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What’s the Difference Between Art and Design?

Oct 01, 2013 By Crissy Campbell

The difference between art and design has long been a running debate. The Master of Digital Media program draws on both artistic skills and design skills but how can we define the two? What does it mean to call oneself an Artist versus a Designer?

Here are some MDM students’ thoughts about the difference between art and design.

1. Art is About Internal Constraints and Design is about External Constraints.

"One of the clear differences between art and design are where the constraints of a project are derived. Art usually is generated by a set of self-imposed constraints. As in, ‘I'm really interested in owls, Lithuanian mythology and woodwork, wonder what I can create?’ As opposed to a designer asking ‘So Italians have this way of making coffee and people seem to like sitting in cafes to leisurely sip coffee, how can we create a cafe culture in North American and make tons of money?’

The difference isn't just that one is about commerce but, more importantly, the Design example is clearly based on external constraints.

To me, the debate is interesting not to draw lines between people that identify as artists and designers but more to understand that the difference is based on the project and not the person. The distinction is important because I believe Designers can create art and Artists can create designs."—Haig Armen

2. Art is Experience-Driven and Design is Solution-Driven.

"Art is derived from our external and internal experiences. Art is a projection of what you experience, how you view the world and what you want to vocalize. Design on the other hand, is taking a problem and finding solutions for it, and art is merely a tool in a designers mindset.”—Maria Khan

3. Art is Far Left and Design is Far Right.

"I've asked this problem a number of times and I can never make up my mind. I agree though, that art leans toward, in some ways, no-compromise self-expression, and design is generally about a universal attitude towards aesthetics and creative expression. I have this habit of placing ideas in a spectrum, and in this case, art is far left and design is far right, and somewhere in the middle incorporates both art and design aspects. One creative piece, for example, can show both aspects of art and design, but may lean more towards design, which in that case maybe seen as a design object rather than an art object."—Jessie Altura

Thoughts? What do you think the differences are between art and design?