Design – Art or Artform?

Cutting and setting design utensils on a tabletop

photo by Jo Szczepanska

A recent Quartz article, centred on comments from Milton Glaser, has sparked some lively conversation across our studios. During a talk last month at New York’s Guggenheim museum, the design legend said that design by process has ‘no relationship to art.’

“Design is often associated with the art department. That’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the aim of design.”

His opinion centred on the differentiation between the purposes at the heart of each pursuit. Where he describes art as having an unquantifiable, mysterious power, he believes design to be much more measurable. Both can invoke emotion, but their goals are very different.

This piece prompted a debate in our London studio. Is it the viewer or creator that can deem something ‘art’? Can an object be both design and art concurrently, or does it always transfer from one state to another?

Some of the most divisive comments follow:

“Design isn’t art, but we use art to influence what we do.”

“As soon as designers become artists, they’re no longer effective.”

“The best design is just as provocative and subjective as the best art.”

The prevailing feeling was, whether you consider design art or not, it needn’t always follow the rigid structure of problem-solving or have its form dictated by its function. As CEO Mat Heinl put it:

“It’s narrow to describe designers as primarily problem-solvers. Many great designers create opportunities and problems .”

Thanks to our friends on Twitter who also fueled the debate:

“Art can be totally useless; design shouldn’t be.”  – @tomaszbilak

“Once something is art, it ceases to be what it was.”  – @bull

“The meaning of Design is conveyed by the designer. The meaning of Art is created by the viewer.”  – @paulmarkbailey

What do you think, is design art? Or is it fundamentally different? We’re interested in hearing your thoughts on the matter, share your opinion in the comments section below or join the conversation on Twitter: @movingbrands.


  • Samir

    First, we need to define what is art? I think every design has two main pillars, the idea and the excution. Art is there in the excution phase, that is why same thought could look different if we give it to two different designers. Otherwise it will be just following a trend of some one’s else artistic vision.