What was the difference between design and art, and what is it now?

Vasil StanevVasil Stanev Posts: 611
edited April 2018 in Technique and Theory
It's an English language question. As far as I gather, in the Middle ages "design"used to mean something like "craftmanship", while "art" was high arts. Both terms have evolved since then and I am not quite sure how. Not quite offtopic on a type-related forum, because some of us in the East use a multitude of anglophone tutorials to study art and graphic design yet I feel we do not exactly grasp the meaning of the words. E.g. I have never heard an arts professor talk about the "elements and principles of visual design", 10 elements, 5 principles etc. There is no such thing here that I know of. We use books by Bammes.

I am asking because I currently viewed a tutorial about drawing hair and therein was talk about "the design of the hair" - while it's clearly an art lecture (not coiffure, tho').


  • Paul MillerPaul Miller Posts: 259
    Design and art are two different but overlapping things in my opinion.

    To design something is to plan out the form or structure of something and not all designs are artistic, but some are if they are done well.

    Not all art is the result of a design process, I'm thinking of stochastic art here, but some art is designed, and some is well designed.

  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,281
    "Design" means a plan, or to plan (as a verb). "Art" is expression or application of creative skill.
  • Ofir ShavitOfir Shavit Posts: 371
    edited April 2018
    I agree with Chris, the fundamental difference between art and design is the functionality.

    Design is mostly for things that people use and interact with... Buildings - to live in, Tools - to operate, Graphics - to communicate. The "human interface" (with it's cultural aspects) on one side and the functionality on the other are essential in any design.

    The smaller the human interface is in an object the more it tends toward engineering. The smaller it's functionality, the more it tends toward art.

    The linguistic terms are really blurry so it is confusing, and it gets worst across languages. I assume because Design has evolved to a distinctive "profession" quite recently.

    For instance, In English the word 'Design', as Mark said, is referring also, and maybe mainly, to planning, and is used a lot to describe the planning aspects of an engineering work, or any work, and it includes some (the amount here changes) aesthetic aspects. 

    In Hebrew, itsuv (עיצוב) the equivalent of the word 'design', linguistically almost lack the meaning of planning, and it's direct translation to English is forming, That is, to design is to give shape, it is the part in the process that the shape is being formed, whether it is follows a planning process or not, and it carry it's own intelligence, which is much more artistic in meaning. 

    So the aesthetic emphasis in the term 'design' in English is much smaller than in the same word in Hebrew, which causes quite a few communication problems. I guess it is the same with other languages.
  • Alex VisiAlex Visi Posts: 75
    I think the question is rather deeply philosophical, not just linguistic. And quite interesting.

    Although I agree with the answers above, it might not be that easy. Gorgeous frescoes by Michelangelo, a pure example of Fine Art, were designed for communication purposes of the Church, even though people don’t usually put it this way. Portraits often serve the same purpose as ads. Aesthetics in artwork is a tool to catch one’s eyes and communicate the right message.

    In one of his talks Stefan Sagmeister said that pure functionalism is not relevant anymore, nowadays beauty is a necessary part of functionality. If something is not beautiful it doesn’t work (unless it has to be ugly).

    The topic is quite interesting when it comes to typography and type design. Every possible functional problem has been already solved – we have fonts for any size, any medium, any mood. Set anything in Caslon or Helvetica and you’re good to go. So the best we can do is to expand aesthetics, which is the goal of… art, isn’t it? Therefore type design nowadays is actually [beautiful] art, not [functional] design :smiley:
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,321
    My point was a work could be both or neither.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,681
    edited April 2018
    Speaking of hair and art, some credit for Botticelli’s success must go to Florentine hair and fashion stylists. I would imagine he employed more than one in his bodega, which specialized in turning out pictures of contemporary beauties, real and imagined.
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