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Design fumbles: concept is everything

Design is about more than colours and fonts. It’s the visual representation of a brand’s promise, personality and purpose. It’s also about communicating a concept or a feeling—and getting a response from an audience. Design is complex. A lot can go wrong if you don’t first nail the concept.

Know the principles.

We started providing writing and strategy services 30 years ago. Over time, we developed Backdraft, a system of reviewing our writing objectively and for 40 common wobbles. We called these weaknesses “fumbles.” Still very much in use today, they range from the everyday (spelling mistakes) to the more obscure (faulty parallelisms). Paying attention to details like these made—still make—our words and our clients’ content stronger, more eloquent and much more persuasive.

As the market for our services shifted, so did we. We transformed into a full-service communications agency that offers design and strategy alongside our proven writing services. Along the way, we learned an important lesson: mistakes happen just as often in design as they do in writing.

Start with a concept.

Concept is everything in design. The concept guides you in the right direction. Executing design without a concept is like steering a ship without a rudder: there’s almost no chance you’ll end up where you wanted to go. Do the hard work up front—nail the concept—and your course will become clear and easily navigable.

Define the purpose.

Defining the purpose of a project is paramount to its success. Throughout the design process, you’ll answer the who, what, when, where, how and why of the project. In the purpose stage, you’re working out the ‘why.’ Why is this project important? Why did the client ask for it? And most importantly, why does their customer need it?

The answers to these questions are the sandbox that you and your team can play in or around. They also provide a reference point throughout the rest of the design—when the ‘why’ may get clouded by details and revisions.

Misinterpreting the purpose of a project is a near-fatal design fumble. Nail the purpose by asking as many questions as possible and understanding the project’s goals and objectives. Then get ready to dig in.

Do your research.

If the purpose of a project is its cornerstone, the research forms the rest of the foundation. Without research, failure is almost certain. Look into your past campaigns and your competitors’ campaigns. Read every word of the literature that shows up on your desk. Be curious. Learn as much as possible about the subject at hand. As you do, the strength of your concept will grow.

The biggest fumble in the research stage is to misinterpret findings. Remember that content is nothing without context. An eye for detail is a must.

Ideate.

The biggest fumble in the ideation stage is not exploring. Good ideas rarely sit on top of a pile. They come from weeding through countless bad ideas. So ideate. Come up with 100 ideas. Chuck them aside. Come up with 100 more. You may find yourself coming back to one idea time after time, but crossing more and more off a long list will only boost confidence in your chosen direction.

Go ahead: explore. There’s lots more to see than what’s right in front of you.

Select and refine.

Despite the well-worn adage, bad ideas do exist. In design, a bad idea doesn’t speak to your purpose—the “why” you defined at the outset. Choose your best ideas, your best concepts. The ones that speak to the purpose, and that are supported by your research. And even then, once you think you’ve found that great idea or that perfect concept, test it. Settle in with your team to look for holes—always with the “why” front of mind. Check in regularly to make sure the arrow is still pointed in the right direction.

Realize.

Once all the heavy lifting is done, you’ll have a concept (or two or three) that is ready to be realized. And while you might think that everything will fall into place from there, that the work will come together easily after this stage, you’d be wrong. Fumbles in execution can just as easily negate all your hard work. We’ll examine those in our next post.

Want more?

Click here to download our PDF that looks at the six basic principles of design and the fumbles that can accompany them.

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