Is The Design In Website Design About Art?

Is The Design In Website Design About Art?

When you hear the word Art, what comes to mind?

Images that will take your breath away? Your own take on it? A quest for significance that leaves one with a warm, fuzzy feeling?

The term “Website Design” sounds like a misnomer. Is there a similar effect created by website layout?

Those who run data-driven websites can emphatically not rely on this. This blog is for you if you answered “Yes” or “Maybe” to either of those questions.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Visual appeal is an important factor for any website. However, one’s own aesthetic preferences and feelings are irrelevant when creating a website.

There is NO ART in web design.

I’ll explain why.

Design is polarizing because it’s sometimes misunderstood

I’ve been working with clients on website design for 15 years, and I’ve never seen one word change the dynamic between us so drastically.

Design evokes feelings. Style is subjective. It’s fine as long as the designer is comprehended.

When it comes to web design, I think many people make the mistake of mistaking it for art. Sometimes it’s treated more like an acrylic painting on a wall than a methodical procedure of microdecisions supported by qualitative and quantitative data.

Have you ever interacted with a traditional painting?

The photograph below, by the artist who I greatly admire for his originality, hangs in my home office and serves as a constant reminder of my favourite city, Chicago.

Please be patient. I know this is an unusual case, but it should make my point clear.

Imagine a painting, photograph, or other work of art that currently adorns the walls of your private residence. When was the last time you took it off the nail, touched it, and waited for that to provide feedback that would lead to a solution?

No way! (Never, ever, ever!)

Certainly, inspiring and rousing works of Art are possible. However, most people use art to adorn their walls at home or at work.

While there is a great deal of mental interaction (“Gosh, this painting reminds me of…”), there is no physical interaction (“When I touch here, I’ll expect…”).

The main distinction between Art and web design is finally being discussed.


The introduction of human interaction into computer systems inevitably leads to confusion.

Web design is not decoration because people need to use a website

The question “Do you like it?” is a common one in the art world, but Web design isn’t spared the scrutiny. In other words, websites are here to help with your business’s marketing, advertising, and sales needs.

Assuming people will use your website is a given when you launch one. It’s impossible to have a website without human involvement, such as when:

  • searching
  • clicking
  • tapping
  • reading
  • scrolling

Things get complicated when people start interacting with computers, necessitating the application of interaction design (IXd) principles (e.g. goals, usability, feedback, learnability).

In addition, the purpose of these interrelationships is to address some sort of issue. If the web design is effective, we can quantify that. However, due to the subjective nature of art, we cannot.

In his book Design is Not Art, Redux, Joshua Porter makes an excellent point:

Designers make practical items for people to consume. Artists make things worth admiring.

What the “Design” in Web Design represents

Colors, textures, shapes, photographs, and typefaces are just the beginning when it comes to web design’s design. Contrary to popular belief, these features (Visual Design) only account for about 20% of a website’s total content.

You read that right; it’s only a FINAL.

Problem-solving websites incorporate all 5 UXD competencies:

  • Information Architecture
  • Interaction Design
  • Usability Engineering
  • Visual Design
  • Prototype Engineering

When a website prioritises Visual Design above all else, it compromises the rest of the user experience (img credit: UXmatters)

The question of “Do you like it?” and other similar concerns will inevitably rear their ugly heads if design is not approached from a comprehensive perspective.

Because of this, web design is often misunderstood. Perhaps due to naivete; more likely, due to stubbornness (a big reason Brochure Websites continue to exist).

Is there any fallout from viewing a website as if it were a work of art?

When a website’s design phase is streamlined to achieve the nebulous goal of “what feels good” (treating it like Art), the site loses:

  • goals
  • research
  • solid structure
  • integration of psychological principles (such as persuasion triggers)
  • correct technology decisions
  • usability
  • valuable content
  • calls to action
  • measurement & ROI analysis

A website that is built with only aesthetics in mind will never be able to meet its intended business goals because of this narrow perspective.

In Review

As I said before, opinions on design tend to be strongly held. There is already a lot of hostility and confusion surrounding this topic, and now we have to add “web design vs. Art” to the mix.

So, to refute that, here is a brief summary of my stance:

  1. The creation of a website is a problem-solving tool. The success of an artistic work is not dependent on its ability to address an issue.
    The interactivity of a website makes for a very different experience than that of a work of art.
    How well a website is designed can be quantified. Due to the subjective nature of art, you cannot.
    The steps an artist takes to create a stunning work of art are very different from the steps a designer takes to create a functional website.

Don’t design for fleeting warm fuzzies, design to solve problems

Feelings of happiness and contentment are fleeting. Challenges in business do not. Things will have to be fixed.

When the five core areas of web design are taken into account, it helps resolve long-standing problems with how a business communicates with its customers and generates revenue.

That’s a user-friendly website. This is not a happy moment.

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