Art ≠ Design

Art ≠ Design

My initiation into the design process was not pleasant. The transition from an independently driven traditional art background to a collaborative series of design thinking processes is analogous to Shakespeare learning how to DJ an electronic set for a bunch of millennials at a music festival. The first encounter began with a presentation on why design is not art. It went something like this:


  • Meant to provoke, not solve.
  • Empathy is considered, but not strived for.
  • It is an individual process stemming from instinct.
  • It is abstract.


  • It is an agent of change that helps us understand something.
  • Design has intention.
  • It is a collaborative cognition.
  • It is a methodological pursuit to solve a problem.

Wtf…. One might be able to imagine the type of response this generated inside of my emotion soaked soul. It was like someone had dumped a bucket of white paint over a Salvidor Dali painting. I was crushed. The fire I had felt entering the doors of this mysterious field of Art&Design was viciously stomped on and extinguished. And once again, I faced the mouth of resistance.

“You are not artists!”

My professor would shout this as a reminder to the students when critiques were approaching.

“You are designers! Speak with intention! Follow the process!

I felt like we were in a sweatshop, stitching together fabrics, dreaming about the day our product would be chosen as a temporary stock item in Walmart.

The first major project was to construct a wearable item made strictly out of paper. This was my first attempt at “design thinking”:

The formation of ideas flowed naturally in the beginning and I knew that I wanted to play off the limitations and typical associations of paper. The founding concept, which drove my creation process, was the relationship between the transformations of tree to paper and nature to man made products. Both paper and nature serve as the backbone of new ideas. The concept became transformation: the internal and external transformation of life, the mental and physical transformation of idea. It was further developed through numerous gesture drawings of people, which emphasized the qualities and specific points of movement to focus on.

The next step was testing. The objective of testing and producing prototypes was to observe the qualities and constraints of the material paper and methods of connection. We were encouraged to “play” and I don’t think I did enough of this in the beginning. In fact, I “played” with the possibilities of paper and my ability to manipulate it throughout the entire process, which complicated the efficiency of work.

I should have delved more into the testing stage of the design process. I skimmed the surface and produced prototypes that were flat, too representational, and frankly uninteresting. I think I forgot halfway through the project that the intention was to convey motion through form.

I experienced quite a bit of impatience assembling the final product. I just wanted to start doing, constructing, seeing results, and from there, I thought I would make changes. This motive stems from the years spent, staring at a blank canvas, where the only way I could begin working towards the end was to just slap on some color and see what happens. I actually began working on what I thought was the end product, within the first half of the project.  This proved to be incredibly inefficient after spending large amounts of time constructing and deconstructing life-sized “prototypes”.

There were probably four different occasions in which I believed I had defined the end product and began working in that direction only to realize I was incredibly unsatisfied with the results. At this point, I became frustrated, which often leads to blind sightedness, arrogance, and stubborn behavior. 

I didn’t want to follow these “elementary” steps. I should know how to design a fashion product out of paper! I knew what process worked for me. There’s no way I would conform to these steps catered to beginners in the field. I wasn’t a beginner! Creativity can’t follow a course!

These were the thoughts I had throughout the first half of this project. It was a familiar train, indeed, and indeed I felt like a self-righteous asshole after realizing their existence and realizing the “coincidence” of my repetitive failure. I thought about Einstein’s quote about insanity and took control of the reins attached to my artsy-fartsy-I’m-in-la-la-land brain. After conferencing with myself, I took a step back, I made the decision to once again, start over, but to follow the steps and actually listen.

The concept was developed, so I moved to testing. I researched animal textures and attempted to reconstruct them in paper. I then experimented with the graduation of these extremes. A suggestion was made to stray away from representation and move more towards abstraction. It was met with resistance initially, but realizing the previous agreement I made with myself, I restarted, except it wasn’t restarting, it was improving. I think I mistakenly associate them as the same sometimes.

“I want to see the tail!” Professor kept insisting. I wasn’t ready to move on to that part, but realized later that the design process in not linear, it is a 3D shape. One must consider the various points (concepts), lines (mechanisms), and surfaces (the product configured through the connection of concept and mechanism) of the shape in order to define an end goal. The testing, failing, and improving stages occurred within every segment and transition of my project.

In the end, I felt worn out, annoyed that I hadn’t listened from the beginning, but proud of my endurance and ability to keep prior experiences in perspective.

I realized “Design thinking” is not something to fear. It is a guide and can be useful if approached with (here we go again) intent. It’s a way to dig out unnecessary distractions in order to focus on the juice of the objective. So to all of those emerging artists facing the initial resistance to “design thinking”, keep in mind: the rules can only be broken once they are understood.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: