On a recent spring morning a fellow designer and I began playing a game of categorizing our favorite posters as more art or design. Mucha’s posters were decidedly more art, while Scher’s poster series for Public Theatre leaned to the design side. As we played the game, going from Glaser to Bernhardt to Bass we had to reflect on what exactly makes art art and design design. Where is the cutoff from one to the other? When does a piece of art stop being art and start being a piece of design? In answering this question we found that communication and strategy are essential to the practice of design. Without a targeted message a piece of design becomes art.
To quote an old idiom, art asks questions, design answers. Art is primarily concerned with the expressing of emotion and tone, often vague but communicated through linework and color. The artist usually does not seek to express and direct message, but rather evoke emotion. Design, on the other hand, is meant first and foremost as a communication. Any vagueness of message is a mistake on the part of the designer. Clarity is essential. The main goal of a piece of design is to send an impactful, condensed idea to a target audience. This is the single most defining difference between the two practices. Other differences include art usually being a solo endeavor, while design is usually the result of a collaborative effort and critique. Additionally while art has no set process to which one must adhere, design is usually done in a set process to help designers frame and understand the project’s objectives and ensure the goals are met. Although distinct in definition, most great design works lie on the spectrum between art and design.
Art and design have a shared history, often with overlapping characters and drawing from the same visual vocabulary. During the Art Nouveau movement painter and designer Alphonse Mucha combined his contemporary artistic style with his design work, creating intricate lithographic advertising posters for clients like Job, a manufacturer of cigarette papers. While the main message of selling the papers is communicated, it is done in an artful way. Other examples of work that combines both art and design include Milton Glaser’s Dylan poster, Herbert Matter’s Swiss tourism poster, Saul Bass’s work in title sequences, to Paula Scher’s use of collage work in her Public Theatre poster series. What makes these designs so impactful are their ability to simultaneously communicate and leave a lasting visual impression.
Strategy is the most important part of design. The most beautiful design could still fall flat if you don’t understand your target audience. To effectively communicate you must first understand the message you want to communicate and how you want to portray yourself to your audience. Strategy allows you to not only define who you company is, your goals, but also ensures your message will be distilled in the most impactful way possible. To express a brand and a message you must first understand your brand in the context of the competition, from local to international, and how the public currently perceives your brand. The better the strategy, the more effective your brand communication can be.
At modern8 we create our designs based on a solid foundation of strategy. We strive to fully understand the company, the competition, and the brand before we dig into the creative process. Three of five steps of our d5 strategic process are information gathering, distilling, and developing a strategic plan of action for the design. To see our full strategic d5 Process here.