October 23, 2020

Art vs Design

You can make a living doing art and you can make a living doing design. Done well, both can be almost immeasurably valuable.

But they are absolutely not the same thing. In fact, I would say they are mutually exclusive pursuits. An artist is not a designer, and a designer is not an artist.

My experience is that many people think that because design requires a lot of creativity, then that makes a designer an artist.

But lots of things require creativity. Creativity alone doesn’t make an activity an art.

For example, I can tell you from experience that changing a diaper in an airplane bathroom is a creative act, but it’s pretty dang far from artistic.

Here’s the thing...

You have to use creativity in both art and design - and coding and copywriting and photography and law and medicine and finance and every other kind of knowledge work that I can think of.


Being creative does not make you an artist.

Being an artist means doing something that no one knows they want. Something completely new. It means breaking new ground. Shaking things up. Pissing people off.

Design, on the other hand, revolves around pleasing people. Solving their problems. Yes, design requires creativity, but it’s not art. It’s design.

Someone has a problem and a designer designs a solution. Which is amazing! But it doesn’t make a designer an artist (anymore than architecting a rollercoaster makes you a storyteller).

Milton Glaser was a designer, Van Gogh was an artist. Both are important, but they had dramatically different career paths.

You can’t do both, so pick one and own it.