Artists vs. Designers

When I’m working with companies, I’m often asked if they should hire a designer or an artist. I think a lot of companies view artists and designers as interchangeable, but the truth is they do two completely different things.

While the two disciplines can sometimes intersect, artists and designers serve different purposes, and it’s important you know the difference so you hire the right one for the job.

Artists are expressive, and often pride themselves on beauty and aesthetics. Artists help tell stories by evoking emotions through their visuals. An artist’s job is to make things that look good, and while what looks good can often be a matter of subjective taste, they use principles of color and composition to create breathtaking experiences. When you see a piece of creative that makes you step back and say “wow,” that’s the work of an artist.

Designers are problem solvers. They ask the question, “does this work optimally?” and alter things in pursuit of that goal. If something isn’t easy to use, they’ll keep adjusting it until it is. Beauty is only one part of the puzzle for designers – function matters more. Unlike art, design can be measured somewhat objectively, with user testing, analytics, and other data.

Be mindful though, that often in today’s market the term “graphic designer” is used in place of “graphic artist.” Hire the wrong one, and you’ll end up with someone whose goal is to take your idea and make it beautiful, rather than coming up with visual solutions to address a communications brief. Again, sometimes they overlap, but if you want a “graphic designer” you want to be sure they’re poking at the problem you’re trying to solve and working from a deeper context than just the visuals.

So which one should you hire? It all depends on your needs.


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