A Photoshop filter, is NOT, an “idea”

by / Monday, 22 July 2013 / Published in Concept development

There are concepts, and there are design options (or versions). They aren’t the same thing. It may seem trivial to point out the differences, but there are countless situations where the 2 have been interchanged, and someone isn’t happy with the work. Knowing when to do which, is important and limits the times you’ll have to “go back to the well”.

This often happens when the brief is unclear, or when someone has a bad habit of using the wrong terms to describe what needs to be done. For example, if you receive a magazine ad project with supplied creative from another campaign (you have to use the existing work), and the client asks for “three concepts” – is that right or wrong? Let’s say, you get a project for an annual report. You have a style guide and existing images to work with, and the client asks you for “3 or 4 different layouts” – is that right or wrong? In both cases, it could be either. This is when you need to be clear, and ask some questions. “So, do you want new additional concepts, or do you just want different design versions of the existing concept?” <- there’s a big difference, and an easy mistake to make if you don’t ask.

If you have a web banner project for a milk company, and the message is “Try our milk and get a FREE coupon”, here are 3 different concepts (or ideas): Concept 1, person holding a glass of milk and saying the words. Concept 2, a closeup on a glass of milk being poured with a cute kid in the background, watching in anticipation. Or concept 3, an empty glass that WAS full of milk, and a person with a milk-mustache, obviously having just drunk the milk, and they’re happy.

Design options
The same web banner project, with the same message, here are 3 different design options: Design option 1, person holding a glass of milk and saying the words. The font is Frutiger. Design option 2, a different photo of the same person holding a glass of milk and saying the words – she’s now on the right side of the layout. The font is still Frutiger, but condensed. Or design option 3, the first photo of the same person holding a glass of milk and saying the words – but, the background is now solid blue, not the kitchen scene, and the font is Segoe.

Do you see the difference?

Both concept development and design are of equal importance, depending on the brief, and what you actually need to do. Sometimes it won’t be clear. You have to ask if it’s not. Over-delivering with huge concepts when a design option is all that’s required isn’t a good use of your time, even if you came up with some cool concepts. Chances are, they can’t be used. Under-delivering designs when concepts were required could be interpreted as you only having one idea. Simple way to avoid the problem, is to be clear what’s being asked. If you feel someone has misused the words “concept” or “design options”, it’s perfectly okay to ask for clarity. You’ll also help them understand the difference, so next time they know what you need to hear. It’s an honest mistake to make, and an easy one to fix with a question.

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