Visual communication, such as product development and graphic design, needs meaning and foundation to convey a message successfully. Creating an effective design requires a reliable way to establish a core value and compelling idea at the project's onset. This is where the conceptual design process steps in.
So, what is a conceptual design? A concept design is a fundamental groundwork underlying a technically strong design idea, refining it until its execution and fulfillment.
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Conceptual Design Definition
Conceptual design is the framework setting the intention and idea behind a visual plan. The concept design happens early on in the design process. It is the first step before defining the specific details of the technique, like the exact illustration style and particular color choices. It is the cornerstone of the output that decides if the concept is ready for production. This will ultimately shape how the final project will be realized.
Purpose of Concept Design
These are the goals of a conceptual design:
Basis of Logic
A concept design establishes the basis of logic. It grounds the “why” and “how” of an artwork. From software to logos, any design is devised to accomplish a practical objective while being aesthetically pleasing. This involves communicating information and expressing brand identity.
Design Language Creation
The concept design bridges the gap between an intangible, theoretical thought and its visual representation. As it forms the design language, conceptual design purposefully describes and communicates meaning. While the conceptual design process does not go as far into planning the smallest stylistic details, it lays the groundwork for significant design choices in the subsequent phases of design development.
Uniqueness and creativity spark during the conceptualization stage of the design process. It is when you aspire to formulate an original design or build an innovation based on inventiveness.
Conceptual Design Process
You should not skip any step in the conceptual design approach. The conceptual design process can be itemized into these four steps: Each must be fully well-thought-out.
Step #1: Defining the Problem
Defining the problem your design intends to solve or the specific goals it wants to achieve is essential. You may start your project by asking why it is necessary to pursue and complete it.
While defining the problem can be complex and tricky, it is essential to move beyond the surface and present the problem and the “why” that will drive forward your design solution. Think of it as another way of describing the concept design. When you are clear with your “why,” you will have a deeper understanding of the purpose that will propel your project to succeed.
Step #2: Conducting Research
A conceptual design should be research-backed. The research will establish the context where the design will fit.
In the research phase, you must learn and understand your design’s target audiences, their desires, needs, and the value they will get from your project. Gathering information from your client is a good starting point by finding:
- What the brand is about
- What it stands for
- The brand history
- Company mission and vision
- The brand personality to be conveyed to the industry or market
- The brand’s target audiences
- What the target audiences want to see in the design
- Similar designs to have a better grasp of the industry conventions
- The ideas that will make the brand stand out in the crowd
- Reference materials
- Masterful design inspiration
Using this checklist to find answers will help you explore the possibilities of your concept design while showing you the limitations it may have. Put together the data you will have collected on a mood board. A mood board should come in handy in the following steps in the conceptual design process. It will challenge and motivate you to push forward with the concept.
Step #3: Brainstorming
State and describe your concept verbally. When you organize your ideas and thoughts into words, you will put emphasis and structure on them.
Brainstorming can be as straightforward as stating the problem and then enumerating its potential solutions on a curated list. You can also use word-based techniques to help with brainstorming, namely:
- Free association
In both cases, you will start with a keyword or phrase to draft a creative brief. These techniques are beneficial for logo creation and product naming. Without overanalyzing things, you will keep writing any relevant words that come to mind until you have a long list. Generating this list will work better when done quickly or within a time limit. You can write complete sentences from this list of associated ideas that will articulate your concept and its goals more clearly.
Toward the end of your brainstorming process, you will have a more focused concept in the remaining stages of the design process.
Step #4: Visual Exploration
Whether you are sure of your ideas or they seem competitive, sketch them all on a digital canvas where you can compare them side by side. A viable method is to use several smaller thumbnails that will fit on the same page for more convenient comparison and analysis.
Putting your ideas on a blank page will make abstract thoughts turn into something more substantial, as in a visual statement. This can be effectively achieved by sketching.
Visual exploration is the graphic counterpart of verbal exploration or brainstorming. This means you do not have to spend too much time on the littlest details of your first sketches. In this step, the goal is to simply visualize your interpretations of the concept you previously articulated to gain more clarity. This will also test if the idea is valid, reasonable, and feasible.
Afterward, you can pick a few sketches that stand out and are more closely related to the abstract idea. You can refine them into a more extensive, detailed study—a version you can present to your stakeholders from whom you will collect feedback.
Conceptual Design Benefits
The conceptual design process is a vital phase in the product design and development process. This is when the design and development teams think through and suggest ideas based on client and customer research. It will help produce the initial concepts in the form of studies and outline specifications for technical evaluation.
Listed below are the benefits of having a concept design in place before jumping into production:
Identifying Customer Needs
The designers and developers decide if a product concept is viable enough to meet consumer demands through a concept design. If there is an existing product, they must review its performance and assess if the new concept can offer a better, more convenient solution.
A conceptual design can help the design and dev team analyze the resources and skills necessary for formulating, developing, executing, and marketing the new product. They will also evaluate its value-add to the customers and its potential price point.
Considering the project's feasibility—from development to completion—within an ideally set timeframe will position your company at an advantage. This includes assessing the marketability of the new product.
Since you will initially deal with abstract ideas, you need the conceptual design process to refine the steps to get to a clear direction for the output. Based on the project goals, you should focus on and follow the logical and practical approach to breaking down the concept into fine details.
Like all concept models, your conceptual design should reflect the future product’s goals and objectives—where you are now, where you are taking the project from the idea's inception, and who your product’s target market is.
Your concept design can tie together the strategies for creating templates, modules, components, and other underlying navigation structures of the project. It will piece together the different parts of the framework and design model. This can help:
- Identify the components of the new product
- Determine the content type included in the final output
- Get rid of ambiguous areas of the concept proposal
- Uncover the more relevant parts
- Map out relationships between the design elements
- Explain the dependencies that need to be addressed concerning the overall project goals
Conclusion: What Conceptual Design Does and How It Works
A conceptual design is the heart of a design project. This outline on which you will base the remaining design process can significantly help keep you from the cluttered work of crafting ideas.
As the initial phase of design thinking, the concept design stage can benefit your team of developers and designers immensely as it will serve as the solid bedrock of the whole design work. The conceptual design process does not have to be overwhelming. Conversely, it should ease collaborative work and organize workflows more smoothly.