Art is not Design

Thirty minutes have passed inside this quiet café and there’s not a single person taking a seat near the glass pane. I was hoping for a subject to sit there, sipping his latte, as I try to sketch out his features and capture that subtle beam of sunlight passing through. Sadly, it was just me and that barista who is busy cleaning his work area. It would have been perfect if someone came and decided to sit there and pose for me as I make art happen.

“No sketches, then.” I tossed my sketchbook and graphite pencil set aside.


Instead, I began drafting mock-ups for a website project to be launched on the third week of August. I was churning out rough ideas for the company’s logo, layout of web pages with arrows and lines showing notes as to why such element should be executed, and creating their site architecture. The papers were piling up, crumpled ones on the side, and eraser shavings were just everywhere.

“Wow. Artist!” Bert, the barista, exclaimed while he handed me a plate of oatmeal cookies.
I slowly turned my head, looked him in the eyes and said “Thank you.”

“… but it’s not art.” I thought to myself.

Difference between Art and Design

People would often mistake art (visual art) and design to be synonymous. In fact, I think they might perceive that anything created or crafted beautifully fall under the same category. Growing up with people who are more inclined to art (well-rounded visual artists), I could somehow name several differences between the two because clearly, there is quite a difference in terms of purpose.


At its very core, art is a form of expression through means of creating images, sculptures, photography, music, dance, anything that says something about what the artist is feeling or what the artist is trying to convey. Art makes you think and analyze every aspect of an artwork – why the color, why the emotion, why the composition. You, as a viewer, can interpret a masterpiece based solely on your senses. That is mainly art.


young regine garcia

Priming a canvas at 9 years young.

When I was about nine, I was really obsessed with paint and canvases. Every moment I could get my hands on them, I would automatically splash some blots of paint onto the blank canvas, glide my paintbrushes all over it, and make something crazy. Eventually, I could come up with a work of art within minutes of just playing around. I would let the work dry, give it a title, and that’s it.

Art starts out with nothing. You just literally stare at the blank canvas and pour out all of your thoughts and feelings into it in order to show it in your work, allowing your audience to share that feeling with you and be inspired by it. An artist establishes a strong emotional connection with its viewers through a painting, a song, a dance, or whatever form of art there is.

It is very much obvious in an artist’s standpoint that they create art not for the viewers but rather first for themselves. Artists do whatever it takes to do what urges them – and that is the urge to execute, the urge to paint, the urge to express. It’s a more personal matter because it comes from within them. If they feel nothing inside of them (that jolt), nothing will come out. Just like the common “writer’s block” some novelists experience when fabricating their interesting stories.


One thing I have learned from all the years that I have been exposed to art is that there is always a different interpretation from people. Take for example an artwork I once made which has a couple holding on to each other. I asked random people from the café and they have varied statements. One middle-aged man said that the woman in the artwork is hugging the man from the back. The kid busy playing with his PSP said that they look like Adam and Eve. The sales lady said that the man is secretly trying to kill the woman because his other arm is hidden.

It is so fascinating to learn the different reactions you get from people who see your piece of art differently. The end goal of art is to simply put it out there for the world to see and appreciate. Design on the other hand is not.


When I started out in the world of web and graphic design, I thought it was just an extension of my passion for art. I guess it is entirely different from the world I grew up in. Design, at its very core as opposed to art, revolves around “solving problems.” Art does not care about problems because it is an expression. Design sticks to its objectives which includes providing a solution to a problem.

A designer’s job is to communicate something to the audience for a purpose. There’s always a purpose in design, a rationale as to why some elements are present, and why some are not. It’s more scientific in design. You look at projections, charts, and graphs to create something that would enable the audience to do something, to engage them in a way – whether to buy a product, to click a button, to register for a service, to call the company, or to give out their information. To design is to effectively communicate a message (visually) in order to motivate a consumer or a viewer to carry out a task.

website prototyping

Website Design Prototyping

Design requires its viewers not to think. The concept of design is to provide a straight to the point information in order for people to “get it” at first glance. Unlike in art where an artist intentionally wants its viewers to think, design does not need to “beat around the bush” in communicating a message. The truth is, in design, there should only be one conclusion from the readers. If there are more conclusions then it’s not design anymore as its purpose of informing failed.

Another aspect of design that sets itself apart from art is its purpose. An artist creates art for his self-satisfaction. A designer creates design in favor of the end user. The end users are the consumers, the viewers, and the readers. Design is never centered around the designer, rather it’s mostly all about the people that it will reach, the people that it will convey the information to.

A designer is similar to an engineer in that respect and must not only have an eye for color and style but must adhere to very intricate functional details that will meet the objectives of the project. The word “design” lends itself to a hint that someone or something has carefully created this “thing” and much planning and thought has been executed to produce the imagery or materials used for the project.

The artist is free to express themselves in any medium and color scheme, using any number of methods to convey their message. No artist ever has to explain why they did something a certain way other than that this is what they felt would best portray the feeling or emotion or message.

Craig A Elimeliah

Designing is not a talent. It is a skill that is taught and learned which needs to be updated frequently. Anybody can be a designer provided that he or she adheres to the objectives of the design and be able to apply different principles of design in appropriate situations.

It took me years to fully understand the main difference between two worlds – that art is not design and that design is not art.

* * *

Who knew that Bert’s remark in the café could start this whole discussion of art and design! I should come here more often.


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