How to develop a design concept?

What is a design concept and how to develop a good design concept? are most frequently asked questions among design students. If you type the word concept design in Google, you will find about 300 thousand results. This seems many people including teachers have tried to explain it. But, somehow, the answers are still not satisfying. For me, most of the answers I found on Gooogle are too complicated and not to the point. Professors of architecture tend to use philosophical words that for me even exacerbates the issue.

So, I will try to give a simple explanation. A design concept is a focus or compass that provides directions for a particular project. In one of my first year architecture class, students shall convert an small existing office into a small flat for a couples in their 60s. and they need to work in groups of two.

I tell them that they will find and define their concept along the way, but the process of developing a good concept can break into the following steps:

  • Step 1: Identify issues with the existing that need to be solved
  • Step 2: Setting goals of the project that include wishes of the client and also your personal goals as a designer. When setting goals, do not make them too abstract. Instead, your goals should be measurable.
  • Step 3: Set the priority for these goals. I always set the client’s desire as the primary goals and my ones as secondary. Sometimes, if I am lucky, I will be allowed to set my own goals as the number one priority. And these goals shall align and reinforce my design philosophy or my identity as a designer.

When working in a group, you shall develop the goals and priorities together. Otherwise, there is no ground for argument and reasoning. Another tip is that I rarely include aspects like ” beauty” as one of the goals. Because beauty is abstract and we can not measure it. More important, because Beauty for me is a byproduct rather than the main focus of a design.

But like Norman Foster once put it. After we have solved all issues, achieving all goals, and we see the final result is not Beautiful, we know that we did something wrong.

Minh Nguyen