Is Good Design Art?

One of the great things I love about blogging, is you get to meet so many great people through your blog. One of them, whom I now consider a friend, is William Lehman from the Artist Hideout. Not only is he a talented Artist, he is a passionate blogger and a pastor (cool!). Discussions with him and reading his blog were ways for me to keep in touch on the more “raw and emotional” aspect of my design profession.
During one of our on-line chats on the confluence of design and art and the relationship between the two, he had invited me to write a guest article on his site discussing, from my point of view as a designer, this relationship between Design and Art. I was more than honored to. So here it is. It’s a little late, as we let it go up on his site first, but as our blog audiences are different I wanted it posted at Design Sojourn as well.

Is Good Design Art?

Taking a position as a designer and moving from the discipline of Design to Art, I like to ask can good Design be considered as Art? This is one of those perpetual debates and discussions topics that really have no right or wrong answer. The way I see it, it always seems to be in essence boils down to how you define what design or art is?
If I take a stab at this relationship between Art and Design, I always find that the issue is not only about the definition of Design or art, but about the amount of “constraints” a discipline has to deal with.
Just to clarify, I believe creativity cannot exist in vacuum, there must be boundaries. For example even creating Art has its own constraints that must be dealt with such as the properties of clay and even paint on canvas. But my point is Art has a lot less constraints to work with than say Industrial Design or Mechanical Design.
In many ways, I always consider Art to be pure expression, in other words a tangible form born from emotion and/or inspiration. This if taken from a Designer’s stand point could be very difficult to reproduce in industrial design. Often Industrial designers have to make compromises simply because the mechanical and manufacturing processes do not allow a certain form or detail. Product shapes are often be dictated by what manufacturing machines or processes can or cannot do.
Therefore logically for a product to be considered Art, or an expression, it has to conquer the different mechanical constraints, raise above AND maintain the original inspirational intent. In many cases the more complex a product is in terms of specifications, manufacturing or usage requirements, the more difficult it is to turn it into Art. I do take my hat off to the few designers that has been successful and possibly the reason why many products in MoMa’s Architecture and Design collection are often very low technology products, although Apple has shown that they can buck the trend. Kudos to them.
Now lets get back into what was brought up originally in the beginning of this Article. And that is when Designers try to create a product that could become Art, how we define design rears its ugly head again. To explore this further, we need to look at the title of this post from another angle; can good Art be good Design? Let’s take a look at Philip Starck’s infamous Jucy Salif.
Jucy Salif
The more artistic inclined love this and most Designers I know hate it, I myself sit on the fence on this one. Why? Many designer dislike this orange or lemon juicer as it does not do its job at all. The only think it does is make an artistic statement. So the Jucy Salif, if considered as a product that has to solve a problem (ie juicing oranges), it outright fails. Is it then bad design? Perhaps. However, if you consider it as a form of expression and its only purpose of it existing is to make a statement, then it does the job well.
To further expand on this point lets look at how the dictionary considers the words Design and Art. Firstly Design is often used as verb. We design, you design or I design. You see “Design” is an action and something you do. Art for example is a noun, a description of perhaps even a classification of genera. You don’t really say we art or I art, instead you say we paint or I sculpt.
So you see Design has intent and often has a functional purpose and that is to solve a problem. Many good designs are great solutions to problems as well as able to maintain in their form outlook the other “deeper meanings”. It’s not to say that art has neither purpose nor meaning. No, it’s just that good Art is defined under a different set of parameters. In many ways Art and Design are 2 sides of the same coin.
So therefore at the end of the day, can good Design equate to Art? Yes and no. As good design can also NOT be art.
Fortunately this divide caused by constraints and definition will get smaller. The advances in computing and manufacturing technology will bridge this gap. We can soon create beautiful forms, based purely on emotion, without much of the current manufacturing constraints we now have. We can soon be only constraint by the basic laws of physics and rejoice that the manufacturing requirements we have are basically now gone.
As a great example, do take a look at some of the cutting edge “design” work by the Studio Commonwealth in collaboration with Joshua Davis at their exhibition. They build their very unique products by pushing the edge of rapid-prototyping machines. Currently though only featuring low-technology products, the potential of this process is very huge.
As you can see the time will soon come, when the limits or making thing will be only our imagination. I hope you enjoyed this article and I would love any feedback you might as well as your thoughts or examples you might have on the relationship between Art and Design.

  • Jeff Campana

    December 20, 2008 at 10:01 am Reply

    I think the distinction between art and design doesn’t quite make sense. You start to hit it at the end for me, but then fall short. Design is an activity, and art is an end product. All art is designed. Not all things designed are art. Some art is more about design than other art. The art/design interface is the same as the utility/design interface, or the marketing/design interface. Design is an activity that forms many of the important aspects of the end product. Art is just one end product design can have.

  • Design Translator

    August 21, 2007 at 1:47 pm Reply

    Great points ironman! Thanks for commenting and please keep in touch.

  • ironman

    August 21, 2007 at 1:39 pm Reply

    I think art is an expression of one’s self: selfish. I think design is a satisfaction of other’s needs: selfless. Whereas in art, it is the audience that seeks the artist that matches their tastes— In design, it is the designer that seeks the audience and creates to their tastes.
    At some point this boundary blurs; Design cannot altogether be without personal expression, Art cannot altogether be without external influence. Art can be designed. Design can be Art. It is in the manner of approach.

  • Design Translator

    August 7, 2007 at 10:34 pm Reply

    I think as many of you have pointed out, spirit and emotion do play a major part. But again I find it can arise to the surface a lot easier because the constraints are a lot less.
    However it is funny that many artists cannot work under the constraints that designers have to deal with. So it could be said that artist and design are very different personalities. Really 2 sides of the same coin.
    Thanks to all who left comments!
    BTW, good point Aen, a painting does have purpose. I know cause I nearly bought a painting last Weekend!

  • Félix Varejão

    July 31, 2007 at 2:22 pm Reply

    I’m a brazilian design student.
    Since I started to study, day after day, I perceived how much life experience and development spiritual are linked.
    So, if art emanates from spirit, design emanates from life experience.
    I belive that each day more this bondaries between art/spirit and design/life experience will go down.
    It’s only for now.

  • Aen

    July 31, 2007 at 10:08 am Reply

    A good painting is IMO a well-designed canvas that does serve a purpose, the purpose of expression and visual pleasure.

  • Design Translator

    July 28, 2007 at 8:36 am Reply

    Hi All,
    I have deliberately taken a step back from making any comments on this as I have made most if it in my post. However I love reading your comments and ideas that were left so far. So please come back and add to it if you have a change in opinion.

  • Michelle

    July 26, 2007 at 3:25 am Reply

    To be honest, I never really differentiated between the two. I always thought design, photography, sculpting, dancing, painting, etc was art. Now that I think consciously about it, I’m not sure what *my* definition of art is. You bring up some very good points- Now you’ll have me pondering all day about this…

  • drew kora

    July 24, 2007 at 9:18 pm Reply

    This is indeed a strange topic to wrap your head around. I’m in the camp that design is art, and in both design and art there’s stuff that’s really good, stuff that’s really bad, and stuff that’s well done/skillful, but whether or not a person likes it is subjective.
    What’s strange to me is that so often the differentiating factor between the two is that “art is pure expression” and design “solves a problem or fills a need.” But can we draw that solid of a line? Don’t paintings and sculptures fill a need, too? They communicate and express feelings and emotions. Admittedly, the needs a painting fills are very different from ( (or perhaps less tangible) the need filled by a well desinged Dyson vaccuum, iPod, or even a beautiful building.
    I grew up in Chicago and spent a lot of time at the Art Institute roaming the halls looking at artwork. As a highschooler I was drawn to the modern art, Joseph Cornell’s Art Boxes, and anything by Magritte. Then my appreciation widened to the portraits and renaissance era paintings. As time went by, I was drawn more and more to the rooms full of pottery and ancient tools. These rooms were always towards the back of the museum, on a lower level…as if to suggest they were somehow beneath the status of the myriad impressionist paintings. But you know, I am more fascinated by ‘works of art’ that had a daily purpose in the home (or palace). I always thought that if you can create something that’s both beautiful and useful, isn’t that the greatest kind of art there is…better than ‘design’ or ‘art’ would be separate on their own? Somewhere in the industrial revolution, with the rise of manufacturing, there was a shift in thinking where ‘tools’ and ‘devices’ couldn’t be considered fine art.
    Is it, perhaps, a level of human selfishness that if something can be mass produced and affordable that it can’t be art? It’s like this idea abotu ‘fine art’ being exclusive and for the priveleged has lingered below the surface of people’s thinking for hundreds of years now and it’s just ingrained in our perceptions.
    OK, I’m rambling, too. My argument here isn’t complete and has many caviats and other considerations to it, but that’s as much as I can express in this short comment box. Bottom line: I feel that good design is not only art, but art at its very finest.

  • Mac Oosthuizen

    July 24, 2007 at 9:52 am Reply

    I’ve always been interested in both art and design so as you can imagine this debate or rather ‘exploration in thought’ has always been with me. Great article by the way, I agree with a lot of what your saying.
    Recently I’ve been thinking can’t the fact that something solves a problem well, be considered Art? If art is an expression of an impression could we not value a problem as an impression and the solution as an expression? I realise this is quite a simple way of looking at it but it just strikes me the similarity that an artist (in the purest sense of the word) and a designer (ditto) go through the same process to create. An artists ‘problem’ may be a lot more abstract but the process and the fact that Art is judged today, as in good art and bad art, shows the similarity between the two. Of course this is just looking at the process, the interpretation and acceptance of the solution is where the difference is between the two. For example look at the iPhone compared to Damien Hirsts diamond skull, ‘For the Love of God’. The iPhone is suceeding because everyone agreed it solves modern problems with communication and media effectively and elegantly, where as the skull suceeded because everyone felt so strongly aout it, Hirst suceeds because he provokes such strong emotions towards his ‘solution’ to a ‘problem’.
    Slight rambling here, sorry, this topic always interests me. Beautiful work by Commonwealth and Davis, always been a fan of them.

  • AEN

    July 24, 2007 at 9:33 am Reply

    : skill acquired by experience, study, or observation
    Kendo “Way of the Sword” or “Art of the Sword”. Art is method, skill and craft. Good design is the same. It’s about putting what is in the head into something outside. it’s about execution.
    Therefore Good Design is definitely Art.

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