Design is an Art Form

Design is an Art Form.
It must be treated as such.

There are plenty of people on either side of our mantra and core belief. I’ve read the dissents, but I’m steadfast in my thoughts.

Senior UX Designer, Austin Knight stated “art is about the artist, design is about the user” as if art is about one thing and one thing only. In fact, to imply that art is only about the artist or a sole thing is a gross disrespect to artists using their platforms to address the issues that shape the human experience. We are not all painting still life images of decaying fruit, but vibrant portraits of everyday life and the things we encounter. All art doesn’t seek to fulfill a personal need- some exists to inform audiences of examined and potential realities, in a myriad of ways. There is a function and that function serves an audience.

Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh
Ashanti Combs by the Ashanti people
Combs, Ashanti people

I think some people tend to view works like Starry Night as art, but not the combs of the Ashanti Tribe in Ghana. Some disregard art’s history in the realm of functionality. The pottery the Greeks created was not solely meant to sit on shelves and to be adored, but to carry and hold water and oils. The masks the Igbo fashioned were not designed to sit behind glass boxes on display in a Washington, DC museum, but to ward off evil spirits or invoke their gods. The same for the fertility statues of the Baoulé, the hunping funerary urns of the Imperial Chinese, and the reliefs painted in tombs of the Ancient Egyptians. Native Americans actually worked their rituals into the very process of creating their art. They all created functional art.

Igbo Mgbedike Helmet Mask, Nigeria. Early 20th Century. Wood and Pigment. Photo: Yale University Art Gallery
Hunping Funerary Jar, China, Zhejiang province. Western Jin Period (265–316) Glazed stoneware, Yue ware. Photo: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University
Osiris with King Ramses II, Temple of Ramses II, Egypt. 19th Dynasty, 1250BC. Limestone.

Igbo Mgbedike Helmet Mask | Hunping Funerary Jar | Osiris with King Ramses II

Is photography not an art? Does some photography not serve a purpose outside of the photographer? Does that type of photography not have a strategy? I believe most commercial photographers would say yes and that they use their artistic abilities to achieve a particular outcome so that their art serves their client’s purpose.

We have to rid ourselves of the notion that all art is simply personal or self-serving. Or that it is all ethereal or shrouded in mystery. Or that it is all a fanciful hobby. It may start deep within, but it may ultimately become something much more- not only in terms of consumption, but in the strategy and process of its creation or as it comes to fruition. Once we have a wider understanding of what art is and can be, we can begin to see how design is intwined.

No disrespect to Milton Glaser, the renowned designer of the iconic I Heart New York logo and recipient of the 2009 National Medal of Arts, who said “observe that there’s no relationship to art” when speaking on design- but I believe design is intrinsically tied to it. We study and practice the visual arts. We study and practice the principles. We let those guide us. Then we push in different directions. I’d venture to say all designers are artists, but not all artists are designers.

Design marries art and strategy. It is the art of combining strategy and aesthetic to perform a function. We use our fundamental understanding of color psychology to elicit feelings of warmth, zen, luxury, community, or of whatever the project calls for. We draw on our knowledge of composition, the golden ratio, and rule of thirds to strike balance. We wield our tools to create something amazing. We’re artists. And we’re damn good ones. Period.

About The Author

Antoine

The Founder + CEO of West 7th Design Studio. A creative with 10 years in the industry, equally invested in the final product and the discovery it takes to get there.