Artistic Design
Art and Design: Types, History.

Pin it

Casa Mila, Barcelona (1906-10)
Designed by Antoni Gaudi.
Example of Art Nouveau Architecture.

Staircase in Emile Tassel House,
Brussels. Designed 1893-7 by
the Belgian Art Nouveau designer
Victor Horta (1861-1947).
See 19th Century Architecture.

Design Art (c.1850-1970)
History, Types of Applied Arts


Definition: What is Design?
What Types of Objects Can be Designed Artistically?
Artistic Design Disciplines
What Types of Art are involved in Artistic Designwork?
The Role of Commercial Design
Graphic Design: Marketing, Advertising, Branding
Interior Design
Architectural Design
History of Artistic Design
Louis XIV, XV, XVI Styles of French Interior Design
Arts and Crafts Movement (c.1862-1914)
Art Nouveau (c.1890-1914)
Bauhaus (1919-33)
De Stijl (1917-31)
Art Deco (c.1925-40)
Ulm School of Design (Hochschule fur Gestaltung) (1953–1968)
Postmodernism (After 1970)

More Information

Art Glossary
Art Questions
Architecture, History, Styles

Example of Art Deco Architecture:
AIG Building, New York (1932)

What is Design?

Although there is no universal definition of the word "design", we will define it for our purposes as meaning: "the plan involved in creating something according to a set of aesthetics." Key aspects of this definition include: the element of a plan; the idea of creation (art) rather than production (science); the criteria of aesthetics (a style of beauty). Other factors may be involved in the design process, such as functionality or cost, but we are concerned here mainly with artistic design or - to put it crudely - "how to make something beautiful".

What Types of Objects Can be Designed Artistically?

Almost everything that is made, can be designed in an artistic or aesthetic way. This includes highly specialized engineering products as well as run-of-the-mill mass-produced objects, although the present article examines only the latter category. Even so, it still includes a wide variety of products, from a tea-cup, lamp, or staircase, to the roof of a railway station or concert hall, a duvet cover, a company logo, or computer mouse. Note however, that artistic design is restricted to the prettification of objects, rather than the improvement of functionality, performance, cost or other non-aesthetic criteria.

Set of Stacking tables (c.1927)
Now in the Albers Foundation.
Example of Bauhaus furniture

Wallpaper design, 'Trellis' (1862)
By William Morris, leader of the
Arts and Crafts Movement.

For details of colleges who
offer educational courses on
art and design disciplines,
see: Best Art Schools.

For the Florentine attitude to
artistic design, see: Disegno.

Artistic Design Disciplines

Design science as a whole has been expanding rapidly, ever since the 1960s. Today, there is an ever-increasing number of design disciplines in which aesthetics play an important part, including: architecture, book illustration, interior design, lighting design, furniture design, kitchenware design, textile design, fashion design, retail design, graphic design, computer design, and web design. Moreover, within a range of IT-related areas - like web design and software design - the concept of "look-and-feel" is becoming increasingly important to consumers and designers, while graphic and layout design is also critical in the area of online social media outlets, including Facebook.

What Types of Art are involved in Artistic Designwork?

Artistic skills which are valuable in the creation of beautiful designs for individual items, include: painting (eg. chinaware, book illumination), wood-carving (furniture), weaving (tapestry, embroidery), ceramics (sculpture as well as ancient pottery), metalwork (lamps, jewellery), glass art (mosaic art, stained glass), graphic art (printwork, illustration, fabrics, clothes), to name but a few.

For mass-produced items, design is an integral part of the product development process. If car design, white-goods design and fabric design represented peaks of innovation in the 1970s and 80s, today it is IT-design, as exemplified by Apple Corporation's computer products, which represent the touchstone of 21st century consumer aesthetics. In addition, almost all household objects are initiated and manufactured with aesthetics in mind, as are cars, office equipment and sports goods.

AWA Fisk Radiolette (1936)
Sydney collection of Peter Sheridan
and Jan Hatch. An example of
Art Deco designwork.

For an explanation of the
terminology, see:
Art: Definition and Meaning.

Definitions, styles, genres,
periods, see: Types of Art.

The Role of Commercial Design

In the early days of mass production, when you could buy a Ford motor car in any colour as long as it was black, design was seen as an optional extra. Not any more. Today, designers are heavy-hitters. Armed with an array of digital design software, they can make all the difference to the commercial success of a product. (See also: Computer Art.) Furthermore, creative design plays an important role throughout the entire process of making, marketing, selling and retailing a product. And why not? Don't we all want to possess or surround ourselves with beautiful things?


Because the design properties and features of a product have such an important role to play in its commercial success, designers are typically involved at the earliest stage of the manufacturing process. In very crude terms, we have seen at least three phases of manufacturing. At the beginning of the mass-production era, company scientific staff would produce a product which was then given to the marketing department to sell. By the 1960s, it was the marketing experts who told the scientists what to produce. But today, it is the marketeers and designers who discuss the specifications of a product, before involving production staff.

Graphic Design: Marketing, Advertising, Branding

The skills of graphic designers are in evidence almost everywhere we look: the opening and closing credits sequences of films, animation, TV programs and product commercials, corporate websites, computer screen layouts, newspapers, magazines, advertisements, posters, brand motifs and company logos, product packaging, road signs, and so on. And it includes colours as well as typography, visual arts and page/screen layout techniques, and product packaging materials. In fact, graphics design plays a crucial role wherever pictures, symbols, or text are used to communicate a visual message - from hi-tech cockpit displays in military or commercial planes, to TV commercials, travel brochures, shopping catalogues, and supermarket point-of-sales product-wrappers.


Not only are products themselves the subject of intensive design research, thought, modeling, interactive adjustment and re-design, but the retailing environment in which they are introduced to consumers is itself the subject of careful study. Retail design (shop-design) plays a huge role in determining how the consumer feels when they encounter and interact with products, and thus the ultimate success of those products.

Interior Design

A major factor in retail designing is the layout of the shop. This in turn is heavily dependent on the interior design of the building in question, which in turn involves the utilization of carefully selected colour-schemes and background music, purpose-built lighting and flooring systems, as well as extras such as specially designed entrances, walkways, and so on.

Architectural Design

Of course interior design goes hand in glove with architecture, including landscaping. If main street retailers, or their landlords, typically exploit all the architectural possibilities of their property, so do large suburban retailers whose shops may occupy an area of 100 acres or more. Aesthetically designed buildings, parking lots, entrances and exits, all add to the feel-good factor of the shopping experience, which can play a crucial part in the success of the retail unit involved. See also, the Chicago School of Architecture (c.1880-1910), which had a huge impact on urban design in the United States, as did the Second Chicago School of Architecture (c.1940-75), led by Mies van der Rohe. The world's leading firm involved in architectural design is Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, whose architects - such as Fazlur Khan (1929-82) - continue to dominate the global skyscraper market. Historically, the greatest influence on building design has been Greek architecture, followed by Roman architecture and numerous neoclassicist schools.

History of Artistic Design

Artistic design during the era of modern art (1850 onwards) has evolved in line with the Industrial Revolution, although design movements with an international impact have been few and far between. We shall briefly examine eight important movements, as follows: French Interior Design (1640-1792); Arts and Crafts Movement (c.1862-1914); Art Nouveau (c.1890-1914); Bauhaus (1919-33); De Stijl (1917-31); Art Deco (c.1925-40); Ulm School (HfG Ulm) (1953–1968); and Postmodernism (after 1970).

Louis XIV, XV, XVI Styles of French Interior Design (1640-1792)

Arguably the greatest era of interior design in the history of art, the 17th and 18th centuries in France witnessed an upsurge of French Decorative art at the Palace of Versailles and other Royal Chateaux. Led by French Designers like Charles Le Brun, Andre Le Notre and others, it produced some of the finest French Furniture ever seen, usually classified into Louis Quatorze, Regency, Louis Quinze and Louis Seize styles.

Arts and Crafts Movement (c.1862-1914)

This British movement in design and decorative art, led by William Morris (1834-96), promoted the revitalization of craftsmanship, and the moral, social and aesthetic virtues of honest craft work over industrial mass production. Concerned primarily with architecture and decorative art, including stained glass, textiles, furnishings, printed fabrics (chintzes), tapestry art, wallpaper, furniture, jewellery, wood carving, metalwork, ceramics and mosaic art. It was inspired by Medieval craftwork, rural folk art, and Japanese art (including Ukiyo-e woodblock prints), although its advocates were united not so much by a particular style than by a common goal - a desire to revive honest craftsmanship, eliminate the prejudice of the arts hierarchy (who revered fine art but disparaged applied art), and to create art that was affordable for all. The Movement spawned like-minded groups in America, and had a strong influence on the Wiener Workstatte - the crafts workshops established by the Vienna Secession in 1903 - the Munich Secession (1892), the Berlin Secession (1898), and the Deutscher Werkbund, in Germany. For more information, please see: Arts and Crafts Movement.

Art Nouveau (c.1890-1914)

The highly decorative idiom known as Art Nouveau, was the first major international design style to promulgate the notion that art should be part of everyday life. Henceforth, it insisted, no everyday object, no matter how functional it might be, should be overlooked as a source of aesthetic value. It also promoted the idea of bringing all design into one idiom. Characterized by curvilinear shapes and patterns taken from organic structures, from Celtic designs and also from simple geometrical forms, the style was applied to architecture, interior design, glassware, jewellery, poster art and illustration, (see, in particular, Aubrey Beardsley) as well as painting and sculpture. Art Nouveau was boosted by the Celtic Art Revival movement and the 1900 Exposition Universelle held in Paris, after which it spread throughout Europe and overseas to America and Australia. An explicitly modern style, it was called by different names in different countries: Jugendstil in Germany; Sezessionstil in Austria; Modernisme in Catalonia; Paling Stijl or Style des Vingt; in Belgium; Stile Liberty in Italy; Stil Modern in Russia; and Tiffany style in America. Its foray into abstract art were taken further by 20th century artists and architects, such as Hector Guimard (1867-1942). The movement was superceded in the 1920s by Art Deco.

Art Nouveau's Famous Graphic Designs
For more about the movement's celebrated poster graphics, made possible by the the "three stone lithographic process" invented by Jules Cheret (1836-1932) and advanced by Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) and Leonetto Cappiello (1875-1942), see: Poster Art History.

Diaghilev's Ballets Russes
In 1909 Sergei Diaghilev took Paris by storm when he launched the first season of his Ballets Russes touring ballet company. In addition to the dancing of Nijinsky and Pavlova, its success was due to the sumptuous designs of its exotic sets and costumes, overseen by Leon Bakst (1866-1924) and Alexander Benois (1870-1960).

Bauhaus Design School (1919-33)

A hugely influential German school of 20th century architecture and other forms of design, including crafts, the Bauhaus (German for "house of building") was established in Weimar by Walter Gropius (1883-1969). Famous for its modern approach to art education, which eliminated the usual divide between "fine" and "applied" arts and redefined the relationship between design and industrial production methods, it hoped to create products that were both artistic and commercial. In particular, it aimed to train students to be equally comfortable with design, craft and methods of mass production. The Bauhaus design school lasted until 1933, in three locations - Weimar, Dessau and Berlin - and under three directors - Gropius 1919-1927, Hannes Meyer 1927-1930 and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe 1930-1933 - until forced to close by the Nazi government. Itself influenced by the simplicity and functionality of the 19th century Biedermeier style, Bauhaus exercised a wide influence on artistic design, notably in the areas of architecture, graphic design, interior design, industrial design and handicrafts. Upon closure, many of its instructors dispersed around the world: for example, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) opened a New Bauhaus and then his own Institute of Design in Chicago; Joseph Albers (1888-1976) lectured at Black Mountain College for advanced arts, in North Carolina; Max Bill (1908-94) went to teach at the Zurich School of Applied Art, before becoming the first director of the High School of Design in Ulm (in charge of architecture and industrial design), regarded as the successor to the Bauhaus. Mies van der Rohe went to Chicago where he influenced a generation of American architects with his modernist skyscraper architecture. Gropius also emigrated to the United States, where he became head of the architecture department at Harvard University, before setting up The Architects Collaborative in 1952.

De Stijl (1917-31)

De Stijl (Dutch for "the style") was a loose alliance of architects, artists and designers - many of whom came from a Dutch Calvinist background - who coalesced around the painter and architect Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931), during the period 1917-31. The group's aesthetic principles were published (Nov 1918) in the De Stijl periodical, which was used to propagate their ideas on concrete art and design. Believing that the war had undermined all traditional values, De Stijl advocated a cleaner, more ethical, type of artistic design - one which was reduced to its basic essentials of form, colour and line - which could influence all culture and lead to a renewal of society. Influenced by the Soviet Constructivism of Vladimir Tatlin (1885-1953), the group was associated with both Neo-Plasticism (Mondrian) and its revised form of Elementarism (Van Doesburg). The group's leading members included Van Doesburg, Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), Bart van der Leck (1876-1958), Georges Vantongerloo (1886-1965) and Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart (1899-1962), along with the architects Gerrit Rietveld (1888-1964) and J.J.P. Oud (1890–1963). In addition, De Stijl architects drew inspiration from the building designs of the Dutch designer Hendrick Petrus Berlage (1856-1934), and Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), whose idea of the home being the product of "total design" (gesamtkunstwerk) was in close alignment with their own ideas, as exemplified by Rietveld's Schroder House in Utrecht. Overall, De Stijl was most influential in the fields of architectural design and the applied arts, notably typographical art and furniture design. Although already in decline when Doesburg died, De Stijl had an important impact on Bauhaus designs and various other movements involved in non-objective art, such as Abstract-Creation and CIAM, as well as other modernists like Le Corbusier (1887-1965) the influential Swiss-French architect.

Art Deco (c.1925-40)

The Art Deco style was the leading fashion in both design and decoration of the 1920s and 1930s: see in particular American Architecture of the time, notably involving New York skyscrapers. Featuring sleek geometrical forms, it depicted the urban landscape and the new range of leisure activities and social pursuits of the "Roaring 20s"; it injected ordinary objects with real character by making them look smooth and cool. Art Deco owed a noticeable debt to several of the major artistic styles of the 1900s and 1910s, borrowing bold colour from Fauvism, geometric patterns from Cubism, machine-like shapes from Constructivism and Futurism, and a unifying approach from Art Nouveau. Art Deco was also inspired by Aztec, Egyptian art, and Classical Antiquity. However, unlike its predecessor Art Nouveau, Art Deco had no philosophical pretensions - it was purely decorative. Although it mainly describes a style for interior and graphic designers, notably in the area of furniture, metalwork, ceramics, glassware and bookbinding, it also applied to architecture, fashion design, sculpture and painting: see, for instance, Tamara Lempicka (1898-1980), and classical-style works (1918-24) by Picasso (1881-1973). The idiom spawned sub-movements such as Novecento Italiano and Corrente (Italy), and Precisionism (America). A revival of Art Deco occurred in the 1960s, when the name was first coined.

Ulm School of Design (Hochschule fur Gestaltung) (1953–1968)

Established in 1953 by Max Bill (1908-94), Inge Aicher-Scholl and Otl Aicher, the Ulm School of Design achieved rapid international recognition and was seen as the natural successor to the Bauhaus. During its 15-year existence, it excelled in the study of semiotics (signs and symbols), product design, industrialized building, and filmmaking. In the process it pioneered a teaching of design based on a structured problem-solving approach, and a blend of science and art. Starting life at the Ulm Volkshochschule (institute for adult education) its teaching staff included the ex-Bauhaus instructors Josef Albers, Johannes Itten and Walter Peterhans, and the Bauhaus graduate Helene Nonne-Schmidt, joined later by Hans Gugelot, Walter Zeischegg, Otl Aicher, Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart and Tomas Maldonado. Visiting lecturers included: Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, Ray Eames, Josef Muller-Brockmann, Herbert Bayer, Reyner Banham, Hugo Haring, Konrad Wachsmann, Buckminister Fuller, Theodor Heuss, Norbert Weiner and Mia Seeger. In 1957 Max Bill quit Ulm when it was decided that aesthetic considerations were no longer the primary conceptual basis of design. Under the new directorship of Tomas Maldonado, the design school dropped the earlier "artist" focus in favour of a new philosophy of design which embodied both art (aesthetics) and science (materials, manufacturing and product usage critera). At the same time, the school set up a number of development groups to create links with industry. This resulted in several successful design collaborations with companies such as Braun, Lufthansa and the Hamburg Railroad company. Ultimately, however, continuing disagreements between the school's teaching staff, the administrative hierarchy and its government sponsors, led to its closure.

Postmodernism (After 1970)

Like Postmodernist art, postmodernist design is characterized by: a deliberate blend of differing styles, often laced with humour, egocentric superficiality, increased ornamentation and contemporary cultural or symbolic references. Postmodernist architectural designs were a revolt against the super-functionalism of post-war architecture, thus we see the appearance of such weird, non-functional but highly ornamented structures as the Pompidou Centre in Paris. See also the titanium-clad Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, designed by Frank O. Gehry (b.1929), as well as the 1990s style of Blobs or Blobitecture, exemplified by the Bus Station at Spaarne Hospital in Hoofddorp, the Netherlands. Typically, artistic designs by postmodernist artists are marked by a lack of uniformity (greater fragmentation, greater pluralism) and the novel use of popular imagery, unusual materials and colours. (For more about postmodernism, see: Contemporary Art.)

• For more about artistic designwork, see: Homepage.

© All rights reserved.