Conceptual Design, Perceptual Design, and Functional Design: Toward a Taxonomy of Design

By Nuzhat Haneef.

Published by The Design Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

I discuss two senses of “design”, proposing terms to distinguish them, as

(1) Conceptual design: A conceptual description or scheme; a blueprint of a
solution to be implemented, not necessarily manifested in an artifact that
substantiates the design.
(2) Perceptual design: A crafted arrangement of items meant to appeal to, or
otherwise impact the mind of, a perceiver, by dint of its form perceptible
by the senses.

This distinction helps avoid confusion and would be needed to define a
taxonomy or ontology of design. I explain these two senses with literature
references as well as examples.

Conceptual design and perceptual design are not opposites or on par with
each other. Conceptual design is applicable to any artifact, being the
underlying scheme for development/instantiation of that artifact. Perceptual
design is needed only for artifacts (and aspects/components thereof) meant
for human perception. One may need to do conceptual design of perceptual
design. However, conceptual design is done most often for developing the
functional aspect of complex systems and thus is mostly discussed in the
context of functional design.

I contrast perceptual design with functional design, these two being types
or aspects of design that could be seen as values on one of the dimensions
of a taxonomy of design. One of the implications of the difference is the
different types of intellectual property protection that are applicable.
Another is the need for different skill sets.
I suggest possible dimensions of a design taxonomy. More work is needed to
develop a taxonomy (or an ontology) of design, to describe its implications,
and show how it can be exploited.

Keywords: Conceptual Design, Perceptual Design, Functional Design, Design Taxonomy, Design Terminology, Design Ontology, Design Types, Artifact, Intellectual Property Protection, Information Design, User Interface Design

Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal, Volume 4, Issue 5, pp.209-222. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 864.819KB).

Dr. Nuzhat Haneef

Eagan, MN, USA

Nuzi Haneef is employed as a software engineer in a systems/software engineering company. (This paper was authored on a personal basis, not on behalf of her employer.) The focus of her professional work in recent years has been process engineering and process improvement, including process representation, in the context of systems/software engineering and management; she has strong expertise in these areas. Additionally, Nuzi’s areas of experience and interest include the design of digital libraries, user interface (UI) design, UI development process, information architecture, information design, documentation design, and design science/studies. Nuzi has an MS in Computer Science (1980) from the University of Kansas and a PhD in Computer Science from George Washington University (2009). Her PhD dissertation focused on UI design for interactive information products, whose primary purpose is mental impact (e.g., to inform or persuade); she argued that this has considerations beyond UI design for tools meant primarily for task facilitation. Nuzi also has a strong personal interest in consciousness research and parapsychology; she is a member of the Institute of Noetic Sciences and the Society for Scientific Exploration.


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