“Art is for Self, Design is for Others"

“Art is for Self, Design is for Others"

April 26, 2023

As I reflect on my journey through the world of design, I find myself contemplating this quote that has profoundly resonated with me.

These words were spoken by a former VP of UX, a remarkable design leader I had the privilege of working with. This simple yet thought-provoking statement encapsulates the essence of design and its purpose in a way that has deeply influenced my approach to my craft.

What does it truly mean when we say that "Art is for self, Design is for others?" At its core, this quote serves as a reminder that, as designers, we must place the needs, desires, and experiences of our audience at the heart of our work. Art, as a form of self-expression, allows the creator to communicate their thoughts, emotions, and perspectives without the constraints of utility or purpose. Design, on the other hand, is the harmonious marriage of form and function, with a primary goal to serve others through the creation of meaningful, user-centric experiences.

To better illustrate the distinction between art and design, let's delve into three real-world examples:

The Painted Canvas vs. The User Interface

Consider a painter, standing before a blank canvas, brush in hand. The artist is free to explore their innermost thoughts and emotions, translating them onto the canvas in a way that may only make sense to them. The final piece may evoke a variety of emotions and interpretations from those who view it, but the primary purpose of the artwork is to provide an avenue for the artist's self-expression.

Now, imagine a designer tasked with creating a user interface for a mobile app. Their goal is not to express themselves artistically but rather to craft an experience that caters to the needs and preferences of the app's users. The designer must consider usability, accessibility, and aesthetics, all with the end user in mind. In this context, design serves a functional purpose and exists to benefit others.

The Abstract Sculpture vs. The Ergonomic Chair

An abstract sculpture, with its intricate shapes and forms, can captivate an audience and stir a range of emotions within them. The sculpture's primary function is to convey an idea or emotion, without necessarily serving a practical purpose.

Contrast this with the design of an ergonomic chair. The designer's objective is to create a piece of furniture that not only looks visually appealing but also provides comfort, support, and ease of use for the person sitting in it. In this case, design is focused on meeting the needs of others, transcending aesthetics to prioritize functionality.

The Expressive Street Art vs. The Intuitive Wayfinding System

Street art can be a powerful medium for self-expression, often capturing the spirit of a community or the artist's own experiences. Passersby may appreciate the beauty and message of the art, but its primary function is not to guide or inform them.

In contrast, a well-designed wayfinding system helps users navigate complex environments, such as airports or subway stations, with ease. The designer must consider factors like visibility, clarity, and consistency to ensure the system effectively guides users to their desired destinations. This is a prime example of how design serves others by solving problems and enhancing the user experience.

As I contemplate the quote "Art is for self, Design is for others," I am reminded that, as designers, our ultimate goal is to create meaningful experiences that resonate with and serve our audience. This perspective invites us to question our motivations and approach to design, prompting us to ask ourselves: Are we truly designing with others in mind, or are we merely seeking to express our artistic vision?

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© Vlad Gorshkov 2024. Please don't steal.