Over the years I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the best designers in our business. I learned more from them than I can ever acknowledge. And the most important thing I learned is that a design has a purpose. In our business, it’s typically intended to sell something–move product off a shelf.
I’m not an expert at the difference. I just know what it’s going to take to get the work approved, move product and get paid. Somebody said that the difference between art and design is a client. By that definition, the Sistine Chapel ceiling was painted by a designer. When I was at Healey Schutte & Comstock, there was a poster on a wall trying to explain the difference between Art & Design. It was two vertical columns, each with a short piece of straight wire at the top. Each column took the wire, bending it through a half-dozen bending steps to reach the result at the bottom. On the left side, the wire was bent into a little dog—Art. On the right side, the wire was bent into a paper clip—Design.
Occasionally I’ve bumped into the frustrated artist passing time in an ad agency. It will make an account person nuts. They will care less about growing a client’s business and more about their own personal recognition and where else they would rather be. It takes some experience to recognize the difference between a creative that’s passionate about advertising and one that’s hyper focused on himself.
Now the tough part–explaining to the young art director and/or the client why the interesting ad won’t work and the simple ad will. Get a helmet.