Can you define art and design?

i am currently writing my dissertation and would like to ask you if you can define art and design? what does each discipline mean to you?
I am looking at the artist/designers such as Maarten Baas and Michael Sans and am trying to distinguish them as artists or deigners, so if you have any opions about this, please let me know.

Maybe, the difference between art and design can be found in the amount of units that are intended to be produced. An artwork is typically a (single) unique piece whereas the work of designers is mostly intended for mass-production (multiple units). Designers are however also sometimes commissioned to do unique pieces. If this then would be art or design is then a tricky question…

I would guess that design historians such as John Heskett or Peter Dormer would have addressed this issue in their books.

I was so put off by the question that I misspelled “between”.

Sorry to offend you so much Dan, I’ve never used a forum before, (I didn’t realise it was a place just to be rude) it was simply to get other people’s opinions rather than using my own, as a dissertation is about an argument its good to get other peoples views so that you can argue against them. Through research into my dissertation it has been clear to see that many of the authors of the books have had an issue with the word design, and have not wanted to put a clear definition with it. As with art it is often a very personal opinion, and so other peoples views on this would also be appropriate.

If you were put off by the question why did you waste your time replying twice, that’s what’s pathetic.

Arts purpose is to produce emotion and appeal to the eyes. Good design generally does both of those but its first job is to solve a problem or make life easier or more enjoyable with a tangible object.
Most artist i know ,including myself, sell prints(multiple units) of their work. Screen printer equals assembly line?

Its not that they dislike the word design, or intentionally give vague definitions, it is because, IMAO, that design encompasses a vasy array of activities. For instance design could be art, but it could also be the “design” of a new drug for fighting cancer. One is physical one is molecular.

Personally I see them as one in the same, just at a diference in scale, and functionality. For me art is more about the artist/design creating a peice for expression or purely aesthetic value. This includes prints which are mass produced. Were as design products peices for a specific or general client/consumer. Were the functionality of the item, space, or advertisment is as important if not more than the aesthetic value.

To me this is why I feel some in the fine arts call designer the prostitutes of the art world.

this has been debated ad infinitum
my opinion is, there are no definitions that work. people hold icons of what each represents, but to try and specify where one stops and the other begins is a fruitless exercise in semantic hair splitting.
Besides there are only anecdotes to delineate the two - which conversly can show how completely they overlap.

Who is your audience? historians, laypersons, or professionals

To non_spec, this is one of the main points of my dissertation that they overlap so much, but how it is very obvious in some designer/artsits work, however the designers/artsits in question are not proclaiming to be artsits or both, but specifically designers, as there pieces at the end of the day are functional. How functional is another matter, and does functionality alone make them design?
My audience is for the academics at my university and any other students there that wish to read it.
Plus to be able to argue my dissertation it has been advised to come up with definitions for these areas so that I can argue my case against them, and so people understand that for the purpose of my dissertation that ? means art and ? means design.

ML, I agree that they are one in the same, maybe art is non-functional products and products are functional pieces of art? I have realised that many authors do not want to define the word design because it has so many sub-divisions, and so for the purpose of my dissertation I will be stating the word design meaning product design and defining that instead of design as a whole. An artist said that design is just superficial decoration, adding to your point that some artists don’t like designers.

To me ART is what is classified by a title like mural, painting, colage, sketch, pointalism, favuism, classical, goth, so on and so on… .Not saying that all art is a painting, but thats how i see the word art. I also see the word as an emotion as somebody stated before, as the emotion is felt at the first glance of what the image or sight is. Once your heart, or mind connect with it you feel and understand what it is trying to say to you non-verbally… It may be a portrait of your father or even a mold of an instrument. Its expressed and felt by each and every person who sees it. THE FINAL PRODUCT!!!

DESIGN to me is the process of building or creating the product and how it is shaped to become art. I design a sneaker for it to be to placed on my foot to wear, or i design a logo for a client to place on their website or biz-card. I design to form an image or color or shape that would be put forth to become art or something special.
I may seperate the two words which some may feel arent different or may feel they are they are the same, however my overall opinion is that ART and DESIGN are one in the same that they can be drawn from each other to make something specail, and that Is VISUAL ART… What we all do and why we are here on this site !

quick reply-

Both art and design are focused on the emotional and visual (or other senses) as a result.

The biggest difference I can offer is that (good) design is solution for a particular problem as its main goal, while art may be more of a statement or expression.

GOOD design vs. design vs. art would be another interesting topic to look at (where often art is sold as design vs. good design that is as per my above defn. - ie. Starck/Karim?)


As has already been stated art can be design and vice versa. My definition of art is something that is intended to be one of a kind. If there is any element of mass production involved it moves into the realm of design.

I tend to believe you undermine the definition of art as soon as you cross into the realm of mass consumption.

PS: To Dan Lewis, figure out a way to make the same comment without being a prick. For no other reason than this is a debate that occurs endlessly at the University level. One that every designer/artist has to come to terms with as they go down their career path.

I agree with that. It might be more interesting to do your paper on what makes art and design the same (similar) vs the differences.

You could argue that all art is designed to some end, but not all design is artistic.

I think it is also interesting how in current times art, science, and design are oftenseparated. They were not in the Rennaisance, the Enlightenment, or The Bahaus.

Good topic, and even though this stone has been turned over a lot of times before, it might be good to toss it around some more…

“Design uses the tools of art and science to solve the problems of business.” Charles Eames

Your dissertation my prove most interesting if you move away from Art or Design as a noun (object/ thing), to Art or Design as a verb.
Design as a verb implies a plan for action. Is Art so deliberate?

Design for design sake …now that may be Art! But could also be Styling (Design (v) plan for decoration)!

What about pop art? (ie. mass produced Warhol silkscreen paintings). Are postcards of Monet then design not art?

Design can also be very low volume and scale. Think about some fancy medical scanner things that may only be produced in the 10’s. Or Design of a one off space shuttle part (maybe more engineering, but still).

I see the volume of products produced as a side effect of the design solution, not really the root of it.

I like the above question on the verb Design (ie. to design)… more focused on the process than the result.



Thanks everyone for your input it is proving very beneficial. In accordance to the last few posts, as well as focusing on the final product and trying to categorise that, i will first and foremost be looking into the teaching and education to see why we do what we do, looking at he different ways of thinking so this may bring in the verb of art or design. I will be looking at the Bauhaus, Dadaism, post modernism and also the arts and crafts movement, as well as looking into current teaching in Britain, but also at the Eindhoven school, where a lot of these artists/designers are coming from. If there is anything else you think would be of interest to look at in the educational field then let me know.

I always thought that art was expression without limitation and design was creative problem solving with lots of limitations. Well thought out design can definitely be seen as art. Anybody out there ever seen the suspension components on an Acura NSX? Wow, design becoming art. To me, If you use it, it’s design. If you never use it except to show it off to your friends, it’s art. A good friend of mine has a fantastic modern/postmodern furniture collection, most of the stuff is never used AS FURNITURE. We look at the pieces and go ooohh and aahhhh, then he asks us not to sit on anything. WTF? Could collectability and resale value be a factor in defining the two?

I agree with seeing the terms as verbs. I art , she arts, together we arted.

art is pretty.

design is how the art is pretty.

Art is typically created to express an emotion, captured in a moment. The end result is a piece open to interpretation.

Design is the science of making art with a purpose usually to convey emotion with function. Still open to interpretation as art but design done well also has a job to do.

A good looking pair of scissors that can’t cut paper is art.

“A good looking pair of scissors that can’t cut paper is art.”

I couldn’t agree more. Well said.

Uncomfortable furniture is sculpture, not furniture.
A dried-up Sharpie marker is a paperweight.

Liz, may I call you Liz?
your’e trapped by being able to only read about the things critics, historians and curators have published or exhibited. even the most infuential “ism” you mentioned is only a fraction of the design (and art) produced during its time.
the vast majority of design is commercial in nature and not attractive to academic discourse.
and, if your convinced that the overlap/blending of art and design is the trendy furniture from Endhoven and London, your comprehension of ID is egregiously narrow.