Concepts of design vs. Art: What's the Difference?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published October 6, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Individuals and companies often use both design and art for professional purposes. Design may be more beneficial for commercial uses, while art may be a profitable product. Understanding the difference between art and design can help you decide which of the two is right for your professional needs.

In this article, we define design and art, explore their primary differences, explain why it's important to understand them and provide examples of both areas of specialization.

What is design?

Design involves making a plan to create a process, activity or product. A product may be an item that you can sell or be a prototype. After implementing a plan, individuals can develop a design. Designers or design teams may specialize in certain areas, such as website or product design. They may also work on a variety of project types.

Designers know to consider the end user to ensure that a design, such as a website, meets the users' wants and needs. Ensuring a positive experience for the end user is a vital component of web design and many other design forms.

Related: Product Planning: What It Is and How To Do It

What is art?

Art is the result of an individual drawing on their imagination and preferred techniques to create something that evokes emotions and impresses others with its beauty and uniqueness. When most people think of art, they envision paintings, sculptures or other forms of visual expression. However, there are countless art types, including music, poetry, literature and dance.

Art may be created to sell in the marketplace or for pleasure. An artist may sell paintings to private buyers or display them in their homes. A poet might write poetry and keep it private, or they might choose to sell and publish it in magazines or an anthology.

Design versus art

Since people generally create designs to meet the needs of end users, it's typically more practical than art, which professionals often create purely to captivate those who encounter it. While art can certainly generate profits, it's generally not as integrative as design. Effective design can help people or companies achieve certain goals, such as:

  • Generating income

  • Attracting new customers

  • Retaining loyal clients

  • Building brand recognition

  • Filling a need in the marketplace

In comparison, art can help people or companies by:

  • Provoking discussions

  • Evoking emotions

  • Generating profits

  • Adding beauty and uniqueness to an environment or advertisement

There is some overlap between design and art, and the capacity to make money from both is the most important similarity. However, understanding how the two elements differ can make it easier to select the right one for a personal or commercial project.

Related: What Is Competitive Advantage and Why Is It Important?

Why understanding art versus design is important

In business, you may need to decide how to create a process or product, and choose design when art is more appropriate, or vice versa, may impact profits and the person or brand's reputation. For example, creating a website as art, with only aesthetics in mind, might be less beneficial to a company than focusing on the user experience. It might be more effective to use design to help make practical decisions regarding how to make pages load quickly and how to ensure users can find the webpages they want to see.

Conversely, an ad for a product meant to evoke emotions, such as perfume, might benefit from exquisite art versus design. For example, an illustration from a respected artist might add more appeal and better convey a sense of luxury to the consumer than an ad that shares facts about the product in a more practical way.

Related: Brand Recognition: Definition and How It Works

Examples of design

Learning about real-world design examples can make it easier to understand what it is and how to use it to your advantage. Here are two examples:

Example 1

A media company owns a series of websites, and its leaders want to add another digital property to the portfolio. They then decide to plan the design of the new website. Before embarking on this project, they consider an array of practical elements, including the website's focus, who their target audience is and how the webpages should be displayed on computers and mobile devices. By considering the user-oriented design and coming up with a plan that meets the needs of the target audience and then implementing that plan, they can boost their chances of success.

Example 2

A company wants to produce an electronic device to help those who buy it track their fitness levels. To plan effectively, they consider the data that end users may want to learn about, such as heart rate and calorie burn. They then explore other practical considerations, such as how convenient the device will be to use, how easy or difficult it will be to charge and how to link it with an app. They consider the consumer's needs by looking at a host of different design factors that may impact the user experience.

Related: 120 Business Career Options for Professionals

Examples of art

Here are two examples of art to consider:

Example 1

An aspiring painter is learning to refine their techniques at art college, and there is an upcoming exhibition of student work. The painter decides to create a self-portrait that is unconventional and abstract. They paint one that isn't too realistic to intrigue those who attend the exhibition. The portrait gets acclaim from art professors and exhibition attendees, and the painter gets media attention that helps them get commissions from clients.

Example 2

A troupe of dancers decides to create a ballet inspired by a modern work of literature. They work with a choreographer, a set designer and a costume designer. They use movement, sets and costumes to evoke emotions from the audience. The troupe performs the ballet at a local community center. While the ballet doesn't earn them a lot of money, they build a reputation as a dance troupe and receive opportunities to perform the same ballet elsewhere for more money.

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