Graphic Design v. Fine Art

Mike Arnebeck


Graphic design and art overlap in many ways because they are both visual expressions of an idea. They are often conflated because they share the same fundamental visual principles (color, balance, shape, line, contrast, etc.), i.e., the same principles that apply to good art also apply to good graphic design.


What differentiates graphic design and fine art is their base purpose.


The purpose of art is solely up to the artist. It can convey a specific message, a vague message that is left up to the interpretation of the viewer, or no message at all only to bring beauty to its environment. Art is most often subjectively measured because art sends a different message to everyone.

Graphic design utilizes art, but it needs to be very specific.


The purpose of design is to convey the client’s message as clearly as possible, with no room for various interpretations. A design must be consistent in its messaging because it needs to be clearly understood by many different people. Design needs to be objectively measured because it needs to send the same message to everyone.

Artists have an audience of one, and they work until they are satisfied. Designers have an audience of many. They must understand the clients’ goals and the target audiences’ needs; therefore, design is a more methodical process. 

Form & Function

Art can prioritize form over function, whereas design requires function to come first.

For example, show this object to 100 people:

Call it “art,” and you’ll get 100 different opinions, based on personal taste, as to whether it is “good art.”

Now, call it a “chair” and have 100 people sit on it. You’ll get 100 people agreeing that it is a “bad design” for a chair, even if they still like the look of it.


Every artist and designer has their own artistic preferences, but designers need to be able to override those preferences if it doesn’t lead to the best design solution for the client. Art and design are not interchangeable because good art does not automatically mean it’s a good design, but a good design can also be good art.



-Dive a little deeper in this interview with Jeff Goodby

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