I often present clients with concepts and they look at me with slightly nervous eyes because, in general, everyone knows what a concept is—but what does it mean when it comes to design, branding, and marketing? Many designers across the field fail to understand what a strong concept is, so don’t worry when you're stumped as well. I’ll do my best here to outline what exactly a concept is and why having a strong concept can propel a logo, brand or marketing campaign forward.

Globally known designs are famous for their great concepts—while others you’ve never heard of because the concepts just fell short. High-level concepts are simply exploration and idea generation. The value in concepts are twofold: 1) in the quantity and 2) making the upfront decision making.

If you look up what concept means in the dictionary, it will give you a pretty vague description—“an abstract idea”. However, for a designer, a concept is a broad umbrella of steps of how to ideate a design, involving research but analytical and visual, analysis and thorough understanding of the end user. So how does one begin to craft a concept?

I can’t tell you the way every designer thinks and starts because everyone is unique and has their approach. I can, however, tell you the way I start.

  1. Define the problem. Here are some of the many questions I ask when I get started. What are the company’s goals? What kind of user it is serving? What is the product about? This is why when we embark on this journey together I give you a laundry list of essential questions that I want you to answer (I know you might hate me for it now, but eventually you’ll thank me, heck you might even love me).

  2. Research on the user, product and study the existing brand (This step is basically analyzing the above data).

  3. Building a (or many) Mood boards. Now I’ve done a post on this before and you can check it out here. But simply put, a mood board is a graphic tool which allows a designer to experiment with design elements and help bring the vision to reality. Mood boards allow creatives to propose an intent: a look or idea. They show your audience what your intended visual direction is for a project and put everyone on the same page early on. They offer a chance at collaboration.

  4. Review. With a handful of ideas in hand, you can dig deeper, or present to a client or peer to figure out what you think is best. This is where you can decide to expand of contract.

This all might seem like a simple 1-2-3 however conception is never that simple--but it's worth the work. Making a decision and/or selecting a conceptual direction upfront means that whatever work you are moving forward with has a sense of cohesion and consistency. Overlap it with your experience, and see the wonders that initial concepting will bring you.