The term conceptual design is often used by art and design critics, however, the exact meaning and understanding of this term is often not addressed. Though most of us may have a vague idea of what critics are alluding to, it is worth extending this understanding by taking a closer look at conceptual design.
Before conceptual design can be discussed it is necessary to take a brief look at conceptual art, as conceptual art set a precedent for conceptual design. Conceptual art concentrates on the idea or concept instead of the classical understanding of art. It uses the idea itself as the medium which renders the skills of traditional artists, such as painting and sculpture, unnecessary.
The Origins of Conceptual Design
Conceptual art can be said to find its origins in the work of Dada artist Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp's 'Readymades' – a found object that is simply chosen by the artist to be a work of art - challenged and unsettled the very definition of a work of art. The first and most famous Redymade was Fountain (1917). This work of art is simply a porcelain urinal, rotated ninety degrees, put on a stand and signed and dated 'R. Mutt' (an alias).
All art has a concept in one way or another and thus essentially all art is conceptual. To emphasis this conceptual nature of art many conceptual artist try as much as possible to gradually reduce the material presence of a work of art a process that may be referred to as the “dematerialization” of art. Many conceptual artists create art that speaks about art itself – its traditions and its culture. In this way conceptual art can be said to be self referential.
Many of the characteristics of conceptual art hold true for conceptual design. However, conceptual design only fully came to fruition in the 1960s. The famous Volkswagen 'Lemon' advertisement in 1960 could be said to have been the start of conceptual design. In their advertisement Volkswagen showed a Beetle looking glamorous and attractive. It is only once one reads the copy that they realize that the car pictured was rejected because of a scratch on the chrome. Thus, in the ad Volkswagen draw attention to the idea that they reject cars that don't meet their high standards rather than to the image itself.
A design may be considered conceptual when the idea or message it intends to convey is of greater importance then the aesthetic and actual design itself. To illustrated this idea some examples of conceptual design will now be discussed.
Tree Trunk Bench by Jurgen Bey
Tree Trunk Bench is exactly as it sounds it is a tree trunk that has three chair backs attached to it making it into a bench. Jurgen Bey believes that it is not necessary to think or create something 'new' rather he maintains that the world around us offers up possibilities that can be translated into things people will use. He is driven to seek out the hidden qualities of things in the world around us. Through his work he endeavors to provoke discussion around the role of design and the designer.
Chest of Drawers 'You Can't Lay Down Your Memory' by Tejo Remy
Chest of Drawers is a collection of found drawers that are loosely bundled in a group and held together with a furniture moving strap. The work itself has elicited varied responses and a variety of interpretations. Remy says one reading of the work may be that it acts as a metaphor for the working of human memory. “Socrates and the other ancient Greek and Roman philosophers had a technique . . .In their minds, they constructed a house, and in each of its rooms they put away special memories so they always knew where to find them. The drawers of the chest are like the rooms. You have a certain drawer for certain things, so you always recollect where they are.” (1) By creating a tangible metaphor for memory Remy has placed the idea over the material means of production. It is true that he has used real draws to communicate his message, however, it is the message that is of import here not the draws themselves.
Do Hit Chair by Marijn van der Poll
The chair is a large stainless-steel cube. It is sent to the consumer with a heavy mallet, which the consumer is meant to use to complete and personalize the chair. Van Der Poll stated that "the ideological aim of the cube [chair] was for it to be mass produced and shaped by hand". (2) The 'shaping' of the chair is also physically demanding and this is intentional and adds to the experience of 'molding' the chair. Van der Poll can be said to be making a statement about the process of design itself; as the question may be asked: who is the real designer here van der Poll himself or the consumer who 'designs' the chair with the mallet?
Conceptual design may thus be understood as a design piece that prioritizes the idea over the means or materials it uses to convey its message. Once more, often conceptual designers set out to critique the practice of design itself and this element of critical review forms an essential part of conceptual design.
2- Co Design, http://www.fastcodesign.com