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The Differences between Art and Design

And of course, their similarities

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How an Art education can create a great designer

People have sometimes been surprised to find that I did not study Graphic Design at University. Having studied Fine Art, I have sometimes struggled to fully explain the complex nature of the similarities in Graphic Design and Fine Art, and how studying art has greatly influenced my work as a designer. 

In 2009 I left Goldsmiths University, London with a Fine Art degree and the craftsmanship to create artwork through various different media, although oil painting was my favourite form of expression. 

Goldsmiths is renowned for it’s contemporary and modern art, and it’s impressive alumni, the Young British Artists arguably changed the future of modern art.

In terms of the number of applicants, I had a 1 in 10 chance of getting onto the course at Goldsmiths and by some force of nature I was accepted. I thought that was the hard part, boy was I in for a shock.

Goldsmiths University of London Kate Adamson

Goldsmiths University of London, Ben Pimlott Building

In the early 90s my parents purchased an Apple Mac computer. As a young child I was mainly interested in what games it had. Sadly there were no games available for the Mac at the time, so I spent a lot of time on Quark Xpress and Adobe Photoshop. I would spend hours on Photoshop while my friends where playing all sorts of awesome PC games. I started to use Adobe as a tool to create images and shapes and experiment with colour. It felt fresh and immediate. 

In 2006 in my first year at Goldsmiths, my tutors had mentioned several times that I was not an artist, I was a designer. They would get frustrated with me that I was using design tools to plan out a painting instead of experimenting and using multiple canvases. I was using a design tool because a painting has to be designed, that was my thinking. It was a way to get images out of my head quickly so I could move on quickly if something didn’t work. When I visited David Hockney’s ‘A Bigger Picture’  exhibition at the Royal Academy in 2012, his iPad art blew me away, and I could see how technology was becoming more embraced as a tool for creativity.

My first job after university was in Graphic Design. I worked at the same company in London for many years providing all of their graphic design and branding. I grew as a designer and added a wealth of new skills and insights to my toolkit. It was during those years that I started to understand what my tutors meant when they said I was a designer. It became clear that my satisfaction from my work came from delivering a unique message through artwork. Something that was not to be left open for interpretation. That was what I struggled with in my paintings, I  would be disappointed if the audience did not understand my message. I was not satisfied if the artwork was interpreted differently by each person

From my art education I learned the true value of colour theory, and composition. I gained incredible knowledge and understanding of how humans interact with visual stimulation and learned how emotional responses can be created through various media.

The similarities in art and design are vast in a sense of the ‘rules’. But the differences lie in the end goal. Design is a tool used to communicate a message and it is to be replicated and shared many times. Art draws attention to feeling and emotion.

Art’s purpose is to be emotive but seldom focuses on clarity or solving a problem functionally. If you see it differently to someone else, that is part of the power of the artwork. Design is supposed to be understood and interpreted uniformly by everyone

My art education has been an incredible asset for Grinning Graphics, not just from an aesthetic perspective, although Grinning Graphics has gained a reputation for an artistic approach to branding, but also from a strategy approach. Our clients benefit from having a designer who can think abstractly and creatively to solve a problem and to create brand strategies that deliver key messages with measurable results.

Oil on Board, Untilted. Kate Adamson 2010

Similarities and Differences between Art and Design - from Grinning Graphics' perspective:

Art Vs Web Design

Similarities – User interaction. Interaction with space, movement, physical engagement. Aesthetics.

Differences – the visual designs in art serve no practical purpose. On a website visual designs act as a gateway to information with a specific end goal and improve user experience. The experience of a website affects the length of time someone spends absorbing a message.

Differences between Art and Design

Art Vs Logo Design

Similarities – Composition, visual communication, observation, understanding

Differences – A logo is a representation of a larger concept – a brand. Art stands alone. A logo is intended to be viewed repetitively to cement an impression of a brand, it should not be ambiguous.

Differences between Art and Design

To learn more about Grinning Graphics click here.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the difference between art and design. Leave a comment below and thank you for reading.

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