Concept development

A concept is a core idea (or set of ideas) that signify basic values, motivations and practices inherent in a project. A project lacking strong concept development tends to be shallow and without regard for cultural and community contexts, which will become apparent during discussion and critique. There are two typical concept development approaches. The directed concept approach refers to when a concept is established and defined at the beginning stages of project development, and the emerging concept approach is were the concept is allowed to emerge and evolve during the production of a project.

Situating (Directed concept approach):

  • "Top-down" approach
  • Process of deduction
  • Theory » Hypothesis » Observation » Confirmation

Concepts are directed through a mapping process either before or in the beginning stages of a project. An interpretation of outcomes of an inquiry will depend in part on the frame of reference of existing knowledge. What is known helps identify what is not. Situating is a method that opens up lines of inquiry commonly used to review literature and information sources in the public domain. Situating is a curatorial process for looking at existing things in new ways.

Revealing (Emerging concept approach):

  • "Bottom-up" approach
  • Process of induction
  • Observations » Pattern » Hypothesis » Theory

Concepts emerge over the course of the project through an ongoing discovery process. A core purpose of inquiry is to discover new knowledge or the possibility of thinking about things in new, innovative ways. To reveal something relies on others experiencing a change of awareness or understanding. Revealing, therefore is not only a method of discovery, but requires multiple ways of communicating to target groups and others.

How to develop a good concept

Creative thinking methods are helpful for identifying a concept. However, more often than not, everyday observations are enough to spark an idea. It is helpful to keep around a small notebook or store a running list of ideas on a mobile device.

Key features of a good concept:

  1. Feasible to accomplish in the given timeframe
  2. Invention and/or unexpected combinations to produce novelty
  3. Links to relevant cultural, historical, social contexts
  4. Explores moral and ethical issues or quandaries
  5. Aesthetic and theoretical explorations

In DMD 100, students are guided through the entire production of three projects through a careful orchestration of design thinking exercises and a set of rules or criteria that bounded the scope. The rules set in place made it so that the student could concentrate on the content of the project, rather than finding an appropriate scale and bounds for the project. In a capstone project, students are responsible for establishing these rules for themselves, an often difficult task that takes practice to master.

Suggested Brainstorming Methods

These are some 100% subjective strategies that you can try if you're struggling to come up with a good project idea:

  • Make a list of things you're uniquely good at, and a second list of things you'd like to incorporate in the project. This can help narrow your sights.
  • Make a mind map of words or ideas associated with a central concept. Discover unexpected relationships and personal sensibilities.
  • Take a walk. Take a nap. Try to set aside your work and creative concerns and let your mind wander.
  • Write a list of questions. Be uncertain, and maybe one of these will establish a creative destination as you seek for answers.
  • Make a list of your favorite artists, designers, writers, or other inspirational makers. Think of their individual styles and sensibilities as ingredients that you want to put into your work. What if you combined Person A's work with Person B. What would that be like?
  • Make an affinity diagram, a format for design workshops and team brain-storming.

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