Design Theory 3: What is the BIG idea?

Tired of randomly creating styles and forms? Stuck at the same looking sketch over and over again? Tired of flipping through magazines or clicking on the internet? Tired of creating designs that just do not seem to inspire others or go any where?
Chances are your concept is missing the BIG idea. That’s right; this differentiates the men from the boys, the next cool product from the next dud, and most importantly a timeless classic from a dated styling exercise.
Some of the best and most successful designs out there; may it be a product, a graphic or even a webpage, would have been developed by having a “big idea” behind it.

Do you see the famous arrow?

Is that not a nice pebble?

So what exactly is a big idea? It’s an idea or concept at a “helicopter” view. A very high level and big picture thinking design strategy. It could be an overriding concept, a theme, or even a source of inspiration. However the tricky part is ensuring that the big idea is relevant to the design problem at hand. To be safe, do ensure that the “big ideas” are grounded and related with ether your brand, target market, design language or global trend. Otherwise it will be a shallow association and you will create very literal products such as “this cup was inspired by a palm tree”.

Example of a literal design


How would it be fair if I can talk about other people without taking a poke at myself? Here are 3 TVs that I program managed, worked on and collaborated with 4-5 other designers. To our defense, we had no choice as our client wanted the products this literal. At the end of the day we decided our stomachs are more important and spend most of the time making it the nicest literal products you could find!

So the next time you are stuck in a design, or sketching aimlessly, just ask yourself, “what is the big idea of this design?”

  • Design Translator

    July 18, 2006 at 11:55 am Reply

    Hi Wannapreneur,
    Great comment. Thats the thing you can never create cutting edge designs when you design by committee.
    The sad reality is the larger the organisation is the harder it becomes to have an innovative idea lead the way. This is because everything becomes a justification of its existance.
    Thats why i strongly belief the best new innovative products will come from the small ane medium enterprises of the world, where the work can be lead by a visonary leader.

  • wannapreneur

    July 18, 2006 at 10:45 am Reply

    Very interesting designs … In the crowded products market these days, firms should embrace design as a competitive edge to keep them in the fight longer… Having said that, many firms (in my opinion) still do not work their creative departments properly, leading to many “design by committee” gaffes.

  • Design Translator

    July 17, 2006 at 11:28 pm Reply

    Hi all,
    Thanks for the interesting and insightful comments!

  • nil sine labore

    July 17, 2006 at 10:59 pm Reply

    literal can be nice. A big idea works if it does not try too hard. balance balance balance….

  • hunn

    July 17, 2006 at 10:44 pm Reply

    i truly believe big ideas start from small observations. And then refined by zooming in and out.

  • Squarehero

    July 17, 2006 at 8:52 pm Reply

    Cool site. For those interested in design, this other site may be useful for spurring your creative brain.

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