Art, Meet Design: The Universal Joy of Problem Solving

Have you ever used the terms “art” and “design” interchangeably?

Since art and design can both take the shape of visual media, they share plenty of the same characteristics and enthusiasts; countless designers have entered their careers due to their interest in art.

However, whether you are a curious novice or a professional in the creative world, you are likely aware of common perceptions about the divide between art and design. The topic can be controversial, especially in social circles of creative people. Many claim that art is simply a product of emotional and aesthetic expression, while designers should pursue their craft with specific goals that prioritize functionality.

Although these statements are not necessarily incorrect, they are arguably not unbreakable rules. Find out how you can break these rules, too, regardless of your level of experience in either field.

Designers discussing color scheme
Creative professionals brainstorming ideas  |  Photo credit: DragonImages – MotionArray

Who Are Artists and Designers?

Problem Solvers

Beneath their work’s seemingly superficial exterior, visual artists and designers both assemble viewable media to solve problems, whether these issues involve the artist’s need to be understood or the designer’s need to meet widespread demand for a commercial product. Their professions complement one another by performing the same central function in different ways.

Supposed Specialists

The following list includes — but are not limited to — the kinds of work that artists largely self-direct.

  • Graphite pencil, colored pencil, ink, charcoal, oil pastel, or chalk pastel drawings
  • Watercolor, acrylic, oil, or tempera paintings
  • Collages
  • Calligraphy
  • Lithography (printmaking)
  • Stone, wood, bronze, or clay sculptures
  • Etchings
  • Textile (fabric) art
  • Digital illustrations
  • Environmental installations
  • Photography and film
  • Performance art

Using the input of clients and customers, designers tend to produce the types of media below.

  • Branding materials such as logos and stationery
  • Marketing materials such as promotional flyers and billboards
  • Websites
  • Digital applications
  • Video games
  • Industrial products and appliances
  • Exterior packaging
  • Fashion design
  • Architectural structures
  • Interior design and decoration
  • Landscape design
  • Set or stage design

The realms of visual art and design have greatly influenced both each other and different problem-solving sectors.

Renaissance Men and Women

By discovering how to create the illusion of realistic three dimensions on flat surfaces, for example, artists of the European renaissance helped advance the mathematics and science that now inform practical applications of medicine, engineering, astronomy, and more.

In addition to pursuing his other talents, Leonardo Da Vinci studied human anatomy to learn about standard proportions — the dimensions of different parts of the body and their relationship to one another. Architect Filippo Brunelleschi re-popularized the concept of linear perspective, an accurate way to show spatial depth that had largely been forgotten since ancient Greece and Rome. Galileo Galilei analyzed and drew what he saw through his handmade telescope, leading him to make numerous discoveries about the solar system.

Vitruvian Man
Leonardo da Vinci

Perspective Drawing for Church of Santo Spirito in Florence
Filippo Brunelleschi

Moon Phases
Galileo Galilei

Although Renaissance women of the same region lacked similar educational and career opportunities, several were able to master their craft and gain recognition. These included the portrait artist Levina Teerlinc, known for her miniature yet complex portraits; Fede Galizia, who paved the way for the still life genre; and Judith Leyster, whose everyday scenes of active and joyful people set her apart.

Portrait Miniature of Elizabeth I of England
Levina Teerlinc

Peaches in a Glass Bowl with Quinces and a Grasshopper
Fede Galizia

Self-Portrait
Judith Leyster

Versatile thinkers of the Renaissance, like many artists throughout history, did not just create for themselves. Recognizing the rarity and value of their skills, rulers and other prominent leaders became their patrons.

Although patrons’ requests were restrictive at times, they ultimately offered the resources they needed to frequently explore and improve their fields.

Today, many illustrators, photographers, and filmmakers with diverse skillsets fulfill requests from others; there are also plenty of non-commercial websites, decorated home interiors, whimsical stage designs, and more. When used more loosely, the term “artist” might refer to a musician, author, theatrical performer, or chef, while the typical sound designer records, edits, and mixes audio for corporate purposes.

This post primarily focuses on visual media. Regardless, it borrows vocabulary and concepts from a diverse range of creative work, routes of perception, and types of delivery.

Braving the Elements

Artists do not necessarily receive formal education, unlike designers, who typically train in their area of expertise within the field. However, building technical skills in drawing, painting, sculpting, and more requires long hours of practice; it also helps artists discover and understand the foundational theories essential to visual media.

Elements of Art/Design

The following seven characteristics are crucial to any visual piece, and they are referred to as either the elements of art or elements of design.

  • A line is a mark with greater length than width going in any direction.
  • A shape is a set of closed lines showing length and width.
  • Forms are three-dimensional shapes showing length, width, and depth. These can be realistic or abstract — a term referred to as non-representational, meaning that it does not accurately represent the real world.
  • Space is the empty area around objects and may also be used to create depth.
  • Color can be described in terms of hue (known as pigment), lightness (or brightness), and saturation (or intensity).
  • Value refers to lightness or darkness.
  • Texture is the appearance of a surface. A piece of art or design can only look textured, or its surface might actually be that way.

Elements of Composition

Together, the previous components establish an artistic arrangement known as a composition. Most visually creative professionals recognize eight elements of composition as well, which explain how and why the elements of art or design may be used.

  • Creatives can achieve unity by making most elements of a piece fit its overall theme.
  • Balance is one way to achieve unity. It creates a feeling of stability through linear or radial symmetry and/or similar sizes of subjects on each side of a composition.
  • Contrast is a strong difference between the characteristics of any elements of art, such as light and dark values or rounded and pointed shapes.
  • A design’s focus, or focal point, is its primary feature that viewers should want to look at most often.
  • Pattern is the repetition of many lines, shapes, values, or colors.
  • Movement is not only synonymous with motion; it can also refer to the way that viewers’ eyes may be guided across a still scene through lines, shapes, and colors, usually toward a focal point.
  • Rhythm is movement developed by repeating elements at predictable intervals that may be monotonous, alternating, or even random, as well as frequent or infrequent.
  • Proportion refers to how large some objects (or parts of objects) are in comparison to others.

These two sets of elements are useful for all people, whether they want to better appreciate art and design, communicate their favorite visual characteristics, or create new masterpieces themselves.

Enhancing Expressive Content

Artists and designers regularly use creative principles to convey content — a central message — into each of their pieces. But how?

Emotion

Emotion, which is inseparable from our daily experiences and personal beliefs, drives great content; it makes art deeply personal yet widely understandable. Because plenty of art is spontaneous and free of written or printed words, it knows no language; emotive moods and messages are often recognizable on their own.

Meanwhile, the average designed product or advertisement requires plenty of words to demonstrate how to use it or take action. Designers who value simplicity can learn from artists who communicate more with less.

What might emotions look like when translated into visual form? Anything. They influence which types of lines, shapes, colors, and more might represent the content of an artistic or designed composition. For example, visual creatives ordinarily show positive emotions such as happiness, hope, and comfort through unified, rounded, continuous shapes and lines along with light values, vibrant colors, and smooth textures — and vice versa for negative emotions.

Rush Hour, New York
Max Weber

For better or for worse, but often for better, emotions make us uncomfortable. Art and design both make us aware of human flaws and conflicts. Emotion and empathy push people to examine their wants, needs, and ethical standards in order to take action about something in objective reality that matters to them.

The content of art is regularly social or political, considering the emotions and experiences of individuals and groups outside of the artist. Gaining insight from far-reaching current events or historical knowledge can be a great exercise in seeing from and empathizing with other points of view, and it may help viewers do the same.

Great designers aim to provide great value by fulfilling unmet needs. A designer can build trust with members of a target market by carefully learning about their desires and consistently applying what he or she has learned in the creative process. If the designer is a skilled visual communicator, encourages consistent interaction, and exceeds expectations through a marketing campaign, product, service, or all three, everyone involved in the exchange can benefit.

Experiences

Both artists and designers draw upon old personal experiences to generate and facilitate new ones. It is possible to gather inspiration from any stretch of time you or others have experienced, from a split-second to a day to multiple years and beyond.

We take in the daily experiences that provoke emotions through the five major senses, all of which affect how others are perceived. Keep in mind how the elements of composition — unity, balance, movement, rhythm, focus, contrast, pattern, and proportion — might figuratively explain all of what we sense in our daily lives.

  • “Movement” acquires literal meaning through sight. Seeing allows us to study the appearance and interaction of real-world people, places, natural features, and man-made items such as existing creative work or industrial, mass-produced structures.
  • Any rhythm made by sound from nature, human interaction, and live or recorded music is symbolized in the elements of composition as well.
  • Touch helps us detect textures, temperatures, and levels of pressure.
  • Smell is a sense particularly known to trigger vivid memories and strong emotions.
  • Sweet, salty, bitter, sour, or umami (savory) tastes can combine into various flavors. Spice, texture, and temperature also play considerable roles in our perception of taste.

Think about an atmosphere that once captivated you but no longer exists. How can you bring it back to life again through vivid, emotional, multi-sensory storytelling? If you need help organizing your ideas and relating them to the elements of composition, try completing the following worksheet.

Three Pages  •  Electronically Fillable

Only you know the answer due to your one-of-a-kind viewpoint, but don’t be afraid to share the worksheet with others who can support your process!

Integrating Creative Results

Like art, design inspires people to assess their priorities. However, most physical art would not be possible without design in the first place; humans need well-designed tools to live and work, let alone pursue the arts. A flourishing, well-designed physical and social environment can produce the prosperity and free time creative people need to express themselves and inspire others.

Ingenious ideas often involve emotional and sensory information, collaborations between people, and compromises among groups. Multiple techniques and points of view — especially when collected over long periods of time — produce optimal opportunities for success.

Give and Take

Art’s subjectivity reduces the potential of meeting specific goals; since design is driven by solutions routinely relied upon to generate profit, its results must be as reliable as possible. This is why design follows formulas — whether through physical measurement, usability testing, or a range of other methods — to achieve similar results over time.

While their existing processes tend to be effective, designers who frequently consider unusual feedback may develop uniquely helpful ideas whose effectiveness can still be monitored. Meanwhile, artists who function with the mindset of a typical designer can discover which ideas will likely resonate with their audiences as well as how to test and present them in tried-and-true ways.

Unlike designers facing constraints from clients and customers, artists have abundant possibilities. However, this freedom can be limiting in its own way; it is easier to solve a specific problem than a vague one. If an artist perceives that any project has a narrow scope, he or she will likely spend less time establishing a starting point and more time thinking of ways to counteract any constraints. Therefore, any creative person can benefit from organization and reasonable limits while keeping an open mind.

Stop to Think — and Advance

To strive for your goals in art, design, or even other areas of your life, learn from the generations of solution finders before you who have made your modern, extensive methods of problem solving possible. Harness all of the tools you have, build upon what you already know, and relay the details of your most important moments to create something unfamiliar yet extraordinary. This is where art meets design.

Want to learn more about Lauren’s approach to creativity and gain access to more illuminating resources? Contact the artist and designer today.

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