10 Tips for Guaranteed Concept Development Success

Sketch by Michael Bretherton
The concept development phase can be one of the best or most frustrating times a designer can experience during the design process. Furthermore managing the concept development work from both from an Art directors or designer’s view point can also be no easy task.
Managing creativity is almost like an art form, I always like to believe! Anyways here are 10 easy tips I have used over and over again in my work that has helped me guarantee a great concept development session.
1) Never Throw Away Your Work
Keep everything, your thumbnails, sketches, and even sketch models. The real reason is that design is essentially intangible, and often the answers to your burning design problems are not easily found. By keeping your work, you create frames of reference or reference points that allow you to see where you have come from, your previous mistakes, and how much more you will need to do.
2) Don’t Get Stuck on The First Sketch Idea
Many designers tend to think that the first idea they came up with is the best and can’t or won’t move on from there. But let me tell you that the genius sketch is a myth and probably one of the best urban legends in design there is. Most of the best design solutions I have encountered were not developed from either the first idea or from only one idea, they were through a development process.
3) Know the Value of that First Sketch
However that being said, that first sketch is important, but important as part of the bigger design process. The first sketch can be seen as the first intuitive distillation of all the requirements of the design brief. It’s your first go at that idea or concept and should be treated as that, a first go. It’s the first consolidation of raw data in your mind and the out come is always very rough and unrefined. The next step is to develop and clean the idea up.
4) Know When to Take a Break
Not many people realise but creativity and inspiration comes in waves. It’s about 20 minutes or so intervals within an hour. It is within this time that you are the most productive, and your ideas are really fresh and good. The moment you pass that 20 minute mark, the quality of work starts to go down hill. If you find you are starting to draw the same concepts over and over again or you ended up with an old idea but redone. It’s time to stop and do something else, as this change of environment will keep you productive.
5) Do Pin Ups
You be surprise how many designers sit huddled at a table with their work littered around them. One thing to do during your break is to hang up all your concept sketches on the wall or lay them out on the floor. By taking it off the table and on to the wall, you get to take 2 steps away from your concept. The advantage is you kill your “tunnel vision” as you now can see your work in a different perspective, as well as to see what else other people are doing, and get inspired from it. Also it would be a good time to organise the design work into themes or ideas and throwing out the similar ones. You would not want to spend your time on an idea to find out someone else had already done it AND its much better than yours!
6) Be self-critical
After you take 2 steps back, you need to be very self-critical and take down work that you don’t like. No use kidding yourself, if its crap its crap. Work the concept until you are satisfied. Besides its a much better experience cutting your own work than someone else telling you too or doing it for you.
7) Ask for Feedback and Try Not to Work Alone
When you get your work on the wall, and after you self sort the good from the bad. The next thing to do is get feedback. May it be your cat (just kidding), your neighbour, sibling or another designer, get a fresh pair of eyes on your work and strive to get good and honest feedback. However do note and ask yourself if the feedback has any biases to it. I also do understand this might be difficult in a freelancing or solo designer situation. But you be surprised that you can get good feedback from non-designers. Another way to do it is to make a network of good and trustworthy designer friends you can tap on.
8) Pick a Good Idea and Refine It
Many times you will have so many options and possible design solutions that it becomes just a boat load of confusion. The best thing to do is pick a good idea and develop it. Some times arriving at a good design solution becomes difficult when you just skim the surface of an idea, and don’t look at it on a deeper level. This is in particular with design projects that have a lot of mechanical constraints. The trick is to develop it, and if its wrong, then try again with something else. Hesitating because you can’t decide or worrying if it could be the wrong concept only wastes time because you are just stuck with ideas that are too superficial to really make a good decision on. Someone said “make many mistakes but make them early”, that is early in the concept design phase.
9) Know When to Stop
Designers tend to be so good at generating concepts that they just keep on going. They keep on generating ideas and keeping the design engine going, which means you then run out of time and fail to meet the dateline. Knowing when to stop can be aided by keeping an eye on the clock and more importantly by getting your work on the wall to see if you have actually hit the design solution or have already fulfilled the design brief. Also on a separate note its a good idea to know when to say that’s enough, throw in the towel and go home. But you have to be sure that you have put in the work because the only person you are fooling is yourself.
10) That Last Sketch Idea is the Most Important
Often when it comes down to it, you might just somehow randomly create a sketch and find out that it is IT! That’s right; when you get the right design answer (provided you asked the right questions) you will know it. Many times during a design project, due to time limitations, you go with an idea that the best idea at that time. But after rendering it all up you come up with another better solution. Worst you could come up with more than one! It does happen, and many times in the evening before the 9 am presentation the next day. The reason is you have finally manage to wrap your mind around the solution and basically distilled out all the erroneous and less important information and manage to get a solution that really satisfies the crux of the design problem you are tackling.
The thing to do now is you owe it to yourself to dig deep and get it done right, as again if you do not; the only person it hurts is yourself. Do it good, do it right, and make sure it becomes a portfolio piece you can be proud off. It’s this 110% effort that makes the difference between the good designers and the truly GREAT ones.
Image from stock.xchng

  • vrushali

    August 7, 2010 at 11:52 am Reply

    I work in design firm just joined new design studio and its kinda my first project. i had a gap and could not think about hows should I organize my design process…after reading your this article I am feeling much better and just heading for the work now…Thanks,… and please posting such inspirational pieces some times… 🙂

Post a Comment