#62: What is a concept (do you really need one?)

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Building a concept can be difficult. Many creatives (including myself at first) don’t quite get the purpose of a concept. Today I’d like to write briefly about what a concept is, why you might need one, and why you should even care to create your designs around a concept.

So what is a concept? The word itself sounds kind of intimidating. The idea of something being “high-concept” makes it seem like this magical or unreachable thing up in the clouds. When really one of the words I use the most in describing the concept is, foundation. That’s a much easier word to relate to.

It is a foundation

So what does a foundation do? It is the base, the strength of a structure. If is the thing we found on to ensure our house doesn’t collapse. Well a concept can do the same thing. It keeps you grounded throughout the design process. The concept is the idea that you start from and that you build with.

It is a blueprint

A concept also serves as a map, or a blueprint. I’m currently having a new home built and it occurs to me that building s design can be like building a house in many ways.
A blueprint is a point of reference throughout the building process. While you’re putting up the framing (layout) and the walls, electricity and plumbing, the builder is constantly looking back at the plans to see if everything is checking out. The choices that builder makes are all reliant on whether they match up to the plans. This is another great analogy for a concept.

It is a reference

A concept can be a reference point (along with your creative brief) to check your choices. If your concept is “Mod New York” and you choose a full color palette, your whole design will feel off. If your concept is “Handmade Hipster” and you choose very clean, sleek typefaces, referencing that choice against your concept or blueprint, will likely guide you toward more hand drawn lettering. You get the point.
Now, all that being said, do I think a concept is necessary 100% of the time? No, I don’t, because there will be times where we want to do personal projects or experiment. However, I will say that even in these instances, when I fail to have some sort of reference point for my ideas, I end up taking at least three times as long and getting much more frustrated in the design process.
I understand that the path to finding a concept is not an easy one, but it can be really fulfilling when you get there, and time (and sanity) saving along the way.
Finding a concept involves research, and brainstorming which aren’t always easy and they definitely aren’t quick. However, once you work them into your own creative process, you’ll find that your designs will be more focused, and therefore, more effective.
A concept is one thing (though not the only thing) that will keep you from being just another hack designer who just does whatever they think looks great. We aren’t paid to make things just for us, but to make things that reflect our personality and skill while solving a problem for someone else. Design is a wonderful world. I hope you’ll join me here, because design matters.
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