Is photography design?

I am currently writing my dissertation about the connection between photography and design and trying to figure out an answer for this question :

Is photography design?

All ideas, opinions and thoughts are very welcome. Please free your mind and let me know what do you think.

It’s a trap…
You first have to define design

IMO no it’s not…I’d say it’s more of a tool in design process much like a CAD program.

I’d say it can be, and it can’t be.

A snapshot of couple drunk college girls huddled together outside their favorite bar, auto-flash on full, and red eyes probably isn’t design.

A deliberately composed, balanced shot of an aircraft graveyard could be considered design.

It’s definitely more subjective, for certain.

IMO, no.

An image can be designed, but it is not design itself.

I think photography can be an essential element of design. Images can be used for a design, like in a social campaign where powerful photography is the key to motivating the cause. In that case, I say that it can be the design itself (of course, not alone without proper context).

Not an answer to your question, but the book “On Photography” by Susan Sontag is a highly interesting read on photography and photographs. It might help you think through your question to then pose your own answer.

Here’s the amazon:

So to poke at this to see if it is solid:

So is a sketch design?
Is CAD rendering design?

My is don’t confuse a tool with a result, or a step in the process with the process itself.

Michael: For me the difference lies in the final product and how it is experienced. I (and I bet you) have seen many successful designs where photography is an essential element – from ad campaigns to brands to websites – that the viewer experiences. Those photographs may be different from the photographs that were taken during the process of creating those end products, but those final ones that are an essential component – whose absence would change the end experience altogether – really are a part of the design.

The photography is key in this design. It wouldn’t have the same… “cuteness” to lending a helping hand by transforming your money into something the kids need.


So to answer your questions, I can imagine scenarios where they are not designs (which is most instances of sketching and CAD used in the design process), but I can also imagine scenarios where they are (but the definition of a sketch and rendering is different from an ID context).

For example, a wallpaper/fabric design with a pattern that’s a sketch is a design.

I can imagine someone might make a print one day of a Dieter Rams sketch (I’d certainly use it for my bedding).

A rendering can be an essential part of a design, too. For example, a piece of motion design with 3D renderings.

(Yes, I know this is a reel, but the contents which these are compiled from are individual designs.)

There are examples of graphic design with renderings, too:


I don’t think it’s a black and white issue. In the world of design, photographs, sketches, and renderings are used as tools to amount to a final product or experience. Those are steps in the process – each of those examples I posted had some process before it that included any or all of the above. However, when those photographs, sketches, or renderings are seen in the end experience, they become part of the design.

I think the products you are showing are not photographs.

In the example of the little donation bank, the photograph is an (essential) element, not the design itself. The photographic placement through graphic design and art direction is only made possible by the physical properties of the cylinder that is able to take graphics through a production process. If this donation bank where made of glass, the photographic treatment might not be possible… as such, again, an element of the design, and perhaps a key driver, but not the design itself.

In the example of the bird repeat pattern, the design is in the pattern, the sketch is an execution, and a critical element, but not the design itself.

In the case of my personal opinion, which is what I’m offering, I can make it black and white :wink:

Also, I must point out, this is no disrespect to photography. Actually the opposite, it is its own thing! I think it is a bit of an arrogance that we think so many things are design. By ever expanding the boundaries of design, we are weakening the meaning of the word.

Architects were smart when they introduced the specialization of planning, urban planning, and structural engineering, keeping architecture for themselves. I think many of the things we call design at the current moment will be called something else in a decade, but industrial and graphic design will remain design, because there is really no other word for them. In the case of graphic and industrial work it isn’t a metaphor it is actually what it is.

There can also be a separation between design as a verb, and design as a noun. You can be designing anything. To design something is a pretty broad term. What design IS as an end statement, a noun, is actually much narrower in my view. While many people can be designing at a moment or two, much fewer are designers by my definition… my definition might not be the most accepted, but it is the one I go by… :wink:

I would not say that it is. It can be used to create a design but in itself it is not a design. Photography is capturing a moment in time. In order to capture a beautiful photograp you need the “eye”. You can create an installation/setup and capture it in a picture. The installation would be the design but the photograph of it is not.

I guess you could say that a photo is a description of what is in front of the lens.

Photography is not design and neither is sketching…

But they are both valuable tools used in design.



Calvin Klein.

You like Marky Mark :wink: , I get it, what is your point?

All I’m seeing is that none of these examples further the argument that photography in and of itself is design. These are fantastic examples of art direction though.

Graphic design is design.

The purpose of graphic design is to communicate a message to an audience.

The photos I posted communicate a message to an audience.

The photos are graphic design.

The photos are design.

Photography is design.

Not buying it.

Sketches communicate a message to an audience, so does a CAD render. By your argument those are design as well. If I where to use your above logic, a fiction novel would be design because it communicates a message to an audience as would every TV show. Is all film and video also design?

If you make a statement that extends the boundaries of definition, it extends them in all directions, you can pick an choose. What you are left with eventualy is a word with no real meaning.

i don’t think the photography is the key here. The key is the moment when the hand is putting something in the can to create the image that the kid is grabbing it. The photography just captured that moment to make it last.

Maybe we should begin by defining photography and defining design.

Yes, a sketch or a CAD drawing could be design.

The Red Cross symbol.

The information symbol.

The on/off symbol.

They are all sketches/drawings in one form or another. Symbols are design.

Video/film is actually an art form. Make it utilitarian, e.g., make it a commercial, it is now design.

The end is design. The means to the end are tools to create the design. That is the distinction.

If sketches/drawings/photography/film can be art, why can’t it be design?

And trying to define design would be akin to defining art. Good luck with that.