How to Develop Concepts in 6 Easy Steps

how to develop concepts

Like all phases of product design, concept development follows a proven process for success. This process includes creating a design history file, reviewing the product specification, and brainstorming concepts. Extra steps taken in this phase saves you time and money in subsequent phases. Here is how to develop concepts in six steps.

1. Review the product development specification

The first step is to review the product development specification created in the product definition or first phase. The PDS provides a framework for brainstorming viable concepts. If no product development specification exists, the team can create one. If you are unfamiliar with the product development specification and its significance in the design process, check out our guide on writing a PDS.

2. Create a design history file

If not already started in phase one, we create a Design History File. This document details the entire history of developing your product. If you are designing your product for a regulated industry, such as a medical device, the DHF becomes a requirement. In the early design phases, it records the ideas generated, evaluation matrixes, and risk mitigation techniques to ensure a robust design. Eventually, it will house everything from design inputs and outputs to verification and validation.

3. Begin generating concepts

Actual concept generation is a fluid process, utilizing several methods throughout the project. Here are the three most common techniques we use:

Brainstorming

Brainstorming is a process where multiple people are brought together in a free and open meeting to generate ideas. Typically, the project leader sets the meeting, describes the goal of the concept generation, and defines the context. For example, a brainstorming meeting could generate a few ideas in deeper detail versus creating a higher number of very different ideas. Generally, the idea is to create a large volume of ideas at this stage, as some ideas do not make the cut during the assessment stage.

There are two keys to good brainstorming. The first is to think about the problem broadly. As an example, the goal of a drug delivery device is to inject a drug through the skin. In the brainstorming meeting, we intentionally left the object broader and stated our goal was “to move liquid from a reservoir through a membrane” (the skin). How else can that be done? Asking questions like this leads to many more ideas than just a hypodermic needle.

The second key to good brainstorming is that it brings together experience from many perspectives. At Synectic, we have experience in almost all engineering areas including molding, industrial design, architecture, automotive, materials, mechanical, electronics, aerospace, mining, high-speed automation, power generation, and toy design. Generally, the outcome of these sessions is very rough sketches that act as graphic meeting notes. If you are new to brainstorming and would like some tips, read our post on the 4 brainstorming techniques that generate successful ideas.

Research

Research is another method for generating concepts. How have others solved this or similar challenges? The typical places to investigate are patents, competitors, and the world around us. For example, if we need to develop a rotary drive coupling sealed to liquids in a handheld medical device, you could research magnetic couplings used in oil well drilling technology. You may discover a coupling design that solves the same problem, albeit on a much larger scale. The insight of a magnetic coupling, even at such a large scale, leads us to a solution not previously considered.

Benchmarking

Benchmarking is a process where we look more directly at competitors and ask ourselves what part of their solution can we apply to our project? Was the concept executed successfully? How have others solved the same problem? It may mean obtaining that device or idea and taking it apart to discover “what makes it tick”.

4. Review the design concepts

Following all this assessment, we look back at the objective and consider if we are meeting the goals set out at the beginning. Perhaps more or different concepts are needed? Did too many ideas get knocked out? Do intellectual property issues look too daunting? Sometimes we feel the concepts are too derivative from each other, and we need a different approach. We also consider, at this point, if this is the best interpretation of the client’s needs. They may want to see more depth in the concepts versus just more ideas or super unique ideas. Naturally following this is an assessment of the newly generated concepts.

5. Rank the designs using a concept matrix

At this point, you should have generated and evaluated viable concepts. The last step is sorting the ideas using a force ranking concept matrix to give a clear picture of how they fulfill the criteria outlined at the beginning of the phase. A good method is, as a team, to agree on the ranking criteria and the importance or weight of each ranking category. These might be categories like design complexity, manufacturing cost, safety, etc. Whatever you decide, they should align with what you outlined in your PDS. Then the concepts are compared against each other and the ranking criteria, creating a matrix that generates a numerical result. The result is a direct and unbiased comparison. Much of this ranking depends on an experienced team discussing why a concept should score better or worse in a category.

6. Choose a winning concept

Generally, the last step is to present and downselect the concepts. The presentation includes sketches, analysis, breadboards, models, preliminary testing, and other examples or similar technologies. The follow-on steps involve making a team decision on which concept or hybrid of concepts to move forward with for further development.

If done correctly at the end of the concept development phase, you will have two to three properly generated, vetted, and down-selected concepts. Then you can pick which one to move forward into prototype development in phase three.

Brainstorm Better Concepts!

Our interactive brainstorming guide will teach you how to effectively generate concepts that fit your product development needs.

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About Synectic Product Development: Synectic Product Development is an ISO 13485 certified, full-scale product development company. Vertically integrated within the Mack Group, our capabilities allow us to take your design from concept to production. With over 40 years of experience in design, development, and manufacturing, we strive for ingenuity, cost-effectiveness, and aesthetics in our designs.  Learn more about our concept development services and see how we can help your next project.