What is the difference between a designer and an artist?


I've noticed that I often use the words "artist" and "designer" in the same context. It seems to me that every designer can be an artist, but not every artist is a designer.

I wasn't sure though, so I had a look at the definition of design, by Google:



  • a plan or drawing produced to show the look and function or workings of a building, garment, or other object before it is built or made.

synonyms: plan, blueprint, drawing, sketch, outline, map, plot, diagram, draft, representation, scheme, model

  • the art or action of conceiving of and producing a plan or drawing.

synonyms: pattern, motif, device

  • purpose, planning, or intention that exists or is thought to exist behind an action, fact, or material object.

synonyms: intention, aim, purpose, plan, intent, objective, object, goal, end, target

Based on that definition, a designer could be the creator of many things. So in that way, it seems every artist might be a designer.

So, are the two interchangeable? If not, what is the difference?

Edit: Please support your answer via citation or definition so that your answer might be marked correct, rather than being a matter of opinion.

5/8/2014 1:28:00 AM

Accepted Answer

There is no difference.

Design is art, art is design.

Any good artist is designing their work. Any good designer has an art to their work.

The artist "designs" the composition of any piece they create, be it a painting, sculpture, furniture, etc. There is design even in a child's drawing. They choose where the sun goes, where the dog is, where the grass stops, etc. That's all design within artwork.

The designer uses "artistic" choices to create appealing images. Colors, line weight, position, proximity, scale, motion, are all artistic choices made by a "designer".

If any possible difference does exist, it could possibly be argued that there is a responsibility difference. But that does not convey to any of the work specifically. Those who self-classify themselves as "designers" may perhaps be more time clock punchers while creating art. And those who self-classify as an "artist" may be slightly more free to create their designs when the mood strikes them.

I see this question as being similar to asking, "Is that a dollar or a buck?", "A quid or a pound?" Same thing.... just different terminology.

Referencing dictionary.com....

Designer: a person who devises or executes designs, especially one who creates forms, structures, and patterns, as for works of art or machines.


1 a person who produces works in any of the arts that are primarily subject to aesthetic criteria.

2. a person who practices one of the fine arts, especially a painter or sculptor.

3. a person whose trade or profession requires a knowledge of design, drawing, painting, etc.: a commercial artist.

4. a person who works in one of the performing arts, as an actor, musician, or singer; a public performer: a mime artist; an artist of the dance.

5. a person whose work exhibits exceptional skill.

I've crossed out obvious unrelated definitions, but the other three are pretty much the same as the definition of "Designer"

In today's world, many may see a "designer" as a computer operator and sadly many designers may see themselves that way as well. However, design traditionally has required great craftsmanship, steady hands, a good artistic eye, etc. Design hasn't always been as simple as launching an application and them moving some objects around on a digital page. There is art in it, same as there is design in art.

I, personally, don't know any designers who would not also qualify themselves as artists. I do know several artists who would not qualify themselves as designers, but that's more a bigoted stance about money than the actual work.

Were the designers who created the wonderful music posters and album covers of the 60s and 70s not artists?

Was Paul Rand not an artist?

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Saul Bass and Milton Glazer merely designers with no "art" in their work?

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I think not.

Oh so many down votes.... :) Apparently a great deal of designers think they aren't artists or a great deal of artists think they aren't designers.

6/5/2014 9:30:00 PM

Art is typically something that an artist designates as art, or society has deemed culturally important. It’s often a physical work (or just an idea) that had a certain aesthetic or intellectual intent. It’s purpose can vary, from being an outlet of personal expression, to excite the eyes, to set a mood/emotion, to provide commentary, etc.

Design is typically meant to give order to an idea or goal, to address problems, and solve them. Designers have to deal with practical utility (something that serves a purpose). What sets designers apart is that they must consider function and usefulness in addition to artistic qualities. However, some designers may have no interest or skill in art and deal strictly with researching or conceptualizing ways to manage an issue through design.

They can overlap heavily.

More confusingly, Applied arts deals with the use of art for a specific purpose.Industrial design, graphic design, fashion design, interior design and the decorative arts can be considered applied arts as well as design practices.

Something like architecture involves a sense of visual art and necessity for careful design.

Commercial illustrator artists create art with design purpose for a business (like a cover of a magazine).

Some designers can make work that does the job for design, but also is a work of art.

I’m sure a handful of objects in history museums were both design and art. A pot was meant to hold water/food/plants (design), while the shape or visuals also provided snapshot of the culture (art).

One difference is practicality.

Art does not need to be practical whereas design does. A chair that will be used needs to be designed for the proper purpose (to sit on it). And a chair can be art because it is designated (like a readymade). A person could also make a chair made of sharp spikes and it could be art, but not really the right design for sitting.

In reference to the comment below, design can have no final practical outcome (such as a wallpaper designer). However, a wallpaper designer still has to consider practicality within a highly decorative medium. They probably have intent to comply within certain parameters: such as how the form or pattern may repeat and seamlessness of each strip, what scale make sense for a wall to be visible in a room, the appropriate subject matter (or abstraction) that is suitable in a household or business. They may also think of what is practical from a business perspective (Does this design have enough appeal to be profitable?). Wallpaper isn't usually considered "fine" art, but the wallpaper designer may feel that the design requires forms of art, whether subtle, simplistic, or bold to contrast with the interior space.

To sum up, artists aren't confined by practical restrictions (although sometimes they can be self-imposed). Designers may be required to create under certain guidelines that may or may not have artistic components.