Saturday 24 December 2016

Art is not design

I feel like many people view art and design as the same thing or blur the differences to make them feel more of the same. Meanwhile those two things are quite different in its nature. Art plays a role in design. Art as whole is not design though. There is difference there. Art is an expression of the artist while design is an expression of the users.

This post was inspired by Austin Knights speech on UX meetup in Budapest.


Art is an expression of the artist. It encapsulates the current emotion of the artist making it. The ups and downs of her life, the struggles and the victories.

Art is supposed to be original in some way, it is meant to invoke emotions in you, make you think. When you hear it or see it, you should be able to understand the artist behind it. See the world as she does. This can open your eyes to new possibilities, broaden your horizons.

Art is an end result. There is no other purpose to its existence as its existence. The point is to enjoy the art itself, to see the meaning in it.

It is independent. You can take a framed picture off the wall and you will still have a painted picture which you can fully appreciate.


Design is an expression of the users. Designing for colour blind people will require the designer to adapt the design. Designing for people in wheelchair will once again alter the design to accommodate their needs.

Design is supposed to be understood right away. There are standards, conventions and guidelines based on how people work and what they are used to.

Design is a means to an end result. It has purpose tied to something else. There is some meaning behind it other than just itself.

Design is depended. If you take a handle from the door it becomes useless. The purpose of the handle is to open and close doors. If it is no longer attached to the door then it has no purpose.

Art is part of design

Design includes art and engineering. Engineering provides a function while art provides the aesthetic. Good design has both of these. And users love good design.

Design with function but without aesthetic can still work. It will not be special, kind of average, but it can still work. Design without function usually does not work at all. Beautiful handle that does not open the door will hardly be popular among people who use doors – users.

Both art and engineering is what makes design memorable. Interface that looks gorgeous and appears to be reading your mind, calculating all the solutions to your problems without your need to bother with them, that is the future.

Design is objective

Since design is about the users it is also important to understand the users. That is something designers are tasked with. The more you understand the users, the more potential your design has. But how can you full understand someone else? Well you kind of can't.

We are all living our unique lives, with our own unique memories. Our view on world is based on our previous experiences. Therefore you can never truly say: "I know what is better for the users."

Design requires objective thinking, evidence, research. I have been talking a lot about research and the need for it. Without having the input from the users you cannot create design, you create art. Subjective opinions should not be sufficient arguments. Design is not about what you think, it is about what all the users think.

You should never base your design ideas on what you like or what you prefer. Do not create arguments without any objective facts behind them. Be objective. Learn about others and provide the facts backed up by research. Facts that you can use in later stages of the development when people come back and ask: "Why was this done like that?"

Designer with ego is no designer

Great design is about the fit for users. Due to the difficulty with this task, you should never get insulted if somebody raises an issue. Criticism is not there to insult you, it is there to improve the design.

Every time you get a notice about possible obstacle, it is up to you to decide if you get subjective and insulted or if you look at it objectively and research the obstacle to see whether the obstacle is truly there.

Sometimes your research can tell you everything is okay and it was just false alarm, other times you will learn that there is something that can be improved. And you will have the possibility to improve it. Possibility you would not have if you just threw your ego at the problem getting angry at the messenger.

My favourite motto for designing is Socrates' quote: "I know that I know nothing." Don't get angry with people criticising you. Embrace it, learn from it. If they want to help, you listen to them. And if they just want to piss you off, well you will use their own knowledge against them by actually listening.

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