What does design concept mean?

Changing one’s life career is difficult but not impossible, so I am
plugging along learning all the basics of metalsmithing and then
some. Had some excellent teachers, great workshops, fabulous friends
helping me along. But I feel very stuck with"design", when the
subject is brought up everyone says “just look around you and be
inspired”. No one teaches it, well maybe if I went back to art
school, (thinking about how long I have been out is scary)…

I look around, see hundreds of styles, designs, and beautiful work,
I am trying to find my way, but feel lost.

A couple of pieces I created felt something was not right, a friend
said it was design flaw. Once he pointed it out, I saw it too, had to
rethink it the piece. Then not able to fix what was done without
totally taking it apart, so created a new one.

But how was I to know that was the problem before creating it? Not
sure why instructors do not teach it, every class tells you to bring
a sketchbook.

They say;

This jewelry class emphasizes the design concepts and

  • fundamental techniques used to create metal jewelry. Please bring
    a sketchbook & pencil to the first class. *

What does “design concept” mean? Where is the design part? Do they
consider it part of the fabrication? Why tell me to bring a
sketchbook if we are not using it?

They show a technique, then say make something. I have yet to use my
sketchbook in class for sketching or have anyone looking at my
designs. Everyone says it will come, as you create it you will know.
Am I missing something?

I have hundreds of pages of drawing of jewelry I have drawn, am I
just suppose to create them then figure out what wrong and fix them?
Maybe I am confusing style with design, I know they go hand in hand,
but I am frustrated.

I am sure I am not the only new jeweler with this dilemma. Any
suggestion or help, will be greatly appreciated!


I look around, see hundreds of styles, designs, and beautiful
work, I am trying to find my way, but feel lost. 

A good teacher should talk about design, what works and why, what
doesn’t and why… While a teacher must walk a careful line so as not
to impose their own aesthetic on others, s/he should be able to
advise, lead, show examples. One of the most valuable things a
teacher can do is offer their own process as an axample, while making
it clear that there is almost never just one way to do things.

A teacher who doesn’t look at your sketches and discuss them with
you is not giving you all you need --unless, of course, you are one
of those quiet students who doesn’t mention having sketches, or
questions. Even then, ideally you should be drawn out.

There are teachers who deal with issues of design, even in community
art center classes and the like. If you can, try different teachers
til you find the one who “fits”. Ask for help with design and your
other concerns-- even a good teacher cannot read minds.

That, and just make as many pieces as you can. It’s true-- you just
have to get your hands on enough metal.


YOUR Design concept is how you feel and how you think a design. I
said “think a design”.

When you wish to develop one (design concept) one must completely
relax, get out of the box, not think of connecting the dots but
instead find a way to make the dot move fluidly in your mind, thus
feeling something develop in your mind.

Note that many designers have a theme they stick with (for a while)
then they go on to another by embellishing the one they just had or
by making something completely different. A new light bulb lit for
them. They know now how it feels to be inspired and they also know
what works, and no, they do not get it right all the time, that takes
time to develop, tweak and have passion.

Concept is how you see it or perceived it.

You and your design concept have not developed a relationship quite
yet, it will come if you stop trying to hard make it happen. Get
inspired with what ever really turns you on, be it a 5 mile run,
music, aromas, shopping, tastes, what excites you and moves you.

Close your eyes and move a pencil around and then open your eyes and
erase parts here and there, can have an amazing effect.

Try it, yes, sounds crazy, but just try it, if nothing else, you
will have a good laugh, it will take away some of the seriousness and
then go to your bench.


What does "design concept" mean? Where is the design part? Do they
consider it part of the fabrication? Why tell me to bring a
sketchbook if we are not using it? 

The question “what is the meaning of life” probably would be easier !

The first thing to understand is that term “design” is used

It could mean art concept, or technical concept, or even
philosophical concept. One way to understand design is to think of it
as set of constrains to emphasize a particular idea. If we accept the
notion of art, technique, and philosophy are 3 planes representing
width, length, and height, we can use the term “design space”.

A good design means that article you are working on constrained in
all 3 dimensions of your design space. If you get only some of them
right, but not all, it is considered a design flaw.

Example 1: I want to design a post card informing of the death of a
loved one.

Philosophy: to emphasize a feeling of loss and at the same time to
underline stability and continuity.

Art: color palette is somber, lettering heavy and square, composition
is strictly center.

Technique: paper is heavy gage and non-reflective, format is square,
lettering is incised, contrast is high.

Example 2: I want to design a wedding invitation.

Philosophy: Day of celebration. Emphasis on creation and permanency.

Art: color palette is spring with white as dominating element.
Lettering is script; composition is above center.

Technique: Heavy gage, reflective stock; embossed lettering; format
is portrait oriented with Golden Ratio proportions.

For jewellery example you can go to my website and browse “Our Way”

The reason to use sketchbook in the class, it to quickly sketch parts
of a design relating to a particular idea. You must train yourself to
seek out and mentally catalogue methods that others use to express
ideas. A sketchbook is your recording device.

Leonid Surpin

Jane - I teach my students how to use a sketchbook through very slow
and specific drawing exercises over the course of my class, repeating
myself and my lessons over and over to them. It is a long process to
understand if you are new to jewelry. It has a lot to do with
function… remember that two chair designs can be totally different
but they are both used to sit on, see ? So they both function the
same way but look entirely different. Design flaws happen most of the
time when a piece will not or cannot function properly.

Concept is simply an idea. Conceptualize it or visualize your idea
and then sketch it. If you’re not familiar with the elements (parts
and pieces) of jewelry then it will be much more challenging for
you. Design is “the way it looks and feels” and I go into this with
more depth in my class for four months.

Wish you could take my jewelry design class… it’s a great one !

Margie Mersky

Dear Jane,

Here’s my advice, for what it is worth:

My understanding is that “design concept” is simply a high-falutin’
term for the ability to create truly original new art from the right
side of the brain.

I am a beginning jeweler myself but I am approaching the field from
a much different point of view:

I am very aware of my own limitations, one of them being that I am
completely incapable of free-hand drawing. So for me design concept
is a complete non-starter.

However, I can still address the problem of making something look
pretty from drawing from the left side of the brain instead. I
consider myself at least middling decent at what in engineering is
known as aesthetics: which is the ability to make something
functional look pretty.

I also have some appreciation of the beauty of certain types of
mathematics, such as fractals, symmetry, randomness, and the golden

There’s also the realization that in practically every endeavor of
humanity one can think of, that Aristotle is right, there really is
nothing new under the sun. Existing concepts, tropes, and conceits
can always be recycled, refined, and recombined however in fairly
interesting ways.

The first thing I would suggest is that whatever your first piece is
that you are think of making, you should keep it very simple.

Then, work backwards and think of what tools and techniques it would
take to create that very first piece.

Then, you should think about either buying or creating the tools,
and then either teaching yourself or finding instruction on the
necessary techniques using those tools.

Once you have everything in place… practice. Keep on attempting to
create that very first piece until it matches in reality what you
originally imagine it to be. But drawings also help.

Right now I am having to follow my own advice, since I am very much
isolated in terms of advice or instruction except from Ganoksin. I am
discovering through

practice that there is one hell of a lot of infrastructure required
simply to make one simple earring out of silver.

Andrew Jonathan Fine


It’s not easy at first to put pencil to paper, but that’s what you
need to do. Do it when nobody else is around so you don’t feel daft

  • I did at first. Just play with shapes and lines. Draw some circles
    of different sizes, interlocking and you’ll find some pleasing
    shapes. Do the same with other shapes and lines/arcs.

It’s just about the interaction of shapes - positive and negative
spaces and visual balance. It will come with some practice. I’m
hopeless at drawing, but once I get going, the ideas seem to flow.
Nobody else can really tell you what to do - they can only give you
guidelines as to how to get started with your own design

You’ll like some things you come up with, and not others. Try to
analyse why you like what you like, and why you don’t like what you
don’t. Do the same with things you see around you. Look at the design
of just about everything. Even a headlight on a car, or the knob on a
stereo, elements in a building (or the whole shape of the building
itself), for example. Mercedes Benz made a model of car a few years
ago, where the headlight was two ovals (one bigger than the other),
interlocking in a certain way, which I found really pleasing. Their
other cars in the range had similar designs, but they were just not
as aesthetically pleasing as that particular model. I tweaked that
idea and used it in a garden design, but it would have looked equally
good used in a pendant. Look at something you like, and take a small
element of it and use it in a different way.

Just some ideas.


Hello Jane

I have asked similar queastions in the past on this forum even
asking if there were progams someplace and never really got any good
sugestions. There are classes on how to "render " with some basics on
design principles, however it is taughtin residence only and takes 9
weeks and costs over $5K…Then I have found books that pretty much
show you how and what other artists do and use to "inspire"

But the really interesting thing to me about design is that very
moment when the pencil touches the paper what is going on right
then!!.. what makes some people move the pencilthis way and others
that way exactly what is going on inside thier heads that lets them
know that the design will be betterif they move this way instead of
that way. And I must say thatI have never found an exact answer to
that question, and to tell you the truth if it were a question that
could be answered we would all make award wining designs. That is
the “art” of design, in that it can’t really be formulated down to
a"first make a line like this and then make a line like that and
never do this and always curve that way" etc etc…

In the mean time keep reading your books on composition, and design
principles and if you put enough energy into the problem you will
solve it, and you will get there.

‘Design Concepts’ would be a good name for a jewelry biz. Probably
already in use somewhere.

If you asked me to sit down with a blank paper and design a jewelry
item, I would have the hardest time. I need a seed. A point of
departure. I need parameters and constraints. I need to know what
should it do and what should it not do. I need its purpose. To me
anyway, something without purpose is in danger of being meaningless.
Who buys meaningless jewelry? Well I guess some people do but I’m not
eager to sell bling.

Its been said that the moment of inspiration is like a comet
striking you in the top of the foot. How often can that happen?
Building a design concept is just that…building. Start with whatever
you are starting with and develop appropriate additions, alterations,
counterpoints blah blah. Its also been said that a poem should be
like an apple, round, brings you back to the beginning. The same
holds true for anything creative really. Good novels, movies,
paintings can exercise the mind’s eye and provide resolution (I
could say closure but I hate the word).

I’m not so sure that starting by doodling on a sketch pad is an
effective way, maybe for some but not for me. You might wind up with
squares and lines and whacky stuff that may not translate to three
dimensions and live upon the body. You might wind up with goofy gold
doodles. Sometimes goofy gold doodles sell, but its not all that

Concept? Concept is drama. Put some drama to your designs. Then take
out all the unnecessary fru fru.

That probably didn’t help a bit.

Andrew, I can understand your POV given your approach to design and
problem solving. However, I think it is important not to give someone
starting out too many excuses for not getting started.

You don’t need to have all the tools you think you’ll need before
you get going. You can improvise, you can fake it, you can make it,
you can adapt. There are jewelers the world over working with blow
pipes and a few old hand tools making gorgeous work.

Tools are wonderful. You can never have too many, but you can get by
with a few very basic ones. Every designer works a little
differently. There isn’t a right or wrong way to get there. You and
I agree 100% on the most important advice to getting good work.
Nothing is more important.

Best to my left brained compatriot,

Altho I am not one to give advice, as I have struggled witht the
same problem, I love the ideas here… please keep them coming… the
instructor where I went to school suggested making something from
paper, cardboard, copper, anything inexpensive before moving on to
the ‘real’ thing… copper is more of a real now than then, but you
get the thought… work it out cheap first…

hope this helps Eileen in Oregon

Concept? Concept is drama. Put some drama to your designs. Then
take out all the unnecessary fru fru. That probably didn't help a

Neil: Thanks for a good laugh - everybody has their own way to
develop design concepts and it is indeed a difficult concept to
explain to others. I loved your description of a poem being round -
never heard that one before. And I imagine we’ve all made some gold
doodles at one time or another. My ideas come from what I see around
me - Now back to work


Yes Neil, that last line was the Comet! 'Put some drama to your
designs. Then take

out all the unnecessary fru fru.' 

It’s probably why I’ve been exploring other areas of design in the
last year. I’ve been making some pretty dramatic wind chimes, using
all the various skills I’ve learned (to this point), developed some
new ones (dreaded geometric and engineering issues), and then there
is the sound… I live in the land of wind here, just ask my
horse, who has decided that there are some sounds he likes and some
he could live without. At least I know my horse has superior taste.

I suddenly realised that while I love creating new stuff to sell
(okay, not new in a design concept-we’ve had that discussion-LOL), I
need to eat and pay bills, so I need to find something that is
basically potentially monotonous to make but needed by many, or
something that an entire family can enjoy the wind chimes not just
Mom or Dad with a necklace or cufflinks.

This is not in any way to diminish the importance of the fabulous
jewelry that many make and are able to sell. Honestly my buyer base
is not in that arena, and maybe or maybe not ever be, so in the
meantime, I’ve got to keep paying bills and take care of my horse
and myself.


Wow, Dinah, we are so totally on the same page! I have struggled
lately with issues that are very close to your own.

Designing items that can act as my “Bread & Butter” that fit into my
"art" aesthetics, sell well, are less expensive and will grab the
buyers eye, can be made more rapidly and therefore are more cost
effective to produce than what I call my “art” is. There is such a
fine line between what some would call “Art” and “Craft”, and I am
sure that there are VOLUMES of debates here in Orchid-land over just
this issue.

It has been a real struggle for me to identify what I can produce
that fits well within my “artist work” without cheapening myself. I
don’t know how that sounds to everyone else, and I sure don’t want to
rub anyone the wrong way here, but as an emerging artist it is a
difficult thing to find something you can mass produce that is
artistic enough to sit alongside my time intensive artwork in
metalsmithing, but that is NOT at all time intensive. I too need to
eat and pay bills.


I feel your pain. I was a digital engineer and we weren’t encouraged
to design aesthetically. When I started making jewelry the
fabrication was the easiest concept to grasp, it is the design that
is the problem.

What helps is first find a picture of a piece of jewelry that speaks
to you usually a simple one to start. Then print a small copy of it
and tape it to the upper left hand corner of your page. Next to the
right draw each component of the piece as accurately as possible
somewhat like an exploded view. Don’t try to draw it to scale yet but
try to get angles correct.

Then I start fabrication on paper. I draw the base then next to it I
draw the bezel on the base, next I start adding the frillies one at
a time, then I add the stone(s). I may end up with 10 to 12 drawings,
basically I construct the piece on paper. I also make notes about
how I would do the construction. I write down angles, soldering
order, gauge of metal and what patina I would use. If there are any
notches or fitted pieces I make details of them. Also don’t forget to
show side or rear views as necessary to understand the construction.

Now for the important part. No matter how much you like a piece
there will be some change you think would make it better. Redraw it
now with your changes. This is the start of your design conception.

Do this many, many times and fill your notebook(s). This helps you
learn construction techniques from other metalsmith and most
importantly you will slowly start looking at the world around you and
think “I know how I can make that into a unique piece of jewelry”.

You will find that eventually using the various techniques you have
learned to draw you will start creating original ideas.

Remember, don’t use someone’s design and sell it as original! Use
the jewelry sale adds as training tools.

This helps me,

Good luck,

In the original post the query was eluded to, how long is learning
this design concept thing going to take ?

Arriving at a level expertise or success with design in jewelry and
conceptualising a wearable design and knowing if it will work or not
takes a long time.

Trying not to repeat too many things you have to pay your dues, when
young people are fascinated with my skills i reply to them the only
difference between me and them is they havent seen or committed the
vast uncountable number of failures that i produced over my carreer
in jewelry.

Jewelry takes time and work my anology is the blues (music) most
people think the blues is about being cool.

the blues is NOT about being cool the blues is about staying off the

You will do anything to keep from going back there where your hands
can get so stiff so hard you cant put them in any other position
than what it take to grasp a hoe.

The blues are about avoiding being out in the field all day, you
come home so tired you cant sleep. you are never able to get the
smell of fe= rmenting human persperation out of your nostrils you
cant enjoy your plate of beans.

Sooo… do your best at your jewelry work dont complain if
somthing does not go right the second or even third time you attempt
it, persevere and you will one day be successfull at jewelry making.

Who knows someday other people will see your skills and you wont
need to self impose a title like goldsmith, others will do it for
you - warm regards


Continue from:

This post is a little late but it just occurred to me that the book
I am reading “Principles of Form and Design” by Wucius Wong might
help answer this question.

The book is extremely comprehensive and thorough. I can only read
about a chapter at a time - it is so concentrated (to me anyway.)

Sandra Gilbert
STILL waiting for snow