Too often, people confuse design with art.

Imaginations run wild, picturing designers awaiting our muse and then — poof! — bringing evocative new visual creations into existence.

(Don Draper’s magical approach to ad work did some damage here.)

That “Eureka!” process isn’t design. That’s art — though an insultingly reductive definition of it, to be sure.

This is art, presumably.

The difference

Art can be anything. Art is expression, of and by its creator. It’s a shareable impression of the artist’s interior.

But design is problem-solving. It’s solving the problems of a client. It’s work with defined purpose.

Because it has a purpose, design is scientific, measurable, provable: did it achieve the intended purpose?

In that context, design can be visual: the look of a website or the shape of a car. But it can be non-visual: the plan for a city, the sound of the alerts on a device, the tactile feedback of a dial. These are all design, but not art, and they’re each aimed at a purpose.

“Design is a solution to a problem.
Art is a question to a problem.” —John Maeda

We are purpose-driven

The work's purpose is the cornerstone of all we do. Every project has a purpose, and it’s this purpose at which all design decisions are aimed and measured against.

We use a variety of tools to understand and achieve this purpose. Many are not very visual — spreadsheets, conversations, documents, diagrams. We're analytical before we get into the generative work of creation most people envision as design.

We work in agile formats to suss out the whys and hows. It’s easy to add or remove an entire feature to an app or section to a website when we’re describing it in a Google Doc. But in beautiful, full-fidelity visual design that same effort could take hundreds of hours.

Of course, we also use many visual tools to achieve our intended purpose: layout, typography, color, gestalt psychology, shape, line, and so on. These all have subjective foundations; everyone responds to a given design differently. Some people associate that blue with power and stability, through a complex psychological network of connections to big, permanent things like the sky and ocean. Others associate it with a comical lack of design originality because it’s become so overused.

"That blue" is everywhere. Count us in the "comical lack of originality" camp.

But if we review our design work against its purpose, we can ensure it’s effective. We can avoid — or at least minimize — subjective debates.

Is the purpose to build trust? Is imbuing the brand with a feeling of familiarity and permanence our best route?

Go with that blue!                    

Is the purpose to set the brand apart from the norm?                    

Avoid that blue!

Our clients hire us to benefit from our decades of design experience. Our job is to throw the full force of our expertise in the direction of their purpose. We help define that purpose and make it measurable. We outline the best way to build it. We design to build trust with our clients’ customers, optimize usability, promote their brand. We solve for their purpose.