A design concept is the core idea driving the design of a product, explained via a collection of sketches, images, and a written statement. This helps the designers and, later, the developers stay on track throughout the creative process, ensuring they bring a product to market with value to target users.
An effective design concept makes the goal of the product explicit and serves as the foundation upon which the product is built. Developing a design concept demands a clear understanding of the type of problems to be solved, the ideal aesthetic style, the target audience, and the client’s needs (if working on an external project).
Investing time into creating a solid design concept reduces the risk of running into dead ends once work is underway, and of investing money into a project without a clear purpose.
When preparing to write a design concept, the first step is always defining the problem to be solved — which may be a solo or group task. For the latter, consider an ideation session that brings key members of the design (and other teams) together to make the problem and solution as concrete as possible.
Those with user or client experience in a marketing or support context may have valuable input, for example.
When it’s clear what and who a product is for, the agreed design concept should be drawn up, consisting of both visuals and text (with a design concept statement). This can be brief, but it must be simple: anyone should be able to understand the concept behind the design.
The visual elements of a design concept may comprise sketches (covering user flow, layout, menus, etc.) and basic renderings, which help demonstrate how users will interact with the product.
Multiple design options can be explored, as designers work to determine the most effective, user-friendly structure and aesthetics.
User and competitor research should also be prioritized, to identify exciting opportunities. What is the market lacking currently?
What minor or major changes can you implement to make your product stand out? In what ways can you solve users’ problems and make their life easier that other companies aren’t already?
You may gather valuable user data by distributing questionnaires to gauge their experiences of existing products. Try to find out where competitors have made mistakes in the past, and which are the most important functions/features to users. Client branding and user expectations should be taken into account for consistency, too.
Seeking inspiration from reference materials is the next stage. Collect examples of great design elements, visuals, or features that stand out in existing products.
These could be logos, menu designs, animations, colors — anything and everything which inspires the designers. Clients may contribute to this process, too.
Finally, design concepts should be reviewed before development begins. Research and prototyping may reveal that certain features are harder to implement than expected, or that the original concept was trying to solve too many problems.
Big and small changes may be required to reach a stage at which product development can start. That’s why sketching and renderings should be kept simple at the design concept stage.