What is the Difference Between Design and Style?

photo of woman wearing sunglasses

The terms design and style can both be either verb or noun, making each something we can do as well as something we can have.  

When we ‘design’ something it results in a design and when we ‘style’ something, that results in a style.

The logical next question is, how do we know if we are designing or styling?

The brief answer to this is that styling is:

The creative arrangement of elements to create an aesthetically pleasing result

Whereas designing is:

A creative process which requires a series of specific steps to produce an outcome.

Simply put, styling is usually a simpler process than designing, as it does not involve as many elements.  The “elements” of a design or style are those things which make it up, or which it is ‘made out of’.

Let’s Talk Style

woman wearing pink top

Let’s talk about styling first, using the analogy of hair.

You have hair, but that doesn’t mean you automatically have a hairstyle. The ‘style’ part indicates that something has been done to your hair to get it to look a certain way. Getting your hair to look a certain way, be it a classic cut or an emo look, requires that it be styled. Now, there are good hairstyles and bad hairstyles, good styles and bad styles, but that’s another point!  

So we know that style is how something looks, and because we are all different, everybody appreciates different styles. 

Some styles are accepted by many and become established due to their popularity and subsequent adoption by other people. 

Thus, we can live in a world where we can observe examples of style (and all too often a serious lack of a style) in the way people dress: Fashion style. People who know how to dress can’t agree on one style either: Some will prefer a more casual or street fashion style and others more formal dress. 

But while many people prefer the safer option of emulating, or copying, popular fashion styles, still others strive to develop their own unique dress sense.

If we say somebody has no style, what we mean is that they don’t seem to have put together an arrangement that we recognize as related to something we already know, like ‘sportswear athleisure style’ or ‘preppy style’.  Instead, this poor style-less person seems to have thrown their clothes on without much thought, and there isn’t any consistency over time, either.

Where can we see other examples of style outside of fashion?

assorted color leather bag display inside room

When looking for examples of ‘style’ outside of fashion we can find it almost anywhere you look! Style comes into play when someone has given the way something looks a creative touch. Think about the aesthetic choices made by shop fronts (shop design), city signs (graphic design) and even lamp posts and fences in your town or city. They all have a ‘look’ that could be unique for their location, but in most cases they are drawing inspiration or cues from popular examples of those items that have existed over time.

When something has ‘style’, it has a unique look, something that qualifies it as original or a variation of an original theme. By examining its characteristics we can understand the story behind the appearance, or we can simply enjoy its beauty.

If something is lacking style, we might think of it as plain

Plain vanilla,

A plain piece of paper,

A plain bagel. 


Consider the letters that form the words you are reading right now and see if you can identify what style they are. 

Type style falls into two basic categories, serif and sans (or without) serif.

On this blog I generally prefer to use a font without serif, or those little decorative sticks on the ends of letters, because I’m more of a modernist.

We see many styles in typography.  These are displayed all around us, every day,  in the words we see on pages and on our mobile screens, and especially on signs on the street.  

pieces of paper with words

Once you start to understand what style is, you will start to see styles everywhere.

Styles are variations of a theme.  

They are what makes New York’s Little Singer building different from the Empire State building, even though they were built around the same time. 

Style separates the Land Rover from the Range Rover

There are styles of shows and styles of art, styles of manga and wallpaper and styles of websites.  

At the end of the day styles help us to differentiate from other like, or similar, objects.  

When you choose a new bag or a new pair of shoes, what style do you choose and why?

It all comes down to personal perference at the end of the day.

When it comes to interior design styles, there are many established styles.

Here on our blog we have a ‘mega list” of thirty.

Chances are you can name a few of styles that you’ve come across, like minimalist or urban modern.

blue sedan

Just like choosing a hairstyle or choosing a style of wallpaper for your desktop, when it comes to designing for your home you likely want to pick a ‘style’.

At the very least, you will need some style inspiration for reference if you want your home or room to look like it has a style that other people will recognize.

If you don’t care about that, good for you.

Not paying attention to styles shouldn’t prevent you from planning a space that has an aesthetic you personally enjoy.

You can move straight to the next step: design.

The style of your room is how you want it to look. 

You may have browsed Pinterest, saved your favorite rooms on Instagram, or poured over magazines for months before coming up with the style you like.

Once you know which style you are going for, you will need to make a plan to get that style to work for your particular space. 

That’s when you will need to design

Let’s Talk Design

colleagues discussing details of project on meeting

If you were only working with decoration, you might be able to style a room without a lot of steps.

However, the more that needs to be changed, the more you will need to be organized and follow some logic.

It’s time to do what “to design” means to do: To plan!

The elements and principles of design are a system of organization that interior designers use which can help us with the task of getting a room to have a particular style.

Interior designers use various design tools and systems in order to create designs for what are sometimes large and very complex projects. 

Without using design methodology, there are many mistakes a designer could make or important things which might be left out.

If you would like to learn to design, you can get started with a simple project, like a single room.

Remember: A person who does nothing with their room is like the person who is not doing anything with their hair. 

Neat or messy are not styles. 

In order to have style, there must be some arrangement and some deliberate effort put in.

Design will help you get there. 

Designers typically first work through a design process, and then after the design is complete they will arrange or ‘style’ it by adding the finishing touches.

Styling and Arrangement are Synonyms for Good Reason

working in a group

I like to think of styling in terms of flower arrangement. 

An arrangement is done by a stylist. 

The stylist might work from a reference, and almost certainly has training about how to style properly, however, consider that after years of experience the stylist can probably work from a kind of ‘creative intuition’ about what will look right

Much like your hair stylist!

In the field of interior design there are interior stylists

Open up a magazine and look at the beautiful illustrations of home ware and decor that are styled to perfection and you are no doubt looking at the work of a talented stylist. 

Interior designers often draw on the work of stylists to fuel their inspiration for projects they may be working on.

Design vs. Style Recap

two young women having fun putting hair rollers on their hair

To wrap up our discussion on the difference between design and style, remember:

While style is definitely important, for a designer it is not the most important thing to consider. 

In the interior design process the styling and decorative effects always come after the space planning and other functional aspects have been resolved.

Whether you would like to add some style to your personal space or completely redesign it, I hope you now have a better understanding of the difference between style and design!

If you are interested in interior design feel free to read more about becoming a designer or how to get started finding your personal style right here on Design Baddie.

The article below is a great place to begin!

If you have any questions, don’t be afraid to ask by commenting below, too.

Happy design learning!

We are on a mission at Design Baddie to make basic interior design information accessible and free to all! We will be giving away our future introductory interior design e-books absolutely free.


Designer, writer & educator living in East Asia since 2001

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