Aesthetics vs Function / Art vs Design  —  A Timeless Debate

Spend any amount of time working among professional designers and you learn that equating art with design is a surefire way to stir the pot and hear bold statements like:

  • “Design is not art. Design has to function.”
  • “Art is meant to provoke thought and emotions, but it doesn’t solve problems.”
  • “Artists primarily work off instinct, whereas designers employ a methodical, data-driven process.”

Unfortunately, the designer vs. artist discussion often deteriorates into ranting and raving. Lines are drawn, battle flags are raised, and productive dialogue becomes impossible.

What’s really going on here? Why have art and design been pitted against each other, and why are designers so adamant that design cannot be art? These questions are the starting point for an occasionally heated but thoughtful conversation between designers Micah Bowers and Miklos Philips.

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Micah Bowers is a brand designer and illustrator who believes that art encompasses many creative disciplines, design being one, and therefore design is art.

Miklos Philips, a UX designer and lead editor for the Toptal Design Blog, takes the position that art and design may intersect, but they are distinctly different fields.

With our contestants in the ring, it’s time for the debate to begin. Gentlemen, touch gloves and go to your corners.

Is Design Art?

Micah: Design is art. Art is design. No exceptions.
Let’s be clear — I’m aware of how unpopular my position is, especially among my design peers. I’ve been to talks, read books, spoken with colleagues, and taken classes determined to establish the irreconcilable differences between art and design. Whenever I share my views, the backlash comes quick and fierce, but I remain unmoved by the counter-arguments (good luck, Miklos).

The insistence on a distinction between art and design has been like a constant, low-grade fever that’s bothered me for the last 15 years — first through my industrial design training, then during a fine arts graduate degree, and on into my career in branding and illustration.

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