Get In Touch
Workshop 17, The Bank
Corner Tyrwhitt & 24 Cradock Avenue
Rosebank, Johannesburg

Art vs Design: The difference, and why it matters to your brand

To define the difference between art and design, let’s set the scene with few quick scenarios:

  1. Imagine a lovestruck young man from a bygone era, pining for the affections of a sweet maiden he spied out of a towering fortress window. The “art” here is the poem he writes about the way the sun gleams off a lock of her hair. The design is the makeshift ladder he constructs scurry up the side of the turret and go introduce himself.
  2. A mother, away from her children on a business trip, asks her partner back home to send her a reminder of the little ones. In this instance, the “art” is the badly drawn crayon family portrait. The design is the instant messaging interface a photo of that drawing got sent halfway across the world with.
  3. When you order UberEats, there may be significant art in the execution of a perfect pizza, but the design you’re most thankful for is that it’s coming straight to your door without a single face-to-face interaction.

In these scenarios, art and design both undoubtedly necessitate creativity and elicit emotions. The two concepts share significant overlap, and there’s not necessarily a line in the sand that exists to differentiate them precisely. As you can see, though, “art” is more geared towards the expression and exploration of emotion and sentiment, while “design” is based around using creativity to engineer the solution to a specific problem.

What we can use to delineate between these two forms of creation is their ultimate function. Though we’re sure there is plenty of art present in the way you run your business, which translates through passion into your marketing, it’s crucial that you integrate intentional design into your marketing strategy too. You can use this power of intentionality to drive brand recognition, loyalty and trust, positive online sentiment, increased engagement, and ultimately, far more conversions than a singularly “artsy” approach might yield. Plus you’ll look good doing it.

What are the key differences between art and design?

If the above scenarios didn’t totally clarify the differences between art and design, we’ve broken them down into four key points of departure between the two disciplines, namely: purpose, functionality, communication and audience.


  • Art: People have been asking “what is art?” for centuries, and we won’t pretend we know the ultimate, definitive answer. In general though, the primary purpose of art is self-expression: to convey emotions, thoughts, and ideas in a way that is personal to the artist. It’s created for its own sake and may not necessarily have a functional or utilitarian purpose. Art is creativity let out for a run in the park.
  • Design: The scope of what constitutes design is also fairly broad, but usually its primary purpose is to solve a specific problem or fulfil a particular need. Designers aim to create practical and functional solutions that meet user requirements and are (usually) aesthetically pleasing. Design is creativity trained and directed at helping steer a purpose and inspire action.


  • Art: Art does not necessarily have to be functional or have a practical use. It is often created purely for its aesthetic or emotional value. When you think about what we consider masterpieces – the Mona Lisa, Michelangelo’s David, Starry Night – they don’t really DO much except for make us feel stuff. Maybe at a push, they could act as incredibly expensive tea trays and coat racks too, but not very efficiently.
  • Design: Design is concerned with creating functional solutions that are practical and useful. It involves a process of problem-solving and finding fixes that meet the requirements of the end-users. Design is all around you. In the chair you’re sitting on as you scroll through this blog, in the shoes you decided to strap on your feet today, and built into the walls of the space in which you find yourself.


  • Art: Art can communicate a wide range of messages, emotions, and ideas. It often doesn’t have a highly specific message or intended communicative purpose, but can evoke an emotional response in the viewer. In fact, recent developments in Postmodern Art theory have spurred many contemporary artists to leave the creation of meaning ENTIRELY up to the viewer, by constructing evocative symbolism and empowering the audience to establish their own narrative around it.
  • Design: With some exceptions, design communicates a specific message or idea through its form and function. It is often created to communicate a brand message or to convey a specific course of action to the target audience. Visiting an art gallery and pondering what it all means is a rewarding experience. Trying to navigate a brand’s website to find opening hours and ending up feeling confused and bewildered, is not.


  • Art: The audience for art is often diverse and can include anyone who appreciates the aesthetics or emotional value of an artwork. There is nothing about Monet’s waterlilies that is targeted at a specific demographic, except maybe frogs. The art that speaks to international communities successfully taps into universal, broad appeal.
  • Design: The audience for design is usually more specific and targeted. Designers create solutions for a particular audience, and the design must meet their specific needs and preferences. A children’s furniture designer is going to put a pirate ship steering wheel on a bed for young boys because that addition will make young boys very happy. This designer knows fully well that this detail likely wouldn’t delight middle-aged women in the same way, but that’s inconsequential, because his target audience is so stoked, they’re probably hyperventilating.

Why understanding the difference between art and design is important for your brand?

Understanding the difference between art and design is important for your brand because navigating that gap can help you make more informed and effective decisions when it comes to the direction of your marketing. Though having talented artists on your branding and marketing team is a wonderful addition to the innovation that enters your workflow process, without a designer to galvanise and steer that raw creativity towards a strategy that converts, your content will not be making its maximum contribution to your success.

You can use intentional design to create more effective marketing campaigns, develop stronger brand identities, and create products and services that meet the needs and desires of your customers. A great designer will ensure that your marketing efforts are targeted towards your specific audience at every step, and always use the appropriate medium to communicate their message. They’re not just making stuff that looks pretty. They’re making stuff that looks pretty AND delivers results.

In addition, as a decision-maker in your business, developing an understanding of the different approaches and processes involved in art and design might be beneficial for your top-down conceptualisation and creation process. You can centre your brainstorms around creating solutions that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing, while being firmly rooted in solution-based thinking.

Examples of excellent, intentional design in marketing

Old Spice “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like”

1 KmRPNj 882Nn5Cin6sqRcA
In 2010, Old Spice launched an instantly iconic and hilarious interactive social media campaign featuring actor and heartthrob Isaiah Mustafa. The campaign included a series of YouTube videos, Twitter responses, and personalised video responses to fans, which led to a 107% increase in sales within a month. Rather than simply sending out artsy images of a good-looking man who smells nice, the team behind this campaign designed an experience that was engaging, exciting, unexpected and easy to involve one’s emotions in by inserting branded content into conversational spaces on social platforms.

Coca-Cola “Share a Coke”

shareacoke e1572216156887

In 2011, Coca-Cola launched a personalised campaign where they printed popular names on their bottles and cans instead of their logo. The campaign went viral on social media, generating over 500,000 UGC photos with the hashtag #shareacoke and increasing sales by 2.5% – which marks a massive, massive amount of profit generated for a company as large and ubiquitous as Coca-Cola.

The art is present in the iconic Coke branding and the evocative, refreshing imagery of an ice-cold bottle. The successful design, however, is the immediate excitement, brand loyalty and personal investment you felt when you found a can or bottle with your name on it. The solution to the problem of increasing coke sales? Creating the sentiment that “everybody loves Coke, but this one is MY coke.” It’s a pretty genius way to use design to immediately personalise a global giant.

Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign

Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign, launched in 2004, featured women of all shapes, sizes, and ages. This was the first time many women saw bodies that resembled theirs making an appearance in mainstream advertising. Not only were these bodies present, but they were presented as natural, beautiful and desirable.

The campaign challenged traditional beauty standards and encouraged women to feel good about themselves in their natural bodies. This run of ads was a huge success and helped establish Dove as a brand that was committed to promoting positive body image. Intentional storyboarding, casting and design direction solved the problem of alienatingly narrow representation by making more than just one type of woman feel seen. Sometimes, the most effective design decision can be accurately representing the world in front of us, and a talented designer will know precisely when to do that.

Tips and tricks for successfully integrating both art and design into your brand

  • Start by establishing your brand values: Before incorporating art and design into your brand, it’s important to understand your brand values and personality. What does your brand stand for, and what kind of emotions do you want to evoke in your audience? Your art and design choices should align with these values and personality traits. Randomising your aesthetic based on personal taste and not what appeals to your audience, is likely to result in a confusing, difficult-to-follow brand persona.
  • Develop a brand style guide or CI: A brand style guide is a document that outlines the visual elements of your brand, including your colour palette, typography, and graphic styles, as well as mood boards and usage guidelines. This style guide can serve as a reference for all your visual communications, ensuring that your brand remains consistent across all platforms and mediums. This is especially useful if multiple designers work on your brand and you need to ensure consistency in your content.
  • Use colour to evoke emotion: Colour plays a powerful role in shaping emotions and can be used to create a strong visual impact. Choose colours that align with your brand values and personality, and use them consistently across all your visual communications. Think about Coca Cola. You immediately think “red,” don’t you? Your colour palette is the very first, immediate point of brand recognition your audience will encounter, especially digitally. Make your use of colour memorable and distinctive.
  • Stay up to date with design trends, but authentically: Design trends are constantly evolving, and it’s important to stay up to date with the latest styles and techniques, especially if your target audience is young, on-trend and spends a significant amount of time online. That being said, it’s crucial not to simply follow trends for the sake of it, and make sure any design choices you make align with your brand values and personality. It’s always obvious and feels a little desperate when brands hop on trends that don’t align with their previous messaging.
  • Don’t forget about accessibility: Incorporating accessibility into design is essential because it ensures that everyone, regardless of ability, can access and interact with your brand’s content. By designing with accessibility in mind, you are creating a more inclusive and welcoming environment for people with disabilities. This includes considerations such as ensuring that text is readable, images have alt text, and colours are easy to distinguish for those with vision impairments.

It’s also important to consider accessibility in the user experience design, such as making sure that navigation is easy to use with assistive technologies. Not only is accessibility important from a moral standpoint, but it can also improve your brand’s reputation and reach a wider audience.

Accessibility-forward design creates a better user experience for everyone.

Design works. Now make it work for you.

By the very nature of the discipline, anyone can be an artist. To be an artist is to express oneself creatively. Not everyone is a designer, though. Being a designer means harnessing that creativity to effectively solve a problem, and doing so in a way that motivates action in others. Great designers make things happen, bring ideas to life, and instill emotions in those who interact with their work.

Great designers are also hard to find. Thankfully, here at FGX, we’ve managed to discover and employ some of the best. When you let our creative team handle all your design needs, you’re choosing effective, solution-based content and brand representation. You’re also choosing a team who understands and incorporates trends, can suggest exciting directions for your visual content, and motivate their thinking with hard data, thorough performance analytics and years of combined experience.

If you think about it, FGX has designed the optimal design solution for your brand. Grab this opportunity when you schedule a consultation with our team, and see what else we can offer you while you’re there. You might be surprised at the potential you’ve been missing out on within your own offerings.