In preparing for my talk, at the Gorgy Kepes Institute in Hungary earlier this month, I found myself thinking about the difference between design and art. As an artist/designer I have often tried to articulate the difference between these two endeavors, but this time I feel like I got closer to clarity in my thinking. Here's what I have come to:
Art is about Empathy - artists explore and share what it is like to be human beings. In some ways they act as mirrors, but mostly artists contribute to the world by helping us see into the lives and feelings of others. The depth and vividness of their presentation of another's perspective can open our empathic minds, and lead us to gain a deeper insight into what it is to be alive. Artists want us to see what they see. Seeing the world from different perspectives ultimately makes the world a better place.
Design is about Compassion - designers don't just empathize, the go beyond empathy to compassionate action. Designers try to make people's lives better through the process of designing better experiences, products, buildings, etc. Designers empathize with the struggle, and suffering that people experience with un-designed, or badly designed, products and services, and then they go further, and re-design those products and services, so that they 'work better', and make people's lives easier and less stressful. Designers see a problem and want to fix it.
The relatedness of these two ways of interacting with the world (empathy and compassion) often results in artists who are designers, and designers who are artists. Ultimately, both care deeply about people and their struggles.
Indifference towards people and the reality in which they live is actually the one and only cardinal sin in design.