Using Artwork in Design, Part II. Artists and designers | WebReference

Using Artwork in Design, Part II. Artists and designers

  Artists and designers

I've already had an opportunity to note the essentially different nature of the skills necessary for an artist and a designer.  As a result of this difference, in most projects that could benefit from an artistic contribution, the designer has but two options: either to hire an artist to join his studio, or to subcontract artwork creation to an independent artist.

Although, of course, dividing the workload is as common in information technologies as it is in manufacturing, the creative part in most projects is - and should be where possible - left to one person.  Creativity is a rather sensitive matter, and collaborators may find it difficult to communicate simply because of the lack of common terms and notions.  Successful creative coauthorships are therefore mostly "silent," with coworkers understanding each other without words, which is why organizing the cooperation of a designer and an artist may be a challenge, especially if this is their first project of this kind.

For a designer, working with artwork is always more difficult and time-consuming than, say, with photography, and not only because the media itself is more demanding.  With photo, you can search one of the stock photo agencies for an image you need, or, if you need a custom photo, you can hire a photographer and explain to him what you need.  The bottom line is that you're likely to get something pretty similar to what you originally envisioned.

Not so with an artist, whose work is often governed by inspiration and "creative outbursts" rather than by any sort of plan.  Of course an artist would, too, welcome as much set-up information as you can provide in order to get an idea of the project requirements, but what he comes up with is not guaranteed to fit into any design drafts that may already exist on designer's side.  Therefore, more often than not, original artwork becomes the core of a brand new design composition rather than an optional add-on.

Custom art is simply too complex to be mass-produced in a way similar to that of stock photography.  Therefore, no real "stock artwork" collections exist that could be used by a designer ("Web art" collections with buttons and icons for Web pages of course do not count in this respect).  Also, while the majority of professional photos have always been shot with some practical use in mind, fine art has a centuries long tradition of "art for the art's sake."  Creating custom artwork for design purposes, as well as reusing older pieces in design compositions, are characteristic mostly of the 20th century.

It is not unfrequent that a designer takes a "standalone" piece of art (the one that was not originally intended for any down-to-earth use) and arranges a license for using it in his work. Best results, however, are achieved with custom artwork from an author who has a good understanding of the particular project's goals and some experience in creating "design-friendly" art.  What a designer needs is not a chef-d'oeuvre to frame and hang on the wall, but an element to be combined with other elements in a composition, and meeting this requirement may take an artist something more than just drawing or painting skills.

As you can see, there are a whole lot of reasons that make an "artsy" project quite different from the regular design work.  Not only is it significantly more expensive, but because of its nature it is less likely to deliver consistent and predictable results.  So it's no surprise that business customers in general tend to favor more straightforward photographic design solutions.  For those, however, who can afford some more creativity, there's some good news: my "afford" may not necessarily imply any extra monetary expenses, as we'll see in the next section.


Created: Jan. 13, 1999
Revised: Jan. 13, 1999