Why is Design Considered Art?

Wait—design is art?

In this article, we will discuss why is art considered design and how it relates to art and design thinking.

While art is by definition the depiction or representation of a subject, a design is usually more of an abstraction of the subject.

More than the depiction, design is made to engage the user and to produce a powerful, delightful, or a visceral reaction.

The software that lets you stream the conversation with your child from her bedroom, the food in your refrigerator that alerts you if there’s something wrong with it, or the gift you sent your parents but didn’t get a response from them for weeks - all these products evoke some kind of reaction.

Importance of design

blank, desk, frame

Beyond the mere observation, most users interact with interfaces in their daily lives.

They move from an observation to action and from an action to an action with a focus on whatever the result is.

We know what it’s like to scroll down a website, to browse a magazine, or even to watch a movie.

But this also means that we don’t usually experience the world in real-time and we need some kind of mental setting to comprehend it.

Just like those stories that are written after you’ve read the book, or movies made after you’ve seen the movie, design is different for the person who is taking in the information.

Recognizing good design

Unlike a painter or an architect who can tell when they’ve done a good job, a designer is often oblivious to what makes their design great.

Their job is to make things that they’re told are great, that they don’t believe in at first. So, how can a designer produce something that is so difficult for users to understand?

It’s really the same as you feel after you’ve gone through a good session with art or music. After several hours of absorbing the visualizations and sounds, you can’t help but reflect upon them and digest them.

A designer’s mindstate

office, home, glasses

To explain why design is so difficult to grasp, we have to think about our minds.

A tool, no matter how profound and wonderful it is, is worthless if you don’t know how to use it.

Even if you are a master in any area of practice, it is useless if you can’t explain to the others in your discipline how to use it.

If you want to get back your car because you can’t drive it because your eyes can’t see, or if you want to join a class on medical science but you can’t speak the language, or if you want to design a perfect game but you can’t do mathematics, what good is it? It is as useless as a hammer without any nails.

It is as useless as a constructor without clay.

So, imagine yourself in this situation.

You’ve been working on a design for an application for a few months and you finally feel satisfied with the product. You’re the happiest designer in the world, you’ve done what you love, and everything just works.

A story to illustrate this

three silver paint brushes on white textile

You decide to go and get your parents a birthday gift and it turns out the delivery didn’t go well. Your parents are at the hospital with a bad infection and the doctors don’t think that your gift would help them much, even if it is the best of the best.

You’re sad, you’re frustrated, and you’re disappointed.

Then, you see the package sitting on the kitchen table. It’s not the very best but at least it still worked, and your parents are still happy.

So, you tell your self: “It doesn’t matter if my parents don’t like the gift, I’m happier because they are.” You start searching for the next best gift, trying to convince yourself that it will be a better gift, because your parents deserve it and there is no way in the world that they won’t like it.

But wait, there’s something wrong.

You forgot to mention something that your parents needed. And your parents still haven’t opened the present. They will be disappointed if you give them something and they will definitely be more disappointed if they don’t get anything at all.

It’s pretty obvious now, the reason why it was so difficult for them to understand your design.

How can you expect a user to understand a concept that you don’t really understand yourself?

Even if you’re designing a light bulb or a vacuum cleaner, it doesn’t mean that these objects are something you can touch and hold in your hand, in your home.

It doesn’t mean that you can have a look at how it works or change the power of it. All these are illusions, designed to manipulate us, to make us fall into the trap of that certain mindset, like the one you described above.

The undefined nature of what makes good design is exactly what makes design like art.

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