Published on September 24, 2009

This post was previously on the Pathfinder Software site. Pathfinder Software changed its name to Orthogonal in 2016. Read more.

A couple of days ago I happened upon an interesting article about the difference between art and design. The author makes a lot of interesting points, and whether you agree or not with the statements he makes, the article does make for a great conversation starter.

Art and design are two different words, and some say two different worlds as well. The use of each often comes with a distinct connotation. I could go on about how design’s goal is to solve a problem, whereas art doesn’t necessarily always have a problem to solve. I could talk about how art doesn’t necessarily require a common user experience, whereas design more often than not does. I could expand upon that by discussing how art doesn’t require that a thing be usable, whereas design is often judged in part or whole by its level of usability. I could even discuss how art can be effective whether done collaboratively or not and contrast that with numerous examples of how here in our agile software development environment at Pathfinder we find collaboration inseparable from our design process.

But I could also talk about how much art and design overlap and blend, so much so that it becomes difficult to make concrete distinctions. And how, sure, software design is about solving a problem, but it’s also about solving a problem beautifully.

Art versus design, the art of design, or the design of art…it’s a never-ending debate, and the usefulness of this debate is also debatable.

The art versus design topic definitely can be a fun one to banter about. The author of the article had some very interesting points, especially regarding the purpose of design is to communicate a message and motivate the user to act. He makes an important point that “If your design communicates a message other than the one you intended, and your viewer goes and does something based on that other message, then it has not met its requirement. With a good piece of design, the designer’s exact message is understood by the viewer.” And it was nice to see too that he included his designs for the article as downloadable wallpapers.

But in the end, I think the author of this blog post said it well when he said it’s not really our goals that are in conflict when we talk about art and design – just our definitions. So perhaps rather than elaborating on terminology, we should focus more on clearly expressing our goals.