This is just an attempt to understand similarities and differences between aesthetics of arts and aesthetics of design. Inspired from Folkmann’s ideas and views on aesthetics, I am trying to apply his framework to design and art examples. I don’t really have a specific conclusion. I am just developing my own understanding and would really appreciate discussion on this topic. The structure of this blog is a series of question-answers (sort of an internal conversation that is taking place in my mind as I am writing).

Why is aesthetics important?

According to me, aesthetics is what makes us human. It increases our questioning and reasoning capability. It makes us aware of the fine line between good and bad (?).Traditionally, it comes together with art and is almost impossible to separate them.

Then why is it so important to design? Because aesthetics is an entry point to our basic access of experience. It gives an emotional value to design.

Difference between art and design:

Design is motivated by some purpose. It has a specific target user group. Sometimes “functionality” has a higher precedence over “aesthetics”. Art need not have the dimension of “functionality”. It can be just an expression of a lone artist or portrayal of personal feelings or just a mere form of an entertainment and enjoyment.

Similarities between aesthetics in art and aesthetics in design:

Aesthetics is an integral element of art and design. It is relational, depends on the subject and object. An object can be aesthetically coded by a designer/artist and perceived with equal rigor by a user/observer having aesthetic perception. The approach to investigate aesthetics in art and design can be same.

In the following section, I will apply Folkmann’s framework to art and design examples to understand similarities in aesthetics between the two fields.

1. Sensual – phenomenological platform

Both Art and Design can have a specific form and appearance that mediates aesthetic communication between the artist/designer and the observer/user that challenges experience and understanding of things.

1                                                        egg_shell_sculpture

Railway clock (Fig. 3.1, Aesthetics)                                                                    Eggshell sculpting    (

In the first example, railway clock is a design that has a definite form and appearance. It is functional yet it challenges our understanding of the concept ‘time’. In a way, railway clock can be considered a ‘critical design’ – Usable but not useful (?).

In the second example, Eggshell sculpting is an art which is clearly not usable but it manages to challenge our understanding of eggshells through its form and appearance.

2. Conceptual- Hermeneutical platform

Both Art and Design can be staged. As per Folkmann “a design reflects the meaning through its actual presence and unfolding in a physical setting by means of sensual aspects of forms, materials and color”.

Classic example that we have recently studied is ‘Brillo boxes’. One of the reasons Brillo boxes became such a successful design is because of its staging (as seen in the picture). There was a lot of discussion on the nature of its staging in the class. Thus there were certain aesthetic elements associated with the way Brillo boxes were presented to the public (White background, Fancy photography techniques, placements, etc).


brillo                                                                      painting


Brillo box  (                                              Paintings in a museum (

The other image here is that of paintings in a museum. Their arrangements and ambience adds a layer of aesthetic coding to the environment. Paintings, as a piece of art, are thoughtfully presented in a way that they themselves seem to be wanting to perceive aesthetically by subjects.

3. Contextual – Discursive Platform (Aestheticization)

This platform constitutes distribution of aesthetics in everyday life. As pointed out by Folkmann, “aesthetics has its capacity for creating and construing meaning on the level of society”. It is ubiquitous and non circumventable.

Enjoy Coca-Cola                                          Graffiti

Coke neon signs (                               Graffiti public art  (

Coca-Cola neon signs have an effect on the cityscape and emit messages of desire and hope. It speaks to the desires of people that can never be fulfilled (enjoyment). Therefore, aesthetics has ethical implications similar to design. Like design, aesthetics are political and biased. They define environmental ecology and hence boundaries of understanding and meaning making for people.

The image to the right constitutes a street graffiti in Bloomington. Graffiti is slowly becoming an upcoming public art form that adds aesthetics to the environment. They are unavoidable as they uses public space and therefore becomes a part of everyday life of local people.

Thus (as per my understanding), the role of aesthetics played in design and art is more or less the same. Aesthetics becomes the highest priority in both the fields. (Tractinsky offered evidences that, in HCI, usability and aesthetics are not in conflict –one of the strengths of aesthetic processing theory in HCI).

So, where is the difference? Why is it not possible to appropriate design by aesthetics of art? Why can’t we define essence of aesthetics in art and apply it to design?

The difference, according to Folkmann, is the fact that design aesthetics have additional parameters of being functional, informational and contextual. Also design is not an expression of an artist but rather the result of complex commercial and societal process.

Here is where, for me, the lines between aesthetics in design and art gets blur. In my opinion, there can be the same parameters (functional, informational and contextual) in art field. May be they are not so prominent. May be they are … I don’t know ..