Is Good Design Art?

futurelab default header

by: Design Translator

One of the great things I love about blogging, is you get to meet so many great people through your blog. One of them, whom I now consider a friend, is William Lehman from the Artist Hideout. Not only is he a talented Artist, he is a passionate blogger and a pastor (cool!). Discussions with him and reading his blog were ways for me to keep in touch on the more “raw and emotional” aspect of my design profession.

During one of our on-line chats on the confluence of design and art and the relationship between the two, he had invited me to write a guest article on his site discussing, from my point of view as a designer, this relationship between Design and Art. I was more than honored to. So here it is. It’s a little late, as we let it go up on his site first, but as our blog audiences are different I wanted it posted at Design Sojourn as well.

Is Good Design Art?

Taking a position as a designer and moving from the discipline of Design to Art, I like to ask can good Design be considered as Art? This is one of those perpetual debates and discussions topics that really have no right or wrong answer. The way I see it, it always seems to be in essence boils down to how you define what design or art is?

If I take a stab at this relationship between Art and Design, I always find that the issue is not only about the definition of Design or art, but about the amount of “constraints” a discipline has to deal with.

Just to clarify, I believe creativity cannot exist in vacuum, there must be boundaries. For example even creating Art has its own constraints that must be dealt with such as the properties of clay and even paint on canvas. But my point is Art has a lot less constraints to work with than say Industrial Design or Mechanical Design.

In many ways, I always consider Art to be pure expression, in other words a tangible form born from emotion and/or inspiration. This if taken from a Designer’s stand point could be very difficult to reproduce in industrial design. Often Industrial designers have to make compromises simply because the mechanical and manufacturing processes do not allow a certain form or detail. Product shapes are often be dictated by what manufacturing machines or processes can or cannot do.

Therefore logically for a product to be considered Art, or an expression, it has to conquer the different mechanical constraints, raise above AND maintain the original inspirational intent. In many cases the more complex a product is in terms of specifications, manufacturing or usage requirements, the more difficult it is to turn it into Art. I do take my hat off to the few designers that has been successful and possibly the reason why many products in MoMa’s Architecture and Design collection are often very low technology products, although Apple has shown that they can buck the trend. Kudos to them.

Now lets get back into what was brought up originally in the beginning of this Article. And that is when Designers try to create a product that could become Art, how we define design rears its ugly head again. To explore this further, we need to look at the title of this post from another angle; can good Art be good Design? Let’s take a look at Philip Starck’s infamous Jucy Salif.

The more artistic inclined love this and most Designers I know hate it, I myself sit on the fence on this one. Why? Many designer dislike this orange or lemon juicer as it does not do its job at all. The only think it does is make an artistic statement. So the Jucy Salif, if considered as a product that has to solve a problem (ie juicing oranges), it outright fails. Is it then bad design? Perhaps. However, if you consider it as a form of expression and its only purpose of it existing is to make a statement, then it does the job well.

To further expand on this point lets look at how the dictionary considers the words Design and Art. Firstly Design is often used as verb. We design, you design or I design. You see “Design” is an action and something you do. Art for example is a noun, a description of perhaps even a classification of genera. You don’t really say we art or I art, instead you say we paint or I sculpt.

So you see Design has intent and often has a functional purpose and that is to solve a problem. Many good designs are great solutions to problems as well as able to maintain in their form outlook the other “deeper meanings”. It’s not to say that art has neither purpose nor meaning. No, it’s just that good Art is defined under a different set of parameters. In many ways Art and Design are 2 sides of the same coin.

So therefore at the end of the day, can good Design equate to Art? Yes and no. As good design can also NOT be art.

Fortunately this divide caused by constraints and definition will get smaller. The advances in computing and manufacturing technology will bridge this gap. We can soon create beautiful forms, based purely on emotion, without much of the current manufacturing constraints we now have. We can soon be only constraint by the basic laws of physics and rejoice that the manufacturing requirements we have are basically now gone.

As a great example, do take a look at some of the cutting edge “design” work by the Studio Commonwealth in collaboration with Joshua Davis at their exhibition. They build their very unique products by pushing the edge of rapid-prototyping machines. Currently though only featuring low-technology products, the potential of this process is very huge.

Some of their other great work.

Image Source

As you can see the time will soon come, when the limits or making thing will be only our imagination. I hope you enjoyed this article and I would love any feedback you might as well as your thoughts or examples you might have on the relationship between Art and Design.

Original Post: