It's been said that design is a way of solving problems. (Art is a different matter.)
So, how to solve this "problem?" To break it down: Take the creative process, strip out all the poetry and magic, leave it to the accountants and engineers to design a methodology, what you'd end up with might look like this:
This chart taken from the excellent Art Is Everywhere blog.
With the above in mind, then, art and design would appear to be a simple act of mental processing. Add a bit of inspiration, emotion, some personal history, jigger it with various approaches as shown above and layer (or not), repeat as necessary. Eventually, if you're lucky, something like the below might happen.
Behold, a chair: A designer may create a chair to provoke one to sit. The artist, on the other hand, may just want to provoke.
The iconic "Series 7" chair by Arne Jacobsen (1955) as reworked by Australian artist Lisa Jones. The motifs represent various human organ systems. As for a place to sit, you may want to look elsewhere.
Below, a lamp of porcupine quills: Traditionally, animal products were used to imbue an object with the animal's power.
Unfortunately for the porcupine, quills have been gaining popularity in Afrocentric design. (South African porcupine quills pictured above.) As porcupines only shed their quills occasionally it wouldn't be possible to obtain the necessary quantities with non-lethal means. In other words, quill harvesting is not unlike the fur trade.
They are beautiful, though.
Rather than work with materials already imbued with power, Okinawan born artist Yuken Teruya does the opposite. Working with ephemera and discards, mostly paper products, he empowers the lowbrow.
Killing the context: Forests from toilet paper rolls.
Below, a side table made from the shell of a boiler.
The take-out box styled maple veneer stool is by Akiko Yokoyama.
The easy chair gone hard: Armchair in marble by Scott Burton.
Phillipe Ramette and from his Le Suicide des Objets series: Stress on a chair of the kind most designers usually don't consider.
Israeli designer Shmuel Linski created this coffee maker as a student project. Made from concrete with stainless steel parts the coffeemaker is fully functional.
Illustrator Mike Perry's commissions include a number of consumer products featuring his drawings. These Eames Shell chairs feature one-of-a-kind hand-drawn graphics by Perry. Available from Herman Miller.
Another take on the everpresent Eames chair; this unique Pincushion chair was created by Paula Scher for a charitable auction.
This Wassily chair was redesigned by Alessandro Mendini in 1978.