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UX Design & Art: More Similar Than You’d Think

First things first, what is UX design? I know this may seem boring, but it is important to establish a base before diving into our discussion. UX design is something that has taken a large leap in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. With many companies shifting to the digital realm during lockdown and having to rely heavily on digital products for help, there became a greater need for UX designers. So what exactly is it that UX designers do?

person in blue wireframing an app concept on a clipboard, and person in pink pointing at a board with sticky notes for research

UX Design is the process of designing and creating relevant yet meaningful experiences for users who access a product or service. This process involves researching a target audience and creating multiple iterations of wireframes and mockups, before beginning to create a final result. Whether this final result involves completing a specific task, or something as simple as just navigating a website, the overall goal for UX designers is to resolve pain points and meet needs.

At First Glance

The main reason why many believe that UX design isn’t considered art is because its primary purpose is to solve a problem. It focuses on creating for users in order for them to have ease of functionality and usability with a certain product. While you can get creative with your UX design, it focuses more on simplicity, as designers don’t want to risk any confusion for the users.

person pointing at wireframing for an app mockup on a whiteboard, another person sorting out information for research with sticky notes
Wireframing and research for UX

Art, on the other hand, has a ton of room for creativity and imagination. Artists create with their raw emotions and imagination in an attempt to take their viewers on a journey. In hope to allow the viewer to explore parts of themselves that they never knew existed. Or to allow the viewer to use their imagination and interpretation to create a new story behind the existing piece.

person standing back to look at their completed art project
Witnessing a final product

In short, UX design produces something where functionality is at its core, whereas art creates pieces to allow for exploration of thought and emotions.

brain split into analytical and creative sides with the analytical side being greyed out, and the creative side being colourful

At first glance, it seems that UX has nothing to do with art, and many actually view it more as a “science” with only limited components of art. But if we were to take a deeper look at art, and consider the processes that it requires to complete a final piece of art then we would see that they have more in common than we think.

The Process

When we look specifically at the process of how UX designs and art are made, we can see that there are some similarities. While not all artists take this approach in their projects, it is important to note that these are still processes that some artists use. These processes are researching and wireframing with the intent of iteration to achieve a desired result.


magnifying glass on a black background with light coming through

When it comes to UX designers, before even trying to create mockups, the first step for them is to research their target audience and understand what their needs and pain points are. UX designers first need to identify who their target audience is. They create user personas to gain insights on the types of users that will be using their products, and how they will be interacting with said product. Once the audiences are identified, they need to identify what the key issues or goals of the product are, and how they can create designs that resolve them or make their process user friendly.

While it could be perceived that artists dive straight into their projects with multiple variations, some artists actually research for many reasons. The research component helps to enhance an artist's work. Whether it be for inspiration, stylistic understandings, historical accuracy, or even something as simple as color scheme. It gives them a foundation to follow, rather than relying strictly on themselves. It can guide them in a direction where they can allow their own creativity and imagination to take over and flow through their piece.

Wireframes and Rough Drafts

The next step after the research has been collected and analyzed is wireframes. Wireframes would be considered a UX designer’s “rough draft”. They lay out the skeleton of their product and map out the flow between pages. With this process they are able to visualize where each component will go and how users can interact with them. Once the skeleton is finalized, the designer begins laying out the completed components onto a final product.

person wireframing on paper for an app concept
Wireframing on paper
final concept of an app next to prototypes on a computer screen at a desk
A final concept of an app beside prototypes

Similar to UX design, artists also create a rough draft. A perfect example of this would be Alex Colville. An artist who is known for focusing on the geometry of his works. Laying out the skeleton of what he hopes to create and mapping out where specific components will appear. He imposes coherent, predictable, and orderly relationships between objects in his compositions in order to show how he arrives at his final compositions (Cronin, PRECISE ORDER: The mathematical underpinnings of Alex Colville’s paintings). This can also be seen in many other artists' work, not just ones that focus on the geometry. Here you can find 8 pieces that also begin as “studies” before proceeding to the final composition.

rough draft sketch of a drawing (almost like a skeleton)
Rough draft of the painting
completed painting with person walking along a road with a train passing by in the opposite direction in the background
Completed painting

As a Whole

UX continues to be more similar to a science rather than an art, but there exists certain aspects to the process of creating products that allows us to relate them to one another. The key difference between the two is that rather than creating a product and letting the audience learn or understand their own emotions, UX creates a product that guides the users to feel a certain way. We aren’t trying to say that UX is for a fact, a form of art, but rather approaching the topic to be a point of comparison between the two. Both UX and art use a form of research and the creation of multiple iterations to ensure that a final product or vision is achieved. While UX design does at first glance seem to be science based, there are components to it that allow us to consider it to be a form of art as well and should stop us from writing it off strictly as a science.

By: Alvin Hsu


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