this realm? get real. I appreciate the attempt at having an informed and intelligent conversation about this, but it’s fairly apparent you fail at this slightly less than your readers.

    someone bring back Emigre for christ’s sake.

    • JohnONolan

      Hi DP, perhaps you could be a little more constructive and suggest specific ways in which this post could be improved? I’d be happy to take your advice on board

  • Igor Grana

    Design is not art. But the closer it gets, the better it is.

  • Elcodigodebarras

    I dont know what´s better, the post or the wallpapers; thanks for both ´cause: ” The good art is an election…the good design is a desicion” .

  • Conrad Borba

    I grew up drawing and painting but as I got older I did not keep up on my skills. My interest soon became more design related. I have always felt that having some art background has been a help to me. Would I say that it is necessary for a designer to have an art background, I would tell you no. Design is a visual skill of communication and art will always be just art, left open for interpretation.

    This article is awesome! Thanks for sharing.

  • JohnONolan

    Love those last two quotes Igor Grana and Elcodigodebarras :)

  • Carly H. Franklin

    This article is very similar to one we posted a while back, written by CFX Creative. It seems that the confusion between art and design – and the value thereof, depending on the situation – is something that continues to be prevalent in the world at large.

  • Ian Storm Taylor

    Let me start out by saying that this is a great idea for a post. I am always for sparking discussion on hard to define topics such as this. I think in the future I will have to make a similar post, if only to force myself to evaluate where I stand in the matter.

    In the meantime, I strongly disagree with most of your points. I think you fell into the trap of making hasty generalizations while writing this to keep it skim-able. I’d argue that it is silly to try and offer insightful ideas/arguments with only a subheading and a couple sentences for each point. The simplification is made even worse by the figures where you had to use even fewer words and attempted to come up with polar opposites to define the two entities.

    To make things worse, you’ve then refused to acknowledge the validity of opposition in many comments, instead calling them elitist or deconstructive. Granted, some people did not respond gently, but that must be expected when writing a post on such a controversial topic, as you acknowledged in your opening statements.

    Of course, you are already thinking that I am an elitist who might have an angry tone, but I am simply trying to show you how close minded you are being, while supposedly looking to do the exact opposite.

    I agree with another poster who said that your views on Art vs. Design seem to equate to those in the late 1800s. Your definitions of Art seem to ignore Modernism completely. Artists like Kandinsky, Mondrian, Malevich, etc. Or even less removed artists like Picasso, Braques, Monet, Seurat, etc. Unless of course you are arguing that they were not artists at all…

    “Design has an element of taste, but the difference between good and bad design is largely a matter of opinion.”
    I’m not even sure how you came to this point based on other statements you made in your article. If a design has a certain goal, as you made clear it usually does, then how can whether it is good or not be so subjective as to be “largely a matter of opinion”. If it solves the problem, is it not good design? Is that so subjective?

    “Design, though, is really a skill that is taught and learned. You do not have to be a great artist to be a great designer; you just have to be able to achieve the objectives of design.”
    I’m not sure if you’ve ever read or listened to Daniel Pink, but he argues that artistic ‘talent’ can be learned—and I tend to agree. Is talent in the arts not simply expertise with materials and design choices? aka practice? Or on the reverse side, why are some designers innately good at design? Is this not ‘talent’? I’d argue that talent and skill are simply both knowledge arrived through different means. Talent, in my opinion, is generalized as skill that is arrived without in-depth education. Skill, on the other hand, is usually seen as something that takes time to learn. The difference is whether the knowledge has been acquired , or whether it was learned through practice and teaching.

    There may be holes in my argument, but I’ll stop here for now. Just my input into the discussion.

  • Jason

    Wow, awesome read, very stimulating and free wallpapers? Loved it.

  • Rupen Sharma

    I enjoyed the read, but some how was left wondering whether this a fair comparison. I agree that the intent of art and design significantly different. But, I strongly disagree with many other statement, such as “art requires talent…”

    Per my knowledge, designing and as a matter of fact most other actions, such as cooking, require talent! If you read Blink or was it Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell, he states that to perfect a skill, a person requires many hours of practice. I think he quoted between 8000 and 10000 hours.

    Anyways, the debate continues…

  • Murid Rahhal

    Guys, you got it ALL WRONG.
    You are comparing two things that cannot be compared.
    Design IS an art.
    There are many types of Art out there: the art of talking, the art of drawing, the art of sculpting, martial arts, etc. And one of them is “the art of planning an object or a system”, which is Design.
    BTW, when you say “the purpose of design is to sell a product or a service” in one of your first lines, it means you have no idea what you’re talking about. What you say is ADVERTISING, not Design.
    Once again, DESIGN = “the art of planning an object or a system”.

    • Sarah

      this take on the subject makes the most sense to me. :)

    • moose


    • chrizoo

      design is art, but art is not always design

  • Harees Hashim

    I’m an artist as well as a designer. I appreciate the above article and at the same time I would like to give my own opinion also. I’m having a natural talent in art. When it comes to the term art I refer drawing, paintings like oil, watercolor, pastel and other media. Most of the time our own imaginations will be the theme for art. Still life, Landscapes figure drawings also the themes for art.

    When it comes to design we have to learn certain principals of using design elements. Design is not a skill we can get naturally like art. We have to learn it. But an artist can create design elements like shapes, typography and symbols. Artist can very easily become a designer.

    Today, designs are being done by using computers. Therefore, a designer should possess technical and artistic skill as well.

    Designs involve in advertising most of the time. But not art.

  • Laura

    How about:
    Everyone is a designer – much to my disgust!
    But most people wouldn’t like to attempt to being artist – their crazy ya’know!

    Some wonderful points made (both by John and in the comments) and loved the quote by Craig Elimeliah, though it does kinda undermine the creative ability of a designer by comparing their work to a set of instructions that an engineer could follow…as true as that may be.

    After all, you could write a set of instructions to follow of ‘how create a web page’ and yes it would work and do it’s job of communicating a message, but there would be no soul in it, no creative process, no pushing the boundaries and setting new trends.

    Perhaps this is where art and design overlap. Great design, like art, should have some emotion. Maybe there’s a difference between engineers and designers too?

  • Zelvac ©©

    It’s true, c’est totalement vrai (France)

  • rogerio oliveira

    but and the experimental work of a designer? that is without briefing he is unwilling to communicate anything, but what you are feeling at the moment (emotion). That would be art?
    I found cool the titles of topics:)
    sorry my english is bad :/

  • Clay

    Art is your friend.

    Design is that guy you knew in university who calls you more now that Amway is his thing.


    in my opinion art is deffiniatly diffrent in reasons for making and goal compared to design.
    tho i dont think designing is a skill and art is a talent.

    because: that you can learn to design a website, folder, buisnesscard, logo, for a client. doesnt mean that it cant come naturally as a talent. Some people just know how to draw a house for example. But if the client wants the house to be a villa. and it has to be a real luxery. they can read that from the client. And i agree with you thats a skill you can learn. but its partially talent.

    same with art. that you can express your feelings and emotions through a piece of art and let other people get inspired by it. that cant just come as a talent. you can really learn to express feelings and emotions that are diffrent from the rest and share them with the public.

    the one might relie more to talent than the other. or is harder to learn. but both are quite similiar in skill / talent i think

  • lhemeedee

    the author of this thread is quite talented .. too many blogs out there but this topic stand out…

  • Ken Peters

    “Art is an idea that has found its perfect visual expression. And design is the vehicle by which this expression is made possible. Art is a noun, and design is a noun and also a verb. Art is a product and design is a process. Design is the foundation of all the arts.” ~ Paul Rand

    • Annemieke

      Wow, this is very interesting! Especially design being a verb and a process.

      Have to go read some more about Paul Rand.

  • Bruno

    I have to comment again.
    Nobody is born a artist nor a designer, both things are developed with study.
    Art is not the ability of creating an beautiful image nor design, both are the translation of a thought into an image.
    I am not defining design ’cause it’s not my area of study, but the great question that I think most of the comments and the article does not mention and is very important to make separate things is:
    What is art?
    But this question does not make sense in the contemporary world.
    The important question is:
    When is it art?
    So it’s a matter of intention, purpose and function, as design is, both have intentions, purpose and function behind it. And the one and only function of art is not to have a function. Design can have many functions and it will always have one that is different than art’s lack of function. And that’s it.

  • Eduardo Souza

    There is indeed a great amount of things that can be discussed, but, as you said “We could go on discussing this particular point, but hopefully the underlying principle is clear” .
    Everything BUT the “Good art is a matter of talent”. This is insanely absurd. Art (drawing, painting, sculpting, whatsoever) can be taught as much as design. There are, of course, people who are naturally inclined for arts, but there are as many who are naturally inclined for design. Or engineering. Or math.
    Just as Betty Edwards says, drawing is a matter of observing things. So is painting. I may agree with you that design is more of a science, more about accuracy than art. But this art-is-talent-and-design-is-learned crap doesn’t make any sense at all.

  • Eduardo Souza

    Also, you’re bizarrely restricting art – or so it seems – in terms of modern, abstract art.
    Do remember that long before the press and photography, art was the way of communicating things. It did have a reason of being. That’s why painters like Michelangelo, Tician, Rubens, have developed such amazing ways of expressing fluidity, movement, and the fundamentals of visual composition that designers use nowadays.

  • Stefano

    There is no such thing called talent, you’re not born with it either. Talent is another word for “A lifetime passion for something that has encouraged you to practice it until you know how to do it yourself”.

    • Eduardo Souza

      Yeah, that’s what I mean.
      You are born with this passion, anyway. Or you may be conditioned to have this passion. Either way, I don’t think it’s something you choose to have.

  • Aske

    To follow up on the excellent Paul Rand quote, here’s an article than might shed some light in it. It is an analysis of a photograph (art) that seems to use purposeful design in order to create its impact:

  • Marek Chrenko

    great article!

  • David W. Wright

    Woh, 125 comments already…

    I have had this discussion, specifically about computer programming. The topic will tell you where I stood and still stand: “Programming is NOT an ART”:

    Anyway, you have nailed it in your context, Art or Design. I will be bookmarking this post for future reference.

  • Stefano

    @Eduardo in reply to your reply.

    Well that depends… There are a lot of middle-aged to old people who at their age still decide they want to learn to draw, so they take some drawing classes and improve, and depending on how much they want to improve, they might work a lot to improve, or just keep it casual. That’s “talent” right there, the latter one is doing it because he likes to scribble with a pencil on paper and doesn’t really care much if it looks good or bad. The first one will enjoy his improvement, he will inspire himself to work even harder when he sees what he can already do after a month.

    I do agree though, some people WILL improve faster than others, when you take 100 students at an art school, some will improve greatly in a year time, while others will improve less. You might call it talent that some improve faster, but in this way, talent doesn’t stop people from getting better, in this case, talent just helps people get better faster.

    When you say “Good art is talent.”, you’re basically saying; “If you don’t have talent, don’t even try, because no matter how much you practice, you’ll never be as good as others who DO have talent”, which is so wrong! It just improves the general idea of this elite group that artists are supposed to be… When they say you need talent, they imply that THEY have talent and others do not, which is arrogant and wrong.

    • Eduardo Souza

      You perfectly written down my thoughts.
      I find absurd the idea of “you have to have talent to be an artist”.
      There’s indeed some kinda empathy for the thing, as you said, for example, some will improve faster, but that’s also probably related to the perception of the world of people, the ability to control the right side of the brain (as said Betty Edwards) and stuff. But that’s also something you can learn.

  • Ryan

    “Good design is an opinion.” You started on the right track when you wrote “If it accomplishes its objective of being understood and motivates people to do something…” You should have finished it with, “then it has fulfilled its goal and should be considered a success.” Thus, good design is judged by the metric of its success factor. I think what you should have written, and perhaps you just didn’t fully flesh this idea out, is that one’s opinion is irrelevant, as design’s quality must be judged by quantifiable numbers that measure its success.

  • B

    While I commend your attempt to tackle this vast topic, I thought your section generalizations were way off and was too slanted towards design in the graphic realm (art and design are much involved in the 3D world as well – not just web/print graphic design).

    The thing I don’t hear much of is the obvious parallel of art and design to form and function. Art is more about form while design is more about function. Add economics to the mix, and most of the pieces are in place to what really distinguishes art from design.

  • Maíra Macedo

    The way I see it, Design is Art with a purpose, with the intention to solve a certain problem. Design uses Art as a tool for communication.

    • Eduardo Souza

      Thus, we can imply that you don’t believe art serves as a tool for communication?

  • MIXFIT PJ Bell

    Art and Design work together without the other a composition, a final product, a logo etc. would not have any meaning. Art and Design play hand in hand in my opinion in the fact that Design can focus more on the aspect of what will visual make sense, or in some cases not if your able to pull it off, and the Art portion can be what pulls it all together visually and make it pleasing to look at. Again this is just my opinion and when it comes to Art and Design there are so many different interpretations and the beauty of it is, well we are all right! Art and design to me don’t exactly have sole purposed definitions but cause us the artists and designers to react to the emotion that Art and Design evoke.

  • Gerard Syms

    I bookmarked this post by the end of the first point! I appreciate your point of view and do agree with what you’ve laid out here.

    Here’s my two cents: consider that in each of us, there is a natural desire to explore self-expression. This manifests in many different ways and as time passes and the child develops and matures, we may or may not see the emergence of natural ability and a natural inclination. Ability here is to my mind, being able to do better than others at the same level of development, whereas inclination to me, is more volitional, a matter of the child’s preference.

    The child may prefer to draw, color and paint, but may not be able to do it as well as the one with natural ability. So too, the one with natural ability may not be so inclined to explore and develop what God has blessed him or her with.

    We can be artists and designers at one and the same time because we can learn the techniques and develop the skills that will enable us to not only communicate a particular message but, on a more personal level, express our deepest selves regardless of the media used.

    Design can aspire to be art as it grows and develops; art can have elements of good design and still be itself.

  • Nanda Chaves

    Really good article. Congrats!

  • JJ

    The difference between and art and design is design is developed to pre-existing criteria–whether its your’s or a client’s–its art that fits a need and serves a pre-existing purpose. Art is personal and is self-expression. Simple as that.

    • Bruno

      Don’t you think artists begin producing an image from/for a purpose? Don’t artists have a criteria of their own? Art begin with a thought, as most of things should.

      • JJ

        Actually, I don’t consider art fitting a need the way you are thinking. Design is a balancing form and usage–its functional purpose is primarily important. Looking great is a plus. Whereas art is form over function. It doesn’t necessarily have to do anything. When was the last time you saw a printing or sculpture in an art gallery that did more than communicate the artists ideas or opinions and look good? But you do design the gallery it is displayed in with intention of showcasing artwork in its best light, guide traffic, etc. You design a room, car, appliance, logo, brochure or poster. They do something and are surrounded by (and in some cases restricted by) some kind of pre-existing need. Art has purpose but without any restrictions. Design is art, but art can be, but is not always design…

  • Shawn Lein

    As both an artist and designer, I’ve thought about this often. My first answer to anyone who asks is that Design must answer the question “Why?”. Art usually answers with “Why not?”

    Good design constantly and consistently has an answer for “Why?”. There’s always research and reason, logic and direction. No designer worth anything would answer the question with “becasue I felt like it.” Whereas an artist can feasibly answer every question with that without challenge. The art is a communication from within, a singular perspective, a unique undertanding… personal, not universal.

  • T McCracken

    Overall I thought the article was pretty good. I’ve been a designer for 30 years and a life-long painter. For me there IS overlap in both disciplines—and trust me they are disciplines—and at times this article draws black and white distinctions that I feel strongly do not exist. The part of the articles that states, “Good design is a skill,” I emphatically disagree with! I think this is a dangerous view that has emerged in the last decade or so, and it should not be perpetuated.

    You absolutely cannot teach a person with no artistic eye for the formal elements of art to become a “designer.” Schools perpetuate this idea to get untalented kids’ money, and crank out so-called “designers” that are not. Now we have a bunch of computer-literate people calling themselves designer, when they have no talent. With that missing piece of artistic talent, no amount of computer training is going to ever give a person the eye to be a good designer.

    As back-up for this statement you say, “Some of the most respected designers in the world are best known for their minimalist styles. They don’t use much color or texture, but they pay great attention to size, positioning, and spacing, all of which can be learned without innate talent.” You are just plain wrong, and sadly it is a slap in the face to the designers you refer to. The judgments you refer to are exactly the decisions a designer makes with an artistic eye.

    As this view has evolved and taken root, you don’t often hear of design being referred to as “Graphic Arts” any longer.
    Sad, but hey, if the schools want to take the poor untalented little suckers’ money and turn out another drone, I guess it will leave more work for the designers who actually possess talent. It’s sad that a writer about the arts thinks designers don’t have to have talent—I’m very curious to know who planted that idea in your head.

    • JJ

      Finally…someone else has said it. Minimalist design has its place, but for the most part it’s dull and uninteresting. Minimalist design in a trained artist’s hand is beautiful, but more often than not, it’s a drone… I hate minimalism because it’s such a complete cop out and a safe fallback for uninformed fearful client who is afraid of their shadow…

  • Bob

    I believe there is a difference between art and design, centered around function. Thus, art can’t be “good” or “bad.” I think many of you would enjoy this article from 2006. Excerpt:

    “Art is (or it should be) a value-free creation. It merely is. The artist had a vision of something and created a physical manifestation of that vision. Because the artist had no particular goal in mind, just the act of creation, no one truly has the right or ability to say art is good art or bad art. In that sense, what’s hanging on the fridge is equal to what’s hanging in the Louvre.

    Designs, on the other hand, can be good or bad largely because of the functional nature of the concept. Looks aside, a chair, for instance, can be well-designed or poorly designed, good or bad, in terms of its ability to function as a chair. Art has no such functional component.

    Here is where design gets interesting in a way many in the various design fields may not consider, and it brings us back to my previous point … that design is not a single concept, but a bifurcated one. I want to expand on my earlier ideas.”

  • shah

    well done,

    so simple and well written

  • ez

    Excellent article and whether your audience agrees or disagrees, just raising the issue is important in and of itself (evidence being the sheer number of posts you received).

    That being said I would add that art is also the ‘process’ itself where the end product – the ‘work’ of art – can be meaningless. Many people don’t understand this and end up eternally fixated on the finished work. For many, art is the ‘act of creating’ — its what happens before the work of art is finished. This is why so many non-artists spend inordinate amounts of time trying to understand or explain an artists work and fail miserably. If you’re creating a commissioned piece for someone that’s different (actually closer to design); but most artists create for themselves.

    Design on the other hand is all about the piece itself. How the designer got there can be meaningless to the client as long as the designed piece best communicates the intended message. I would also echo Ken Peters earlier — in many ways good design requires more talent than art. I won’t go too far on this because the concept of talent is a slippery slope and I question whether it should be argued at all. I know many designers in my field who have all the skills and knowledge but their designs are somehow lacking = do not carry a strong message.

    Thanks for taking the time to raise this issue.

  • L.A. Lyons

    Most of your points are true, except when you said that good design is a skill, not a talent. In truth good design is both. A designer who only has skill is a technician. I have worked with both and there’s a BIG difference.

  • steven

    First thank you post .I think art is more wide,design just express part of art!

  • Marko Petkovic

    Finally another human being who thinks the same way as I do. I agree with all the points you made. 95% of web designers have ego like mountain considering themselves artists and missing the main point of web design. Great article – and thanks for wallpapers!

  • Alan Hughes

    Some sculptures consider themselves artists, but few artists consider themselves sculptures.

    Design seems to have a greater purpose, like to sell a product, when “art” seems to be the purpose in itself.

  • choen

    i like this point “Good Art Sends a Different Message to Everyone. Good Design Sends the Same Message to Everyone.”

  • Xtence

    When you design a website for a client, its allways difficult to put some art in it, it depends on the client, real art is a vision from the maker, webdesign is vision of your client, though i allways try to put some extra in it, for business sometimes it’s not done, in my humble opinion design for somebody else is balancing on a thin line, make the client happy and make sure he’s getting new customers but with a design you can live with yourself but still has youre touch, that’s the goal for most who make a living out of it.

  • Kathy

    Very Interesting read. I am an artist and my daughter is an artist and graphic designer. She was very surprised at her college how few students in her design classes were artists. She had just always assumed that those studying design would also have an interest fine art. Not true. Many of the students who has very little fine art talent could come up with good designs. My daughter felt however that her fine art talent enriched her designer skills. In her job now she has often painted something to use in a layout not to mention never having to EVER use clip art. LOL.

  • aeoshy

    i really like and appreciate this article, everything is clearly explained.

  • John Palomares

    Art is a noun whereas design is a verb. Art can be interpreted in so many ways even by the same person under different circumstances. Good design is clear in content, communication and purpose. Art has too many gray areas whereas design is there in front of you to judge whether is good or not.

  • Mark Carter

    Very stimulating article with much food for thought – thanks!

    One aside – seems to me that design isn’t always about communication per se – often there’s functional concerns there too – enabling something to achieve it’s purpose well – whether that is a chair design, or a website.

  • rob

    This is one of the worst, misguided and off-axis articles to date on this website. Completely off on so many levels. The author clearly has a huge need for education on what “talent” is and where it differs from skill when it comes to design. I haven’t the care to go into detail – reverse 85+% of this post’s messages, and there you have it. Extremely poor choice to post this article. No real designer would have posted this article to their site.

    • moose

      Good art is a talent
      Good design is just a simple skill anyone can learn, because anybody could have designed a simple font like Helvetica. A three year old kid could have designed that IBM logo with that silly eye, the bee and the m. Anyone can invent augmented reality. Everybody can build a website and get the fwa site of the year award.

      It’s only design, it requires zero talent! Really, you don’t even have to think to do such things. It’s only following the rules you’ll learn at design school!


  • Joe

    I don’t fully agree with the article, although it does have several obvious and good points.

    From my experience, art is a form of communication. Design is a form of communication. Whether you’re communicating an idea to yourself, the universe or a client, you’re still trying to convey a message of some kind.

    Art and design are both similar forms of communication either through expression of your own idea or a client’s. I feel that artists or designers who strive to separate themselves from each other limit themselves in certain ways. Of course, that’s a choice made by the individual and is neither right nor wrong.

  • Online Pharmacy Store

    i see the difference now

  • moose

    This is a joke right?

    You guys just keep on painting your watercolours/Bob Ross paintings and keep on designing by the rules your teacher/boss/customer gave you! That will make ‘m happy.

  • Andy

    I recon that a lot of the arguments in this blog have centred around differentiations rather than acknowledging like, Murid Rahhal, that a design is a form of art. Jeff Koons’ giant chrome balloon dog is a feat of engineering and a great piece of industrial design, but also a landmark artwork. The artist Takashi Marukami specifically uses design programmes (like adobe illustrator) to attain a slick graphic look to his artworks – some of which are mass produced and sold through retail channels.

    Chris our writer came up with a great article ( ) based on the philosopher Gademer, who describes entering art like playing within a game. What I took from the article was that the only universal parameter we should be given in interacting with art is respect.

    When you say “But the true value of an artist is in the talent (or natural ability) they are born with” – I am almost insulted, I was a firefighter before I became an artist, any talent I had came from me working my arse off, drawing and painting in my down time. I also now work and train with a group of artists who view creativity as a high-performance sport, we stay match fit and work hard to maintain our edge.

    I think that this is why you have had “vehement” responses: The line you have drawn in the sand cuts off artists who choose graphic design as their delivery system. You can’t condemn Ken Peters as an elitist critic when he has taken the time to consider your writing and tap up a substantial response – an elitist art critic would either have ignored you or dismissed your work as naïve. Because Fine art is so often exclusive and inaccessible, conversations like this encroach on the personal pride we take in our work.

    Finally and respectfully perhaps the greatest indictment of what I am saying is to consider that what you have done could be art. Take a look at your quotes:

    “Good Art Is Interpreted. Good Design Is Understood” – your works have been both understood and interpreted.

    “Good Art Sends a Different Message to Everyone. Good Design Sends the Same Message to Everyone” – I assume you consider your wallpapers designs but the responses are testament to the fact that people have been sent different messages. Further would the Mona Lisa suddenly not become an artwork if everyone agreed on its meaning? One could just as easily say that the greatest art has everyone separately interpreting the same universal message.

    “A good piece of design can still be successful without being to your taste” The same can be said for art – who the hell wants a shark in a tank in their living room? Nobody, but Sotherbys sold it for a record amount of money because it had been put together by Damien Hirsch.

    “Good art inspires, Good design motivates” – you have offered to share your work as wallpapers – your designs don’t advertise, promote or motivate – you did this to initiate a discussion. You have sparked a pretty big blog debate with some pretty provocative quotes, which you chose to compose with a measured deliberation, whether you like it or not you expressed yourself with your designs. I don’t agree, they’re not my “taste” but hey, they got me thinking and writing – sounds like art!

  • div


  • ganesh

    great wallpapers ! nice work !

  • tariq

    i read allot about the difference between graphic design and art
    i prefer be the both just i cant see rathkov art work and called it nothing but nonsense
    its just makeng a circle and trying to tell ppeo;e that cir

  • Carlos

    Este artículo me parece bastante bueno, sobre todo porque despeja algunas dudas que tenía sobre el arte y el diseño, pero hay algo en lo que realmente no estoy de acuerdo, en especial en “Good Art Is a Talent. Good Design Is a Skill.”

    Estoy completamente seguro que tanto el artista como el diseñador tienen que tener una capacidad natural con la que nacen, y que la gran diferencia entre estos dos, es que el artista utiliza esta capacidad para saciar sus propias emociones, pero el diseñador transforma esa capacidad natural y aprende a utilizarla principalmente para comunicar, para dar mensajes que tienen objetivos muy específicos.

    Yo he visto una cantidad de diseños que cumplen perfectamente su objetivo, vistos desde la teoría, pero que no son emotivos, no generan sentimientos, no generan ese algo que posee el arte, y es allí en donde me doy cuenta que al diseñador le hacía falta esa capacidad natural y que no sirve de nada la habilidad aprendida.

  • Cat

    Good Art Is a Talent. Good Design Is a Skill.

    It depends on what you consider good – especially since it’s subjective. I think having talent by this definition can definitely make you a better designer, just as having skill can make you a better artist.

    I enjoying doing both art and design – often at the same time… my clients don’t seem to mind.

  • Fernando Lins

    It’s easy to know when an article is good or not : it comes with free wallpapers of the statements made by the author.

  • Most Interesting Ideas

    Agree. Dont mix art with design

  • oxidizzy

    Heuheu… lovely article and lovely free wallpaper. ^^

  • Rita | Creative Graphic Design

    Very interesting thought. Not all artists can do designing and not all designers are required to know art. Both fields are fun and what is important is you love what you do.

    • chrizoo

      Rita, I agree with you, 100%

  • David B Katague

    Excellent post. I am not an artist or a designer, but I love art (good or bad) and a good design. More Power to all Artists and Designers all over the world.

  • Philip Karklins

    So Are those wallpapers art or design?

    • Catharine

      I enjoyed your comment. ^_^

  • DK

    Art is a Turner at the Tate. Design is the city of London’s signage to get you there.

    Great art makes you cry. Great design makes you smile.

    Thanks for the post…


    • Gerben van Dijk

      “Great art makes you cry. Great design makes you smile.”

      Great line :D

  • Web Design Maidstone

    If only as a designer we could explain away our designs as easily as art!

    • Vivek

      heheheh, very well said, spot on…

  • R. Krieger

    I agree with most of this article, but this:

    “Design, though, is really a skill that is taught and learned. You do not have to be a great artist to be a great designer; you just have to be able to achieve the objectives of design.

    Some of the most respected designers in the world are best known for their minimalist styles. They don’t use much color or texture, but they pay great attention to size, positioning, and spacing, all of which can be learned without innate talent.”

    This seems like an excuse of those who don’t have it (talent).

    And sorry but, visually speaking, most of these wallpapers are like a bigger Adobe software logo.

  • Lukas Veverka

    I also strongly disagree. Who is artist? What is art? Who can defined that? :)

    In our time and from our point of view we see the Michalengelos painting in Sixteen Chapel as a one of the greatest piece of art. But, in time of Michelangelo was a propagation of some christian ideas. Nothing more. Just propagation. Could say a design. Or we could say a advertising. So, if is this painting advertising is not a ART?

  • Gato

    yes this is true, but they are not all that separate.
    Art is the driving force of design, that’s how design started any way.
    Art was first and Artists become designer out out necessity.

    • Ken Peters

      Design is the animating principle of the creative process. Art is a creative process. You can’t have art without first having design. Design is the foundation of everything.

      • bcr8tive

        Hmm, not focusing on just this post – it’s just the end of a long week and I’m just too tired to respond to all of the posts I felt compelled to … and then most of the time, found someone who did respond, convey my prior thoughts … which allowed me to feel almost as though I posted myself :-) (phew thank you)

        On THIS POST? My reply to …

        “You can’t have art without first having design. Design is the foundation of everything.”

        is …. “Jackson Pollock” … heard of him? That’s sort of like saying that one could “design” blood spatter. ;-)

  • giulia tarasconi

    (i’m brazilian, so i’m sorry by my english)
    i don´t agree with a lot of those definitions.
    first of all, i beleave that designers realy nead to design something to have just one interpretation, but it is not what happen
    we have to think that the consumer may use de product of diferent aways, for exemple, a chair has been design for someone sit on it, but we have to think in the possibilit of this person use this like a stair, and this product has to be able to suport it.
    the artist do not do his art with the porpouse to have a lot of interpretations, he do somethign to represet his felings, all those interpretations that apear as product by the imaginations of others.

    and for me, good desing is not an opinion, but a great criation that is capable to resolve needs. a great design is not the same as a beautiful design. design is not something to just let the things prettier, but something to let people live easier

  • romyq

    an artist designs ad’s for his/her work to sell as mutch art to make a living.(sorry)

  • r4i

    Thanks for the article on difference between art and design. I like the various pics used to get th message through.

  • Daniel

    Please mind that in 1920s, graphic design was also called “commercial art”

  • Lenin

    I am a complete beginner in the world of designing (anything) I can only read through the enormous amount of knowledge put up here and appreciate it.

    What I really want to appreciate and praise is the way all these wallpapers were designed. It is amazing (to me at least) how all of them seem to have the same direction or perspective and still every one is so different colours or style.

    Thank you once again!

  • Alex Fink

    Well, what do you know? Your article is fantastic to the point. I find it even better that you offer your pics for free download, cause people will probably steal them anyway when they’re that good :-)

  • Beatriz

    I’m mostly agree with the article. I think sometimes designers overstimate themselves (and I am a designer, but I have to coexist with designers without solid points of view and is very irritating), I mean, they are very tough criticizing other designer’s works and claiming they could made it better, but when it comes to art the have absolutely no idea and appretiate garbage. I think it happens because they judge design and art throught the same angle, or there is a confusion in the concepts or something. Anyway, this discussion will last forever and is always interesting read more about it, very good article.

  • jeprie

    I really don’t understand what you guys talkin’ about. I’m not an artist or designer just a person who love to make something nice with photoshop.

    Anyway, the picture used in here is great. Thanks for the free wallpaper.

  • Ioana

    A rather simplistic and superficial approach to a much more complicated problem, as well to the two paradigms involved art and design, don’t you think?

  • Lars

    Both good art & good design instruct.
    But beauty & taste is in the eye of the beholder.
    If good design panders – then is pandering good ?
    Are you trying to say good art is design for intellectuals or the sophisticated ?
    Are you trying to say good design, like Stalin’s propaganda used, is for the masses ?
    How long does good design have to age before those posters are hung in a museum ?

    u not think 2 long about this huh ?

    • Cat

      Well put!

  • Yo

    Excellent article, Very well expressed!

  • Crystal

    I think I followed you best in the beginning of your article and then noticed more the “difference” in our opinions as you went on. I’ve thought quite a bit about this subject as someone who has spent sometime dealing in both the “fine art” field and “graphic design.”

    I would argue that designers and artists have more in common then you have suggested. Artists, like designers are aiming to communicate, but have been offered a wider medium from which to do so and a different context of rules and origin of message.

    Also, too few people understand how largely commercial factors play into the creation of art. Tracy Emin is a great example. Who is to say that she didn’t “design” her installation with her market in mind? Most people agree that her work would not have even been noticed if it weren’t for Charles Saatchi spending £150,000 on purchasing it. Maybe the difference is that her art was created first, then her market followed?

    As an example of an alternate order, an artist friend of mine once told me that his dealer asked him to make more of his smaller-scale paintings because they sell easier. Whether he will or won’t is a question he will have to answer for himself, but is he not wrestling with the same ‘kind’ of question all designers deal with, ‘how much of my style can I get away with here while still putting dinner on the table?’ Perhaps the market for fine art is just a market that is more gracious and open-minded to personal style and taste that of the commercial design field.

    So many of us have an image in our heads of every ‘artist’ being a just like Van Gogh painting away cause he must and creating masterpieces only realized after his death. I’m not sure if my point to saying that is more that I think this world would be better if more of us labored away passionately at what we loved regardless of how it would be received, or of how very difficult and uncommon it is to be an artist liberated of all the markets demands creating work (in fact, if you ask me, what I just mentioned seems to be a strong theme in much of post-modern fine art).

    And to say good art is a talent and not a skill is simply naïve. Ability comes naturally to both the designer and the artist and also can come just as difficultly. Art with excellent techniques is the same as design with excellent technique, its aesthetics. Both will get you paid, believe me. But the best kind of art, as the best kind of design, is innovative, and that takes a great and courageous creator who understands his or her context and pushes toward innovation. Are not those great designers you mentioned famous not just for their great design rule-following, but for their innovation within their design objectives?

    That said, I respect and appreciate the discussion you started, welcome you opinions, and hope we all keep considering the questions you have raised.

  • A7mad

    Amazing article, i like it :)

  • Itsashirt T shirts

    Some designers make pure art, and I like to see art in advertising, inspiring people to be creative…

  • Simon

    Can we get over this idea that there is such a thing as natural ability, already?

    In his book Outliers, Gladwell makes a very convincing argument that ‘talent’ is nothing more than good ol’ hard work. Spend 10,000 hours doing anything and you’re going to get good at it.

    ‘Natural ability’ is nothing more than the preference towards a particular activity. You enjoy it, so you do it more. The more you do it, the better you get.

    Mozart was only great because he made music a lot from a very young age (thanks to his overbearing father, who was also happened to be one one of the best music teachers of the time).

    Good art and good design are both skills that can be learned and improved.

    • Savannah

      Please go more into detail; I have been looking and looking for someone with this train of thought. Do you believe that all art really just comes down to, is shading and line work and that its really not a gift from any “supernatural being”?

  • Veronica K

    Excellent article! I am neither an artist nor a designer, but I totally agree that art is a talent and design a skill. That is why designers are paid far less than artists. (Skills can be learned and, therefore, outsourced and offshored. Talent rarely can be offshored.)

    • Ava

      And what is your profession since you are such an expert?

      I think putting such a black and white definition on art and design is complete bull.

      Let’s open our minds people – we’re not saving lives here.

  • Jenny

    I am a graphic designer, and I have to disagree with what has been stated in this article. It is true that art does not generally serve a purpose, and that is why it is considered as such. However, if you look back at the Renaissance period… all the great artists that we saw that are artist without doubt, like Michaelangelo, Raphael, DaVinci, were commissioned to do their works of art. Each art work started with a purpose, and became master pieces, but they all had a purpose, and they were communicating religious messages in many cases. They are still considered with all its rights, works of art.

    So why can’t design become a work of art as well, —even though it has a purpose and communicates an idea,— if the designer puts its soul and mind into it to communicate a visual message, as well as a written one? I try to design like that. I want my visuals to speak for themselves. Why should I sit down and say I merely have skills to design, and that nothing else is coming out of me? Talent is about doing something different with the skills you have learned. You can be a mediocre artist or mediocre designer, and to me a mediocre designer is that one who considers him/herself just that: a designer bc he or she learned how to operate the programs, and understands that clients have the last word.

    Design has evolved, and we cannot keep looking at it as we did back in the Industrial Revolution. The world is changing, and artworks are becoming design pieces, and design pieces are becoming art works. It’s time to move on, people!

    • chrizoo

      nice one, i agreee 100%

    • Nathan

      I couldn’t agree more, I feel very limited and awkward whenever my design lecturers/teachers tell us that “we as designers” need too “dive into the mind of an artist to learn from them”, its like they are basically saying we have no talent and that we are forever living in the shadows of these “amazing” artists. It sickens me, in my university course, how they try and keep art and design so seperate, like they can both work beautifully together but we are always , in class, confinded to our little computer and expected to just follow this set out list of instructions. Both the general public and education system need to wake up and realise design HAS evolved.

    • Joanna

      Finnaly someone with brains

  • vnikey

    At a certain level of observation, I agree with what is described in this article.
    However, there is a lot of relativity to it because of one thing. In my opinion:

    One may try to distinguish between Art and Design but not between Artists and Designers.

    I am saying this because 50 years ago, artists and designers graduated from the same academies. Nowadays, there are so many various schools and programs allowing to study design, that a competition has arisen between the Academies of Fine Arts and other rather new Design schools… leading to the neverending discussion on Art vs. Design.

    But then, what is with Jugendstil and Bauhaus – Design then, Art now? or is it the other way around?

  • Brandon Bender

    In my opinion, design and art are very different. That does not mean they should however. Some of the best looking websites, homes, cars, etc are more art than a set “social design”.

    A designers job can be two things:
    1. make something the main stream media will accept.
    2. create something that is unique to the company or concept.

    Yes, most “designers” pull more to number 1, but growth and moving forward is what all this stuff is about. Create from your own head. I bet it will rock!

    Brandon Bender

  • gomez09

    Im so amazed!!!!!!!!!!

  • Glen

    I’d love to agree, because the wallpapers are so beautiful… But I do disagree in so many ways.

    This oversimplification and generalisation of two highly subjective fields doesn’t really even begin to explain what each entails. In some regards, it’s a little offensive too. I don’t think there is a strict black/white when it comes to art and design.

    In regards to the distinction between talent vs. skill – I’d advise anyone who would like to understand this to read the book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s a real eye-opener, and cites a lot of modern research to back up the connotation that talent is not necessarily something you’re simply born with.

  • Ayami

    From an industrial design point of view:

    an object that merely looks good = art (sculpture)
    an object that looks good and functions = design
    an object that merely funtions = engineering

    • Lenin

      I like that reply :)

  • Pepa

    “Art is talent, design is skill which can be learned” :D wish it were that easy :D

  • Freelance Web Developer

    At first site, there seems very little difference between Art and Design – as they are much related. I think the word that links them both is “creativity”.

  • Jack M.

    A designer makes things LOOK good, an artist makes things FEEL good.

  • nycLily

    In this article:
    “The designer’s job isn’t to invent something new, but to communicate something that already exists, for a purpose.”

    Such a sweeping statement (among many others)!
    Perhaps an example of the desire to simplify/clarify gone rather a bit too far?
    Isn’t all of art & design about communicating something preexisting–a piece of information, a feeling, or simply a desire to create or explore?

    Is it not the SPECIFICIY OF THE INTENDED FUNCTION that determines whether it is more ‘art’ or ‘design’ oriented?

    Maybe it’s not the norm, as often people are more successful in developing certain ‘niches’ or a range of expression within the grand spectrum of things, but there certainly are ‘artists’ who are also good ‘designers’ and even good ‘web designers’ amongst other things…

    In ref to the quote from the article, I would have to disagree because indeed designers do need to invent something new–maybe not always in the same ways (unless doing one’s own projects), but new ways of communicating even assigned ideas, and if/when possible adding value to them.

    Thanks for allowing comments/discussion.

  • Christopher Fitzgerald

    Something has been nagging at me for a while: If I take a movie poster, a vintage advertisement or really, any piece of design. If I take that home and frame it, hang it on the wall, it’s still design…right? But…I’m certainly not expecting either myself or anyone else who sees it to go out and buy the product advertised, after all I just like how it looks, and more than likely the product no longer exists anyway or I’ve already seen the movie. So I’m definitely -not- using the ad as it was intended, any communicative details it was designed to express give way mainly to visuals and imagery.

    The only thing that bothers me is why that is so? Given that I’ve seen examples of both art and design that go both ways, design taking cues from art and vice-versa. Though design obviously has a stricter ruleset, especially with regards to how things are placed, rules for line, form and color and a focus on how it communicates it’s ideas. But, the only really noticeable difference I can perceive is intent, is this thing for commercial purposes or personal purposes?

    That is…if something is intended to be design, can it not later then become art based purely on the viewer? Sorry if that came out a little garbled.

    Anyhoo, I did enjoy the article thoroughly even if I didn’t agree completely. :3

  • Andrew Leesman

    I am an artist first and foremost and designer second. In fact, when I started college I was a painting major and ended up changing to graphic design. I feel I have a tendency to approach design a bit different than most designers; I look at a computer as just another medium just like graphite, charcoal or acrylic paint.

    I found your article interesting. I know this subject has been the cause of debate for a long time, and I don’t know if I could specifically draw that line in the sand to say “these are the differences”. Personally, I do know what the differences are when I make something that is design and something that is art, and maybe that has a lot to do with purpose, but I don’t know if that really creates that much separation. Plus, if we have a post-modern viewpoint then it is all art.

    You use “action-based” design (design that’s purpose is to evoke a response be that purchasing a product, use a service, etc.), but what do we do with design that is not “action-based”? Logo design, identity development or infographics are a couple of examples of design that is not created with the purpose of people responding. These give a visual representation for a company or for information. Infographics specifically are designed to showcase the information through a visual representation, but that visual representation can be anything that the designer can or wants it to be.

    On the other hand, what do you do with art that was done specifically for a purpose? A lot of classical art was commissioned by patrons for their purposes. A great example of this, are a lot of the painting from the Baroque period. The Catholic Church commissioned artist to create beautiful paintings to try and draw the masses back to it after the Reformation.

    And in the same regard, what do we do with illustration? Illustrators create art, but that art may be bound to a story or something of that nature. Does an illustration cease to be art because it was created for the purpose giving a visual representation to either a story or movie?

    Looking at skill and talent, I think in both art and design both things are necessary in order to succeed. There are skills that need to be learned for both, be that the manipulation of paint, charcoal, pastels or the technical expertise it takes to carve a stone or do a bronze cast or how to use software to create a web page. Even in minimalism talent is need to be able to layout things in a manner that works.

    If I’m going to try and draw that line in the sand, I would say that designers are problem solvers. As designers we are given specific requirements and we need to find a solution that works best inside of those requirements. As artist on the other hand generally creates things because he/she needs to, and is not bound to specifically solving a problem. I too realize that there are holes in this as well.

    All-in-all, I really enjoyed your post. It obviously provokes a lot of thought and response.

  • Jordan

    Very good post, I enjoy the differences between art and design. Though I grew up an “artist,” using drawing and painting to express what I felt, I went on to study graphic design because I liked the idea of applying the knowledge of arts to a specific goal or purpose. Perhaps this was inborn—growing up, I hated when people misinterpreted my art! I got really touchy if what I was trying to convey wasn’t interpreted the way I had planned. Graphic design handles things like that, so it very much appealed to me.

    I agree with Andrew Leesman in that, at the very end, designers are problem solvers. The article mentioned that designers largely encourage and motivate the viewer to do or think a certain way, but what of product design? Architecture? Surely these involve design, and I don’t necessarily see architecture motivating me to buy something (unless it’s the house itself :P). However, they do fall under “problem solving:” this building needs to have good acoustics, so design it as such. This product must be easy to use, so design it as such.

    I find it so interesting that this sort of debate exists largely within the design community, but as you mentioned, artists seem to understand the difference intuitively.

  • Jules

    Interesting. But you forgot that the Mona Lisa was more graphic design than art back then and the now so-called “artists” worked just like graphic designers nowadays.

  • Darkened Soul

    I can only add that… Art is what other people make of it… nothing more nothing less…
    u can consider yourself an artist n be misunderstood, while after you die, a hundred years later, someone finds your work n all of a sudden it’s art…

    Not saying “art schools” are bs because they give u techniques, visions, inspiration and ideas… but then you are comparing it to what “skill” you have…

    It’s a never ending discussion though.
    I just try to create and if people like it, good, if people don’t, good as well since most of it is quite personal anyhow ;)

  • Bree

    I never really looked at it that way, I mean sure, some design can convey a message but a lot of design is really just digital art =) I’d like to think I’m an artist, I can draw and make pretty things mostly on my computer but I do pencil to paper every now and then. I’d still like to think that -Design- can mean many things whether conveying a message or being digital art but art none the less. Rarely do I see a “message” in a design unless it’s meant for advertising.

  • Nikunj

    There is thin line that separates art & design which is always necessary

  • eschweiler

    Basically, Design is skill and no creativity there just clean simple. While art is complexity and creativity there.

    I think most web works need design more than art.

    this is my opinion :D

  • Joe

    You may as well get into what separates and “Artist” and an “Illustrator”.

    …an “Illustrator” being an artist who makes stuff that’s worth looking at.

    • Jess


      “Worth”? That seems very offensive. I think you should restate your comment. Art is worth looking at, it can give, portray, express feelings that you may have never even experienced before.

  • Houssem T.

    very nice post ,i like it

  • http://none asd

    Very good art. I’m both an artist and designer and in my opinion it’s the best way to make nice projects that are both useful and looks great.

  • MyW

    I agree with you, but I think you make too much differences between “an artist” and “a designer”, a lot of designers are artists who use their skills & talents to design… I’m a webdesigner, but I do a lot of “non-purpose” pieces for myself like posters etc. (that’s how I started… drawing, then creating some stuff in photoshop then looked for a work that allows me to create…) and when I do so, I think I’m creating art… and when I’m at work, creating website mockups, I’m designing and I don’t think to be the only one =)

    “Basically, Design is skill and no creativity there just clean simple. While art is complexity and creativity there.”

    I can’t agree, You need to create in webdesign too, but you have to stay in the limits of the project and to think about what will fit with the message you want to communicate, but that don’t mean there’s no creativity =)

  • Pusparaj

    I agree with art is a talent and design is an skill. But for a good piece, talent and skill, both are needed.

  • disappoint

    I disagree with your assertion that art involves any kind of innate talent. As with design, it can be learned, and new skills can be acquired throughout one’s life. I know dozens of people who considered themselves “bad artists” until they were motivated to actually improve (usually by me, but that’s a separate issue) – now, art has become a passion for them, just as much as it is for me; a few of them have surpassed me, and I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pencil.
    Apart from that, this is a great article, and it helped me clarify my own opinions on art vs. design.

  • Pink

    Pretty nice, I like it, Thanks..

  • Smooth Booth

    Nice articles… i think you get the most creative work when you mix fine art with computer aided design. It’s good to see work with clear aristic talent at the root rather than something purely created in photoshop.

  • K

    This is too schematic of a split. Art and design can do everything that’s listed in each column here. I disagree completely with it. The difference between art and design has to do with the CLIENT:

    Design: Client
    Art: NO client

    Design: the client has a say in the final product
    Art: NO client (so no one but the artist has a say in the final product)

    Design: the client is in reality your collaborator (and an often ill-informed one)
    Art: NO client — but perhaps collaborators

    • Christopher Fitzgerald


      What do -commissioned- works of art fall under then? In that instance, the artist both has a client -and- that client will have say in the outcome of the piece (although obviously that depends on how much freedom the client is allowing the artist.)

      I guess, you’d call an artist who does commissioned works of art an illustrator, but…don’t things get a little fuzzy there? Since, illustration has even stronger ties to design than art. (At least, in the way the article present things.) But that would only really apply to illustration destined for advertisement or other pieces of graphic design.

      I guess to put is simply: I think the statement that an Art cannot or does not have a client is wrong. Nor is it all that a proving statement toward the dissimilarities between art and design.

  • Peder Norrby

    Good design soothes the mind,
    good art blows it apart!

  • Matt

    I may have a completely different approach than most as to the definition of art, however my definition of design is similar to yours. The quick summary is that art tends to ask a question, whereas design communicates an answer to one. They mirror each other in many ways and are far from mutually exclusive. The important part that is often missed in art is that art exists more specifically as art-discourse.

    The discourse that surrounds the art is the place that art exists. Outside of that area, art is inconsequential. A performance piece that is never witnessed and never spoken of loses all value. A painting that causes no debate or conversation, is merely a painting. A painting that inspires or irritates and pushes discourse between viewers picks up as art. Good and bad are subjective terms that I am not approaching here in this definition of art.

    Design on the other hand is not troubled by needing to invent the question for itself. Design has a goal, a structure and an end to accomplish. There may be an ontological question that is answered in the statement, but in the end if it designing a writing utility, anything that writes is design. If designing a book, anything that shows the story is a book.

    There are two common places that these two meet. First when something—I say something because art and design are not limited to objects—both asks a question and provides an answer at the same time. The other possibility is for an answer [design] to be profound enough to cause analysis of the question, which in pushing back at the question with the answer one as presented the question [art] again.

    These statements are rushed and I am intending to write a more thorough statement at some point. This article may have been a kickoff point for me. A wonderful article that starts asking the question.

  • Cosmin Negoita

    I totally agree with everything in this article. Good job!

  • worldobyrne

    Fundamentally, I believe design is problem solving, whereas art can be purely expressive.

  • mathalete

    Art *and* design are unhealthy bedfellows.

    Holy brushstroke Batman!

    I think both disciplines cross over.

    It would be niave to think that there is an ‘one up manship’ between either.

    Art envisages the abstract, like science, it looks for truth.
    Design, primarily, looks to communicate….

    Lets just say the future is bright, christ on a bike knows what colour it’ll be.

  • sandy

    nice article !
    art and design are in relationship :D

  • Sam

    Great article, highlighting the differences between art and design. I think that some designers call themselves artists because the pieces they create may occasionally be for fun, to portray an emotion and not a message. However, when they are designing for a client, their work can (or should!) never be misinterpreted as art.

  • The Freelance Geek

    Art is good for the soul, design is good for the bank balance!

  • Keenan Ward

    (Keenan Ward)
    I would consider myself an artist rather than a designer. I like to create whatever crosses my mind on a blank canvas to express how I am feeling at the moment. I do pay attention to the composition and structure of my work but for the most part I just let my ideas flow on the piece of paper.

  • Glen

    Woah, this thread is stiiillllllll going…

    I hope noone is taking it seriously. It’s such a generalised take on things.

  • Chris Watson

    ART an DESIGN…. both are meant to be viewed, both can be bought, both express how the artist sees things in his or her perspective, but heres an example for the difference in drawing a portrait of a house, an designing a house is that by designing you plan on bringing it to life for as many people willing to pay to have as their own.i like to think of design as a as a for the portrait it is meant to be hung up an viewed by others instead with design you would be physically living an walking through it with others after it is brought to LIFE….

  • Audrey

    I believe that I am a designer because I like to have a specific response or purpose for my work rather than self expression. However I feel that the quote from Craig Elimeliah is not true of all designers and in a way insults a desinger’s ablity to be creative by suggesting that a designer needs specific instructions to create a beautiful website. I too, like artist, create pieces by heart and do not require someone to tell me exactly what color goes to each pixel in order to make something appealing. I do not feel like Elimeliah’s comment was truthful of designers, instead, it sounded like he was talking about someone who works by the books and needs instructions in order to complete a task. A big point in design to me is to SURPRISE the viewer, grab their attention, and give the message through the artwork. A designer is not able to do that, I feel, if the answers are already given to them.

  • JoeyO

    Great writing, everyone!

    Haven’t read that much in years. With all the great design and art out there I didn’t think I’d ever have to or even want to.

    Well writen and responded too. Love the site.

  • Vibhushit

    Art is a way to express ur feelings….. like through dance, singing, painting…..etc. bt design is just a imagination, which is shown in a drawing…….

  • Devils Advocate

    “Art” is to “Design” is the same as what “House” is to “Room” and that’s it! nothing more nothing less.

    “Good Art Inspires. Good Design Motivates.”

    This is as true as saying Bad Art Motivates and Bad Design Inspires, either way you’re still talking about Art and Design, therefore it doesn’t clarify anything.

    “Good Art Is Interpreted. Good Design Is Understood.”

    Again, does that mean Bad Art is understood and Bad Design is Interpreted? even if thats true its an opinion and you’re still talking about Art and Design whether you think its good or not, eg Good UI design in one culture could be considered Bad in another.

    “Good Art Is a Taste. Good Design Is an Opinion.”

    Again both are true.

    “Good Art Is a Talent. Good Design Is a Skill.”

    You can have good art that uses both talent and skill, you can also have good design that uses both talent and skill, in fact good design can be just a talent and good art i.e. still life, landscapes can be solely a skill.

    “Good Art Sends a Different Message to Everyone. Good Design Sends the Same Message to Everyone.”

    So all religious Art isn’t any good?

    and the last one needs correcting to all Design TRIES to send the same message, but either way thing don’t have to be successful to be termed as Art or Design.

    Good article though, made me think about it… :)

  • greenwoodwebmarketing

    An art is what you are doing for yourself, to release your emotion. Not for someone else. Designing is doing for someone. What they like and what they want. What other’s opinion. It should be liked by most of them.

    Art could be feel and understand by the true artists.

  • Kirti Grover

    I never sen such a vast discussion. Everyone’s opinion is based on one’s experience. Art or design, is basically use of right color with right objects or shapes on right subject. Both are relates to a talent to express your inner thoughts. And this talent is god gifted.

  • kid’s art teacher

    a lot of designers here… and a lot of them is not happy about the statement “art is talent, design is skill”… because designers have this EGO wanting people to say they are talented… but if you don’t understand a design, it doesn’t mean it is a bad one… it is just not conveyed to the likes of you… if you don’t like an art… well, you just don’t open your mind to different ideas, in other word, you think you’re the best Mr. know it all…

  • Louai Alasfahani

    This article is a gem. I was trying to explain the difference to my clients for the past 18 years and now I can just share this with them :) thank you for a very well written and much needed post on the topic of Art and Design. Can I post it on my blog with a link back to your site as the source with all your credits off-course?

  • tochi

    this design/art stuff is still interwoven because each needs the order to work out

  • Cena Crane

    This article touches on this, but it’s really a question of intent– art communicates an idea that one individual (or 2 in the case of say, the Stark Twins, or Christo, or others who work collaboratively) wants to convey to an audience — the idea could be an emotion, or it could be a call to action (I’m thinking of Jenny Holzer, for example), a way to connect 2 souls. Design has a more practical desire: to communicate an idea or emotion in support of content it envelops, to sell a product or idea. And it’s almost always at the service of some sort of commerce.

  • Joe

    Successful artists now are good snake oil salesmen (and women). The business partner is the gallery. The oils is: “Rich person, buy me, I have meaning because, you bought me and I said so.”

    Successful designers are good product salesmen (and women) or contracted as such by anyone. The product, of course, being any number of complex or simple problems that need solving via publication, type, image, signage, interface, packaging, identity system, etc.

  • Web design Shrewsbury

    “Design, though, is really a skill that is taught and learned. You do not have to be a great artist to be a great designer; you just have to be able to achieve the objectives of design.”

    Very true quote – I enjoyed reading this article – thank you for submitting it :)

  • Bird

    The difference between artists and designers is that designers like cute slogans. An artist wouldn’t have written this post…. or wouldn’t have been able to – however you want to see it.

  • sash

    hmmm,well i dont like the restrictions of design at all and manipulating people to buy products!!??…thats sick if products actually suck balls. Art is feeling and experience based which is awesome and actually genuine,what you see is what you get. Generalisations of course. Im not sure,is it possible to be a feeling based healthy artist and learn restricting skills of design and practice them at the same time?saying art is an indulgence mate is bullshit,its sad thats like saying being yourself and expresssing your real feelings is a luxury. I guess if your a designer thats true?Id hate that

  • Katey

    Designers create art (design is an art, after all) for a client. They create art for a purpose. There’s almost always a reason for a design. It has an end use.

    Artists create a piece of art, not because there’s a need for it, but because there’s a urge in them to create, to express. Creative art is expression. Design is art created with intention and use, always as a means to an end, functionally, whether it be advertising, furniture or a concert poster there’s always a use with design, even if the “use” is to convey a message.

    Fine art, on the fundamental level, is purely expression, whether realized or not, it’s subjective and is created for observation only. Nobody “uses” a painting on a canvas or a sculpture. It’s to look at. Where fine art is intended to be looked at it for pleasure (mostly), design is intended to be used. One has a clear goal, the other does not. One follows mostly strict principles while the other (art) is more fluid in terms of “rules” and “principles”.

    However… all creative pieces (art and design) are created with some sort of direction, some sort of internal guide (whether conscience or not). Both design and fine art, come from the same place… that of the principles of aesthetics and essentially art is design and design is art. They are one in the same, both stemming from an internal source of knowing (or not knowing) what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to producing something intended to be aesthetically pleasing. Bad art doesnt work. Bad design doesnt work. What makes art work and what makes design work, comes from the same place… aesthetics. The golden ratio. So really, art and design shouldnt be so separate and essentially are the same thing. I believe fine artists should study design and designers should study fine art.

    The difference in art and design is not in the creation but in the goal. Therefore if one is to create good art or good design, it does no good to dismiss one or the other. Artists should stay tuned into design principles and designers should stay tuned into the fact that they are essentially artists.

  • Monika

    I agree with you in all the points! Since years I was searching for an article like that on the subject.
    Kind reganrds from Switzerland