Design != Art

  • Web Design & Development

Recently, I was reading my Feedly when I came around to a story entitled “Dealing With Overly Opinionated Clients” published here on While the article itself is quite good and worth the read, there was a particular bit that stuck out more in particular.

Non-creative people tend to see design as something subjective, much like art. However, design and art are very different. Whereas art is created mainly to please the artist, design has to please the people who use it.

Something about that statement hit home to me, especially where I’m at now. I’ve read and heard things like it before in a few other blogs over the last few months, and honestly, I’ve been hearing and reading about it a lot longer.

So what’s the big deal right? Well, it comes down to what I’m about to explain.

Uncomfortable Revelations

I’m seeing it all over the place. I saw it before I graduated not too long ago, but I’m seeing it even more now that I’ve been working for awhile. I’m seeing it clearer now that I’m exposed to what I’m coming in contact with on a daily basis.

There are a lot of people out in the world who believe that design is art. To those people, design is all about looks. It’s a canvas like a painting that must be filled in. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. All the design must do is look good to accomplish its goal. No more and no less.

Now, I knew before I graduated that people like this existed. Especially in the world of clients. Honestly, that’s not a big deal to me. In fact, its to be expected. It’s nothing new really. Hell, I had friends who I would joke with from other degrees and professions who would give me a hard time on this very subject.

What I didn’t realize is that people like this exist in my own profession.

On the Inside

At first, this made me quite angry. It seems so silly to me, given what I was taught about process and iteration and objectives. Designs are solutions first. Good looks will usually follow a solid solution. Good design asks “why?“. How can you be a so-called “designer” and never ask that question and only care about how something looks?

It baffled me. I suppose to an extent it still does. But today instead of anger about this predicament, I feel sadness at the whole affair.

Reading the quote above gave me pause. Maybe those others in our profession never moved beyond thinking that design was art when they went to school (if they did). Maybe to them its more about them making their mark on a project than providing a worthwhile solution. Maybe its a combination of factors. I’m not entirely sure.

And that’s where how I feel comes into play. Sadness that there are those in the design community who are either in it for themselves to make “art” or that they never learned what real design is. I more so feel sadness for our clients and our profession as a whole. The clients don’t get well thought out solutions, they get “something that looks good.” It doesn’t really get at their goals in quite the right way. I feel sadness for our profession because the idea that design is art will continue to flourish because of this way of operating. Unfortunately, it will continue to create a barrier of misunderstanding between real designers and their clients and misinformation will continue to circulate among those who never are educated.


How to stop this? Well, before we can educate our clients about the value of good design, we need to make sure we are educating ourselves and future designers. Not just those designers at big colleges and universities with outstanding programs, but the small ones as well. After that, it may only be a matter of time for the message to spread of the true value of real design.