Difference Between Artists and Designers When it Comes to Creation


Creating as an Artists or a Designer? Do you follow paths or make your own ones. Is either of the choices here better than the other? We will try to take a look into the designing process from different standpoints and ask various people about their opinions on the subject.

Our goal will be to find the pros and cons of these approaches and find their respective target audiences and finally, to find you in it all.


Let’s begin with defining what the words “artist” and “designer” for the length of this article.
From http://dictionary.reference.com definitions are as follows:

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

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

Those don’t put any clear difference in the meaning. So we will have to create one ourselves for now:

Designer – we will view designers as trained people with vast knowledge in rules of the design process, how to use different elements to ones benefit, meaning of colors etc.

Artist - artists will be those guys out there, who probably are self-taught, they have a basic understanding of the rules out there and saw their use in multiple occasions, but in their work they tend to go their own ways.

With that we can move on.

Finding your way

People who are very good at something usually enjoy whatever it is they are doing. That gives them the drive to constantly improve their skills, learn new tricks and improve the old ones. That’s why it’s important that you make an aware decision when choosing your path.

Try to remember what made you interested in becoming a Computer Graphic. The reasons can vary quite a lot. Maybe you were just looking at all those pretty pictures and designs and decided – hey, I want to have a go (that’s my story), maybe one of your friends got you hooked up with the idea, or you just thought it’s going to be an easy way to make money, why not?

We’re only looking for the reason to find out where to go from here really. For instance – if you got into design just to make a quick buck you probably want to stick with our “designers”, nothing absolutely wrong with that. On the other hand if you’re driven by the passion to create pretty and original things, then working for corporate, big companies will probably be the definition of torture for you.

We don’t really want to see you suffer (no, really). So think hard on where you came from and where you want to go to.
Don’t jump to conclusions that  designers do their job only for cash or other non-sense like that. Just trying to make a point here.

My own strength

So now that you know where your path lies, we’ve got to think on how to get there.

Know your own strength

Every person is different on many levels. No real discovery made there. But that means, that everyone will have a different approach on design. In a field where you are expected to create things by yourself, your personality makes a huge difference. It’s hard to compete with others in everything, so how about challenging them in what your best at instead?

Make your best assets the core of your design and build around them. You may exceed at creating colours and mixing them, or you a have keen eye for details, creating unique navigation methods. Whatever it is, try to use it to your advantage.

There will be times though where you just can’t, then what? Just do the best job you can. The fact that your skills in other fields may be inferior doesn’t mean they are useless. To some extend you’re a one man army out there, especially as a freelancer. Any knowledge is to your advantage.

So find out what are you most comfortable with and build around it. Here comes the difference though – our designers will probably want to get a lot of knowledge from every direction where our artists would mainly focus on their strong sides and figure out how other fields can improve them. Again, neither way is wrong, it’s just taking a path that suits better your personality.

Focus on your own area of expertise

While the above may sound at first familiar to the above section, the concept I will try to grasp here is a bit different.

With programs getting more simplified by the year there is a growing number of human-factories, folks that can create Graphics, Code, Music, Video, etc., all done by one person. Adobe with every presentation of it’s new Creative Suite makes us want to believe, that now you will be able to easily operate any of the programs with no problem nor knowledge. Truth to the matter is though, regardless of the improvements made, we’re still far from being able to do a perfect job in all fields.

If you’re looking to do work for small companies and not very demanding clients, then you probably can get away with multitasking across different programs, but at  some point you will want to evolve further at which point you’re going to find out, that you simply just won’t have the time to do so.

So at some point you’re going to have to narrow down your area of expertise, whether you want it or not. When you begin working with others, would you prefer that they’re very good at their thing or mediocre in many? That’s how others will view you as well.

Knowing standards will be to your benefit

For designers that’s a given. Artists may scream here about ripping the bounds, going into new worlds and so on.
The truth is though – you need to know how things are done. In school they will teach you that until you are so bored of it you’re ready to burn the place down. If you are self-taught though, you need not only to learn this stuff yourself, you have to find out it exists in the first place.

You may create the most original an ingenious projects known to humanity, but if there is no way to make them work, it’s just junk.

Where to start? The old-fashioned books are a great way to get you out the door, or a Video Course (not to mistake with a Video Tutorial). You are basically looking for something, that will give you all the essential knowledge, technique, issues etc. of the field. Otherwise you’re in danger of running into those problems by yourself and that may hurt. Nobody wants  to have the project done and ready to take payment, when suddenly you realize you’ve done it all wrong. It does happen more times than you think, so be sure it does not happen to you.

I’ve found my Path

So you are finally good to go. But are you sure? Let’s try to think about what you’re getting and what you’ve missed out on.

Impact of your choice

Your works style will differ dependant on your path choice. I’ve had companies tell me in the past, that they love my portfolio, but my style is different to theirs. You rarely will have the option of second impression, even if you could change your style to match theirs. Why would they revisit you though? If they can find someone else, who’s style is originally more compatible to them. Often advertisement agencies focus on a particular type of clients, hence develop a style, which will suite their clients.

Your path will have an impact on who you work for. Once you land a client which wants a flashy website, you are going to have a portfolio with a flashy website in it. With that you can advertise to another client, then you have two designs, which are the opposite of toned-down and clean and so the wheel starts turning.

To further dwell on the subject, I’ve went ahead and asked a few company owners the following question:

In designs for your company do you put more emphasis on the fact that they should be in compliance with various standards or do you prefer to see more originality, even if the usability may suffer because of it.

The answers are  as follows:

Well, depends on a purpose of use I guess. General recipe for the design would be to make it compliant with various standards, original and usable. Company web site’s should be as easy to use and as clean as humanly possible. Another story are games’ layouts, like the one for Werdelion – major point for game’s layout is its connection to the game; of course usability also matters a lot and the design shouldn’t “suck the big one” in neither of those points as long as it’s both clean and relatively original in relation to common standards of usability.
Konrad Jurkowski, Werdelion.net

I try to make a compromise between keeping the standards, usability and to make it look original.. but if this can`t be done I’d go with standards and usability since this makes more sense from marketing side, after we get the website popular then we can try to do something different… and at the end people can choose the way they like it more
Patryk Kita, Dating Site

First I was thinking about originality, not usability. I thought “I’m going to make something original and simple”, so I did. Although when it comes to usability it’s kind of bad, because people don’t know what is what. They see the website and have no idea what to click.
So I did not think about usability, therefore my portfolio is down in the dumbs.
Piot Bozetka, piotr.bozetka.net

For us it is more important that the clients will not have any problems with using it.
Roberto Tariello, tour2iceland.com

Definitely I expect originality, that may be in compliance with various standards ;)
Małgorzata Suknarowska, agro-relax.pl

School vs. Self-Taught

I’m not trying to make a statement here that you should not go to school. But is there some backside to beginning your education there, compared to trying to learn things by yourself? Let’s make a statement – “School kills creativity” and think about it. While you may enter the school with eagerness to learn and visions of a great, artistic future ahead of you. The story will probably be different by the time you finish.
It really depends on the school and their approach to teaching, we shall not discuss that vast topic here though. Let’s just say that there is a good possibility, that by the time you get your degree, your mind will be programmed to think more in design terms then the artistic ones. On the other hand, when you learn by yourself, you are probably doing so for a certain purpose, to gain necessary knowledge and skills. Only to be expected then, that after having learned those you will want to play around with them and by so, give an outlet to your artistic side.
Of course all depends on a person and the results will vary, but the above does in fact happen more often than not. I did ask around with some people I know and the majority of them have the opinion, that apart of getting a paper, design school was a waste of time. Then again, it’s your own responsibility and in your best interest to check the school you’re applying to and make sure you will be getting your times worth.

Learn from others, bring it to the next level

You won’t come up with all the ideas by ourselves. If you are one of our “artists” then you probably really want to thought. Other people have good ideas, that’s an undeniable truth and it’s your choice if you want to fight it or make it work for you. There is nothing wrong with looking at how others tackled the same problems you’re facing. See what they came up with and think if it’s good for you and can you make it better, bring it up a notch. That helps as well unify the ideas out there. Remember that your clients may not necessarily want to learn a new navigation or others things, just to visit your website. There is a place for everything, don’t try to put everything, everywhere though.


Everything I said may be my own opinion, but I tried to present it in such a way, where opinion does not really come into place. Whether I’ve succeed or not is really up to you. Either way I hope you’ve found this article helpful in some way. The choices you make today will make a difference tomorrow, so choose wisely.



  1. Yoganathan

    As a good designer, you have to be an artist too. Otherwise you have a good technique but no inspiration

  2. I have a good friend who has this amazing talent in drawing…but he is still fooling around…I want to help him, and me being a designer I have to “train” him to become an artist and find his spark in to this….but I don’t know exactly on which path should I bring him…cus’ I can’t know! This article is a help but not much!
    What exactly an artist should do? I will appreciate your comments!

  3. Ron Hyatt

    I am a designer. But not an artist. If you give me the artwork I can design a page that won’t embarrass you. But create the artwork? Nope. I can modify your artwork (and annoy your arteeste sensibilities) but not create it.

    • RyJek

      Of course you can do both, but somehow one side of force will pull you more into it’s grasp.
      Again, the article is about a clash of concepts.

  4. Your definitions are flawed and thus the entire article upon which they are based.

    Design is the creative use or shapes, forms, colors, images and typography to convey a specific message–or provoke a specific action–from the audience. Art on the other hand is created to evoke emotional response from the audience. Elements of design are sometimes used in art–for example to guide the viewers eye to a focal point. Elements of art are used in design as well–for example, color harmony. You do not need to be an artist to be a successful designer, however it’s a definite boon if you are.

    Also, art education has existed for centuries: specialist art schools are some of the oldest in the word, and the Fine Arts and Art History are part of many reputable university’s course offerings. Truth is that classically educated artists are often much more knowledgeable than your average designer, being educated not just in the more contemporary forms of art, but also educated in the older periods, movements, and techniques (eg: Byzantine, Renaissance, Chiaroscuro to name a few of many). Also, much like the designer learns the difference between the Pen Tool and the Brush Tool in Photoshop, the artist also learns how to manipulate his medium, for example, knowing the difference between mixing a blue and yellow in Acrylic on Canvas, and mixing the same colors in Watercolor on Paper. To say artists have no formal training or education is in itself an uneducated comment, and you cannot blame artists (or artist/designers) for taking offence.

    I agree with Stephen Spicer, you should leave this article up as testament to ill-informed and ill-researched opinion.

    • lx

      I agree Koko
      Not to mention other facts, like primary and secondary arts. While sculpture and painting, along with their respective techniques, are dedicated to the emotional side of the viewer, design is always ruled by the message/purpose it tries to “beautify”. In arts, fine arts, the message is personal, its decoding is not always accessible to everyone and it’s approach is more suited to the sub-concious, the irrational. The secondary arts, which in some countries is the same with design (e.g. tapestry design, mural design, ceramics design), along with real design (fashion, interior, industrial and graphic design) is nothing more than applying the primary arts to a product, or to use some common accepted decoding rules to state a fact or a message.
      The world is indeed seen differently by an artist, respectively by a designer. Art cannot be wrong and if it’s ugly it cannot be art. Designs however can be wrong, unclear etc. This is really a long debate, there are already tons of books on this topic. Use the “old” paper books and stop trolling the net, misinforming other lil’ trolls!

    • Kristin Lacy

      Thank you for posting this comment, I was highly annoyed with the article from paragraph one and you captured all my feelings eloquently.

  5. RyJek

    You really miss the concept, don’t you?
    I clearly state, that the definitions are made for the purpose of the article. As such are not true definitions of the words. You can’t really walk up to a person on the street and tell him his a designer and expect him to understand that he does not look at stuff with an artistic approach (again, according to only the definitions picked up for THIS ARTICLE).
    The above read is about a clash of concepts, don’t bring it down to just the first few lines.
    Your trying to imply that I’m claiming that real designers or artists are closed to their own boxes, I do nothing of that kind.

  6. Stephen Spicer

    Quire frankly, I think your argument falls over at the beginning. The dictionary definitions, whilst not perfect, are in the right area. Your definitions in contrast are the writing of a young and inexperienced person. You are likely to find self-taught people in any profession; being so doesn’t make the creative process different or less disciplined.
    On the other hand you will find artists (your definition) with 70 years of experience and scholarly learning. You will not find a web designer with that simply because the web itself hasn’t been around long enough.
    I suspect in years to come you will read this again and cringe, but for now I suggest you leave it up as an example of ill-informed opinion.

  7. Jacobo

    Here is the fact:
    Design came from latin word “designo” wich means: to define, describe, represent and designate.

  8. Gabriel

    ” artists will be those guys out there, who probably are self-taught” lol, art schools are around for a few centuries.

  9. Menny

    I have to agree with the others… and add a clarification.
    There is no discreet difference between an artist or a designer. The difference is between art and design.

    Design refers to systems with an agenda. Websites, posters, traffic patterns, economic systems are all things designed.
    Art refers to the elevation of any practice to a level that expresses the human condition. Painting, Music, Philosophy, Poetry, A Conceptual Framework or Design.

    There are many differences between art & design as many as there are reasons why certain people consider themselves “artists” or “designers”. However using arbitrary discrete labels to describe personality types only limits our ability to see the dynamic qualities of the subject.Might as well pontificate the difference between “smart-phones” and “computers”… just labels.

    • Cenap

      @GoodCitizen: Some of the best defining of this over-discussed topic I’ve heard. Nice! Thanks!

  10. Patt

    You own us an apology for giving us this fake and weak definitions. I think you need to take this topic off the web and go and do more research so that you can tell us something better. I hope you will think about this and take it off. I know you can do something better than this kindergarten post. I will be waiting for the new post.

  11. RyJek

    “My own” definitions were as mentioned created only for the purpose of this article and are supposed to help explaining some differences between different approaches to various subjects.
    Really mates, you don’t need to take any of it personally as you seem to.

  12. You wrote down this definition for designer: “a person who devises or executes designs, especially one who creates forms, structures, and patterns, as for works of art or machines.”

    So this could include as well other thinks than those who followed the word “especially” because of the word “esecially which can be defined as “primarily.””

    So even if a webdesign is not primarily subject to aestehetic criteria the maker can call himself an artist and at the same time designer. I am a webdesigner more than 10 Years and I think I do more art then anything else.

    Sorry for my English I am German.

  13. V

    You’re own definition of an Artist is subjective and wrong, your assumptions are totally incorrect. With that we can not move on. You should read more.

    Love, V.