What is concept ?

This question comes up surprisingly often.

Concept design is thought work and presentation of its conclusions and results. In the context of concept design, there is a lot of talk about tools and software to use. And there are dissenting supporter groups about utility of different tools for certain application areas. At their best, and for the right purpose, various tools can speed up the work, and are especially useful when finally putting the concept into presentation form. Whatever tool is used, it does not obviate the fundamental signifigance of thought work and conclusions in concept design.

In concept design, one must refrain from making plans that go too far. The mind must be kept open to options, and not until the whole begins to take shape and alternative paths have been explored, it is worth to form opinions on what could be sought in the final, concept-driven implementation. And as with all design, in concept design one must be prepared to give up the options that seem most beloved; but should also be prepared to fight for them.

So what does the ”concept” itself mean? There is, of course, no one truth; nor does one explanation invalidate any other view. I base this explanation on how I have actually experienced the matter in my own reality.

A concept is an abstraction, a description of principles of a whole in order to achieve a certain goal. A concept can be an operating model that creates a guiding framework for a particular implementation and it can also include a plan of procedure and actions. A concept can be thought of as the basis or dna of any set of measures.

A concept does not replace strategy. Conversely, the strategy should be clear before a concept. The purpose of a concept is to be the basis on which practical actions implement the strategy in real life. The term “implementation foot work”, recently in wide use, was originally intended to refer specifically to a plan of actions, that is, to a concept, rather than to certain specified actions – for which it has often been used.

“At the beginning it is yet unknown what the outcome will be.”

A concept can not be specified by any scale or be compared with a joint benchmark. Default in unique design work is that at the beginning it is yet unknown what the outcome of the work will be. Or if it is so, it’s not a question of concept but an implementation or a production plan.

The meaning content of the word “concept” does not include any conclusion about the scope of the matter, nor does it include any information whether it is a issue of shipbuilding, marketing or tv-series. In marketing, a concept is intertwined – and can already define or be based – on conclusions of the business strategy and brand and marketing and content strategy, target groups, product design, products, services, advertising, etc.

Why is a concept needed? There is no preset intention or reason to use weeks for concept design if it is a small matter. Sometimes a few hours of basic work is enough. Sometimes the work needs to be more thorough. The share of concept design in the time – and cost – of the whole is small, but its impact on the whole is large. I have experienced many times over that: if you take a shortcut at the outset and the practical work begins to guide the project, and when the basic conclusions are drawn during implementation: there will be quality issues and a disintegrating budget. Finished work has to be changed afterwards many times over, and no one was prepared for the resulting cost overruns. There will be controversy over money and search for the culprit for a poor and far-fetched outcome.

Concept work is not always prerequisite or even necessary. Things can be planned and implemented also without a concept. Especially when all the relevant components are known, or when it comes to replicating a plan that is already familiar, it is natural to proceed with implementation without a forced conceptual design.

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Timo Keinänen Explorer, concept designer, strategist and art director.
”I belive that you should be yourself, as all other roles are already taken. If you have the opportunity to express an opinion, express your own.”

Thoughts, posts and opinions represent myself only.