Sam Stratton

Concepting 101

You know that annoying red underline that tells that you spelled something wrong? Or worse, the dreaded blue line that changes your word from “concepting” to “connecting.” The English language has yet to embrace that important modern design term. Sure, we creatives should petition Webster to add the word "concepting" to the dictionary. But for now, my goal here is to give some insight into concepting as I see it, and how it can enhance your creative process.

Truth be told, concepting is my favorite part of my job. For me, the most gratifying part of the design process is that “aha” moment. The moment that makes you sit back and say, “Hell yeah, that’s it.” It can take me a lot of internal and external processing to get to that stage. Here are my steps to concepting:

  1. Learn as much as I possibly can about the client and the defined problem. (We accomplish much of this through our Brand Strategy process.)
  2. Spend a half-hour word mapping ideas associated with the problem. Let my mind flow through stream of consciousness associations.
  3. Move on. Put the problem out of my mind.
  4. Proceed with something else but allow my mind to gravitate towards the problem as it is inclined toward ideas about it.
  5. Record each idea on paper for future review.
  6. Meet with my team and discuss what we’ve each come up with.

The key for me in this process is forgetting about the problem. The best ideas don’t come from you sitting at your desk all day pounding your head against a screen trying to figure out what you should do. During my workflow, screens are for production. But my everyday life is for concepting. One of my favorite places to concept is while I’m driving. There’s no brainpower being used as I’m driving down the highway. I dictate ideas I come up with in a mobile Evernote notebook. (Don’t text and drive!) No matter how stupid they might seem, it’s always good to plot them on paper. You never know if that random idea could address the problem perfectly with just a few minor tweaks.

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I’m all about documenting the process of concepting. This will allow you to have a clearer mind when presenting ideas to team members. You won’t have to scour your brain for that idea you forgot about two days ago. Documentation also allows you to go back and see the journey you took to get to the end product. When you have that “aha” moment with a project, you want to map the journey you took to get to that place. It allows you to learn from what worked in your process and what didn’t.

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My final thought about concepting is to keep a small number of trusted individuals around you with whom you can bounce off ideas. Make sure that everyone in the group knows that there are no bad ideas when it comes to brainstorming and concepting. But keep in mind that there are bad ideas outside of brainstorming and concepting, so don’t let those ideas through.


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