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Do You Need to Be an Artist to Do Web Design?

Posted on 2.02.2016

:: By Larry Alton, @LarryAlton3 ::


Web design and development are necessary components of creating online success, and certainly aesthetic appearance plays a major role in how it all plays out.

But is design an art? The experts say no – and, further, they argue that conflating art and design is detrimental to success.

Art versus Design: Drawing the Distinction

The biggest distinction between art and design is that art comes from something internal, and design comes from something external. In short, art is about creative expression, while design is created in response to a functional need.

While a site should look visually pleasing, its purpose is to perform a function. The designer needs someone to use what he or she creates; it cannot serve its purpose if there’s no one to use it. Certainly, art exists that is useful, but design creates something to be incorporated into our everyday lives.

This isn’t an insult to designers. Certainly, it’s possible to appreciate and respect design as you could a work of art. And, indeed, many designers are also artists. But the project of art is not to solve an everyday problem. In a nutshell, art is itself a project, while design is a product.

Kissmetrics sums it up this way: Pretty doesn’t count. When you look at a well-executed website design, “That looks nice” is less important than “That works well.”

Approaching Art from a Design Perspective

If anything, the art world could learn a thing or two from designers – especially online. If current successes are anything to measure by, it takes an engineer and entrepreneurial approach to make a real splash to sell art and make it accessible to a wide audience. In a recent interview, Albert Scaglione, the founder and CEO of the world’s largest art dealer, Park West Gallery, explains how he came to the art world.

While he studied to be an engineer and spent the first portion of his post-graduate adulthood teaching, art kept pulling him back. His technical history is certainly a contributor to his success.

Why the Distinction Matters

It’s not just about semantics; it’s about attitude. Design is a business-related venture, and it needs to be treated as such. The treatment of designers as artists undermines and undervalues the work they do. While this is an unfortunate and unwarranted reflection on art itself, it’s a problem for designers who produce a design – a product.

HubSpot points to one frustrating but common request designers receive from non-designer clients: “Could you send me a couple different versions of that?” This is like asking a nutritionist, after she recommends a nutrient-rich diet for better health, “Okay, but what else ya got?”

Final Thoughts: What Designers are Worth

In short, while an artist can create a number of different works of art – sometimes within a very short timeframe – a designer’s creation is meant to solve a problem. Asking for a different “version” of the designer’s solution assumes that the designer hasn’t already invested careful, thoughtful work and ideas. It’s one thing if you’re unhappy with how the website functions, but if you’d like to see the entire thing redone “just because,” expect to pay the designer to build the design up from the ground all over again.


Larry Alton is a professional blogger, writer and researcher who contributes to a number of reputable online media outlets and news sources. In addition to journalism, technical writing and in-depth research, he’s also active in his community and spends weekends volunteering with a local non-profit literacy organization and rock climbing. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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