Hyper-Conceptual Design

Is there a term for this? – A genre of design, currently very popular in magazines and competitions, especially in Europe, that is almost completely impractical, has little or no functional value, but purports to have some sort of cultural or instructional value or to make some sort of cultural commentary and straddles the line between design and art.

What do you all think of this?

My description above may sound pejorative but I really would like to hear others opinions – perhaps I need to look at this in a different way. As a student new to field, I am curious about what I am encountering. I must admit though that I have some resistance to much of this stuff – it seems indulgent and arrogant. Plus everyone seems to have this emperors-new-clothes attitude about the fact that many of these items don’t actually function or function well or serve the cultural purpose they claim to serve.

An example: two red plastic pillow-like inflated cushions joined by a valve. When a person sitting on one moves the person sitting on the other is moved. This illustrates the interdependence of people…

So what? This fails as a teaching tool, as useful seat and isn’t that exciting as artifact. Isn’t it a little arrogant to think that this will actually have any impact on people? What about fulfilling a need? There are millions of those interdependent people in the world that have real needs that can be fulfilled by designed objects. If you are concerned about people why not begin by trying to fulfill one of these needs instead of foisting some pretentious crap on them?


My thoughts: a lot of the imaginings of designers and scientists years ago have become reality today. Although technically impossible at the time, the ability to see past these limitations fuels the drive towards technological and cultural development. the pillow example, while potentially lacking any real ‘significance’ is a move towards redefining the way we consider consumables. This concept, in conjunction with perhaps newer more reactive materials could create an amazing interactive experience between two people. Perhaps moving us away from the temporary nature of todays products, creating a more permanant paradigm. or maybe it does none of these and is a giant piece of plastic waste.

IanVV has a valid point. It sounds like a case of majoring in minors. I am not sure that this kind of design is a case of pretentiousness as much as misplaced priorities.
I imagine that this kind of design is a response to pure functionalism. If these designs are indeed non-functional the objects fall into the realm of sculpture. The main difference between a sculptor and an industrial designer is that the sculptor can still be a sculptor if his work does not answer any need of the spectator. The industrial designer ceases to be an industrial designer if her work is introspective to the point that it ceases to be an answer to a user need.

So primary function of ID is problem solving but a secondary function of ID is individual expression or demonstration of a high concept such as interdependence. These secondary level factors make the difference between a commodity product and a desirable product. The secondary tier differences only come into play when all functional differences between the competition is negligible.

For eg: a beautiful 8 track player is not going to sell even if it made of sensuous material and has a designer name on it- not as quality audio equipment at any rate, not when the equipment you can buy today sound so much better.

So in the case of the valve connected pillows as long as the pillows work well as pillows I have no problem with a seconday function of communication of an idea.

I think its great–especially if the pieces provoke thought and discourse.

Apparently they do and they are.

My POV on this is that we need a healthy dose of impractical “couture” design to incubate trends that have no traditional or present outlet.


I think that design is about providing solutions, there are as many correct solutions as there are people… at least. So there is room for many different aproaches to reach those people. To the minority of asthetes out there that actively seek and collect this stuff, it is very important, and as CG eluded it acts as an inubater for mainstream product years later.

Really this stuff has been around for years, two that come to mind, both by Starck and made by Alessi, the tea kettle that burns the crap out of you as the steam that vents through the handle super heats it, and the juicer that corodes after first use because the designer liked the look of the material. The user is punished for using the object for it’s function instead of admiring it from afar. But I’ve seen both on countless designer and student inspiration boards.

Got to have the fringe to fead the center.

It sounds sort of like the trickle down theory of design. Sorry for the Reagonomics reference, but it just came to mind. Designers brainstorm off the wall, impossible, unlikely, goofy ideas but some kernel of that trickles down to real world design. An element form a one-time runway piece finds it way into a ready to wear design 2 years later.

I was actually having a sort of design hangover today. I went to Terrence Conran’s shop here in NYC and I also bought the book Spoon. The Conron shop is all very marketable stuff of course, but the Spoon book is supposed to be the bleeding edge of product design. Reading it for hours had me in a sort of oversaturated state.

Have you all seen stuff from the Slow Rider Manifesto by Idsland?

You have to read the text to get the whole effect: http://www.idsland.com/slowrider/ Exerpt:

“In the search for a real solution, IDSland proposes SLOW RIDER, a
communication vehicle that negates speed, as the motor is cut out and replaced by a sofa. Convivial like a stagecoach, riders can jump on directly into a salon, for discussion and debate. Free like a pioneer
wagon, riders can view the landscape in real time. Driving becomes a way of participating in one’s present surroundings, allowing for sensations of vulnerability and adventure that surpass the slick fantasies of driving a 4x4 in the city.”

It is very witty. Cool design commentary sort of thing. But of course this firm does a lot of real world work too, including work for Renault.

Called Post Modernism

this is the sort of thing we as students did in our foundation art classes at university…we called it ‘interactive art’…as opposed to art which you must not touch and can only appreciate at a respectable distance…

Fashion has the runway

Detroit has the autoshow

Poduct has overpriced botiques and products with poor sell in/sell through

“interactive art” is a pretty good term

maybe it is self indulgent, intellectualized, PoMo sort of arty stuff but I still love it. As designers we spend most of our time doing projects that do not let us fully explore solutions, mainly due to real life limitations like cost, time, clients… By doing projects that push boundaries and do not have commercial restraints we get to go all out (at least I do). Yes, finding the best place to put a mold seam can be gratifying but I want more! I need design to turn my crank!

droog where the big masters of this sort of design in the 90’s and they are why I became a designer.

Personally I love conceptual product design. It’s designer eye candy-- sometimes with a side of food for thought. Designers need conceptual work to stretch the mind – one can only look at so many cell phones, laptops, and running shoes for inspiration before you go nuts.

As a subgenre of conceptual design, ‘fake’ design is becoming a genre all of its self, case in point seen in all of the Mac Parodies that have been gaining in popularity. These concepts may be ridiculous, funny, or impossible, but Ora Itotransformed from a ‘fake’ designer into a legit one…

oh and by the way, droogs website is www.droogdesign.nl. It is sort of shite now but it was once quite beautiful.

I love the mac parady stuff, been going on for some time now. Total gurilla design, which is cool.

Agrees NBS, got to break out and stretch the brain as much as possible

"Droog is a brand and a mentality: design for products that do what they should and think about why they’re doing it in the first place: function? fun? wit? criticism? All of the above? "

“High Chair”

I used to really dislike the hyper conceptual stuff - I thought that it was thought up by designers who had no grasp on the reality of product markets or manufacturing technology - but that is not usually the case. While most manufacturers/companies are looking for designs that they can actually produce and sell, someone needs to push the envelope of design and what products are supposed to be in the eyes of the “normal” consumer.

Do we get earth-shattering innovations and breakthroughs from hyper concepts? Sometimes, but that may not be the point. I would say that the hyper concepts influence and inspire designers leading to those great innovations and breakthroughs.


While some of it is inspirational, or moves on the way we consider relationships, I think it’s fair to say we all know that a lot of it is onanistic pap.

I’m reminded of a show last year at the RCA (London). There was a guy who had produced wallpaper that dispayed the time through a network of heat-sensitive pathways (http://www.random-international.com/watch-paper ). This fit in well superficially with the ‘wow’ effect that much of the stuff on show had. And he got a lot of Nathan Barley types gathering round and telling him how cool it was - just as they did with the stuff on every other stand, from chairs covered in spikes to some indoor geodesic tent thing.

But the wallpaper was something that a) actually works, and b) could have enormous potential if applied in a non-frivolous way - and he knew it, and had very cleverly recognised the duality of purpose. He had achieved the perfect ratio: getting attention with some ‘wow’ post-modern effect, but also graduated with a commercially developable, useful, relevant product and expertise in the technology required.

So, what I’m saying is, when the ‘frivolous’ stuff is an outcome of some serious investigation (just like, say, an off-the-wall concept car displayed by an auto-maker - we know that under the surface, it’s bristling with real new advances which will be seen on production cars, even if it’s wrapped up in something nonensical) - then we should be excited and applaud the tantalising glimpse into the world of new product development.

However, when it’s just frivolous - the culmination of, perhaps, a 3 year degree course - then I start to worry.

we’ve got to remember that competitions are just a different kind of market: looking to find what satisfies thier customers - compete against each other - gain brand strength - perhaps not for the profit (sponsors) but prestige resulting from succesfull exhibits.

yeah, its called “art”