By Clair Byrd
Many people conflate visual art and design simply because of their many similarities. Art and design both require immense creativity, an acute sense of aesthetics and style, emotional intelligence, and the ability to tell a story through visual media. While these are compelling—and sometimes confusing— similarities, the application of these two disciplines is surprisingly straightforward:
- Design requires a function, art does not
- Design is results-driven, art isn’t necessarily
The main differences stem from the objective of the work. When a designer starts working, he knows in advance what he’s tasked to achieve. He’s driven by an objective, a plan, a client, a contract. The artist’s driver is imagination.
How a product looks is becoming more important. This idea is proved by the rapid rise of companies that put product design first—consider Uber for transportation, Virgin’s take on banking, or Snapchat’s impact on communication. Where usability was once the only necessary characteristic, consumers now expect products that are both highly effective at meeting their needs and incredibly visually appealing, simply because of frequent interactions with design-focused brands (read: Apple’s various products).
Without these two things in tandem, the user’s perception of your product can be damaged. Often to the point of abandoning it all together.
So what does that mean for a product designer?
Designers must, in some ways, think like artists. They must logically apply an imaginative idea, translating and clarifying an intangible ideal. Certain art thinking must be considered when designing any new product or feature set.
Art provokes, design clarifies.
Applying art thinking to your design thinking
Art is purposefully provocative. It’s intentionally emotional. Every stroke of a pen, smudge of charcoal, or splash of paint was meant to illicit a specific reaction from the viewer—pushing and pulling on the viewer’s emotions. Ultimately, designers need to understand how visuals affect emotions, how emotions affect choice and how to use that to your product’s advantage. All design choices should be informed by how someone uses, plans to use, and feels about the product.
Artist’s thinking can be applied to your design—users ultimately stick with products because they trust them, and that trust is developed because the product meets their specific needs and provides the right emotional experience.
Even though emotions often appear illogical, there’s method to their madness. Things that are off-balance will—logically—make a person feel off-balance as well. White space makes people feel calm … but too much and your user could feel isolated. By learning to understand and translate people’s emotional reactions, you can project user responses and better control their emotional experience through your product.