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  • Writer's pictureMark Zusmanovich

“So, What is a Designer?”, They asked

I always get these questions, especially from anyone who is not familiar with this industry (like kids and elder relatives), that hear I’m a designer ask:

“What does a designer do, exactly?”

“Are you a painter?”

“Is it like an artist?”

Actually, There’s a big difference between art and design and between an artist and a designer. Some even say that they are the exact opposite of one another.

The Basics

If we search on Wikipedia for a “Design” we get: “Design is a part of the communication arts, a design is something you plan to create, it communicates to the viewer or user a visual and emotional message to change or guide through an emotional connection with a product or service enhancing their experience of the product or brand.” In other words, “Design” is a way of guiding people to take action or enhancing the connection with a brand.

If were search for “Art” on the other hand we get: “Art is a diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory or performing artefacts (artworks), expressing the author’s imaginative or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power.”

See while the designer has his target audience and specific goals in mind, the only thing that matters to the artist is to be appreciated for what he wants to communicate. The only thing Art and Design have in common is that they both try to get to somebody’s feeling or create some emotion.

We should never refer to design as beautiful or pretty or ugly, instead, we should ask ourselves, is it a design that will work, meaning, this design will deliver action, as pushing a button, buying the product or donating to a nonprofit organization.

Beauty is a subjective emotion. Some might see a piece of art and claim it to be the most beautiful thing they saw in their entire life, while others might say they didn’t like it at all.

We can interpret Art in many ways. Every observer will get a different emotion, looking at art, either, good or bad. We can try to figure out what has the artist felt at that very moment of creation, but we can never know what the designer felt, designing the Ad.

We can only know what we feel about that design and did we take action because of that. We might even like it less or not to like it at all, but if the ad or the site made us want to press a button or fill the form, it means, that the designer, has done a good job.

Even if the Ad made you feel upset or angry, this might be the whole purpose of that ad, like a “Greenpeace” Ad, make us want to become activists or vegan promotional materials, that could be very controversial, but if the audience took action because of that, the campaign was successful.

The Artist usually creates the emotions without any target or agenda to make the observer actually do something or buy something (except his own art in some cases), while the designer’s number one goal, is exactly that. Good design makes us feel something and then go and take action, even if the goal is to make a better connection to a brand (brand awareness), eventually, the main goal is to motivate to action.

Advertising companies spend millions on researching the human mind, trying to understand and influence their emotions, routines and habits, to have a better picture of what style of an Ad should be created and what time frame and placement the Ad should be presented, to make it most effective.

The Right Questions

We as creatives and designers should ask the right questions about whatever we are asked to design.

If it’s an Ad, we should ask:

“where is it gonna show up?”

Because there should be a difference between a big billboard ad in the city and a bus stop advertisement.

The city Ad is going to get just a few seconds of exposure to the driver, along with all other things, disturbing him from the road. This means it should really stand out and must be very clear with its message. Maybe just a few words and a very clear and sharp image, or no image at all. We must not make the drivers try to interpret what they see, by staring at it for too long, while driving.

A bus stop Ad, on the other hand, might get an hour of being stared at, which means we can add some reasonable amount of text to it and play with the visual’s details as we wish, even if it’s a much smaller proportion Ad, than the highway billboard.

Therefore, a Facebook Ad should be different from a sponsored Ad on a news website, an e-commerce website, on Instagram or Snapchat.

People go to Facebook to socialize with their friends, see cute animals and “food porn”. Nobody goes on Facebook to see promotional Ads. If we need to design a Facebook Ad, we must keep that in mind and try to make it look as “organic” as possible, instead of a hard sell promotional ad. If we have to design an Ad that will show up on a news website, it should look just like one of the news articles on the website, instead of just a colour changing, tall banner on the side of the screen, because people just don’t see them anymore.

An artist doesn’t ask these questions. A painter doesn’t keep in mind the observers’ state in the moment of exposure to his art, nor does he really analyze the difference of one gallery’s benefits to another, before he starts crafting his art, just like most companies do, before they approach a designer.

Good design can be actually measured by numbers. If we change the background of a landing page from white to black, for example, and from that very moment, we would find out the page converts 20% more, that means that black background “works better” than the white background, in that specific landing page. It doesn’t matter if we like black or white, the fact is “it converts better”.

Good art is an art that leaves a mark. An art that we remember and appreciate, but since there is no conversion act in art, we can’t really measure, what art is better or what art, works best.

Art and Design are both trying to get to our emotions, but art usually doesn’t try to get us taking action like design does. Even if the goal is to enhance the connection to a brand, we still have to take some kind of action to do that, whether, by following it on social networks or buying and using it’s products, because of some commercial we saw on television. Unless it’s designed this way, for the observer to not take any action, which is also an action…

The artist, unlike the designer, creates his art to express his emotions, or create them for others, regardless of the audience’s origins, While, a designer has to learn and completely understand his target audiences’ world, with every new project, if he wants his campaign to be successful as possible.


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