Communicating Concepts

When I see concepts that are received well, the concept itself can usually only take a portion of the credit. Just as important is how the concept is communicated. Some of this is common knowledge: make it look good, choose the right level of fidelity, show it in context. Others are maybe not so obvious…

  1. Show what’s new, then stop. As opposed to stories which can take their time to create worlds full of intricate characters and details, effective concept narratives should only last as long as they can sustain interest, inspire, and present the new. When I’m done showing what’s new, I’m done with the presentation.

    The temptation here is to show everything the team worked on, because the work was hard and full of careful detail. But like a beautiful movie set, the rest is there to support the concept, not become part of the story.

    The Charmr concept is a good example, focusing on day-to-day diabetes management only.

  2. State the time frame. Setting expectations of the purpose and feasibility of a concept is often accomplished easily by stating the time frame for a concept; we perceive a concept for next year’s product very differently than a concept for 10 years in the future.

    I find it useful to think in terms of the three concept types described in the book Product Concept Design: A Review of the Conceptual Design of Products in Industry:

    • Product Development Concepts support the definition of the product specification, which is needed to set detailed goals of the design of the subsystems of the product and for the following phases of the design process. An example is the concept for the second generation One Laptop Per Child XO-2.
    • Emerging Concepts are created in association with technical research or the modification of products for radically different markets. They unravel the opportunities of a new technology or market and growing user needs, and facilitate the company’s learning and decision-making process. An example is IconNicholson’s Social Retailing.
    • Vision Concepts support the company’s strategic decision-making by outlining the future beyond the range of product development and research activities. There is no expectation that this kind of vision concept will be implemented, and therefore the technical and commercial requirements are less restrictive than in other kinds of concepts. An example is frog design’s Aura.
  3. Distribute a holistic presentation. Whether it’s a model, a document, or Web 2.0-style syndication, the elements of our concept should stay together in one media piece so that anyone who experiences it will understand it.

    While not a concept, the way Apple presents the iPhone exemplifies careful, holistic packaging. Starting with Steve Job’s keynote presentation and extending to the video guided tour the tone is exciting, educational, and includes all the relevant information in one media clip (I would embed them here, but notice that Apple doesn’t let me do that).

    Unfortunately forums like the Techcrunch blog can be brutal on concepts when the presentation doesn’t do justice to the concept. I think different presentation can change that.

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