A Quick Guide To Ideation And Concept Development

How do entrepreneurs and innovative companies turn good ideas into impressive products and build attractive brands? The answer lies in the creative process that individuals and businesses use to solve persistent consumer problems. Product design teams engage in rigorous research, fact-finding and repetitive testing and validation of concepts to develop the most innovative and sustainable human-focused solutions.

Companies use ideation and concept development to invoke curiosity and creativity, which motivates them to develop new products, diversify business operations and venture into entirely new businesses. This article describes ideation and concept development in detail. It highlights the benefits of the process, how it works and the different ideation techniques.

What is ideation and concept development?

Ideation is a stage in the design thinking process that individuals and companies leverage to generate several ideas in response to a specific consumer problem. It is a creative process that allows product development teams to generate, develop and communicate viable solutions, and establish a path for the success of a product or service.

Through ideation, innovators generate several alternatives and subject them to a series of technical assessments, eliminating costly or hard-to implement concepts before settling on the best idea that promises to create a disruptive product and support the business goals. 

Ideation and concept development is a non-linear process and involves repetitive decision-making. What appears as the worst possible idea may become the most viable solution. Ideation is critical because:

  • It helps innovators to ask the right set of questions. Answering these questions inspires innovation. It enables product development teams to address the recurrent challenges of the target audiences and develop human-centered products.
  • It offers the team members an opportunity to think outside the box and challenge assumptions.
  • Ideation and concept development stages bring together team members with divergent thinking and help them combine perspectives and strengths to speed up the launch of new and advanced products.
  • In ideation, team members can utilize the creative problem-solving process to discover new opportunities for innovating and expanding established businesses.
  • It is an effective way to ask questions and answer them accordingly to improve user experiences.
Every product idea or concept matters

Mandatory questions that innovators must during ideation and concept development

Ideation is a transition phase that allows an innovator to move from problem identification to a practical problem-solving stage. Any team yearning for product success must ask questions to design solutions. Don Norman opines that asking stupid questions is appropriate for design thinking. These are diverse questions and enable developers to empathize with the end-user to achieve desired outcomes faster.

The most popular questions that innovators must ask and answer include:

  • Which problem or set of user needs are we aiming to solve?
  • How many opportunities do these problems present?
  • How much time does the team spend to generate and evaluate ideas?
  • Which criteria does the team need to analyze ideas?
  • What are the project implementation timelines? 

Running a successful ideation and concept development process

Developing new products is challenging. Innovators draw inspiration from competitors and data collected from the end-users. Certain situations demand that companies or individuals design solutions with little data or product information. An effective ideation and concept development program enables companies to package product ideas in a simple form and eliminate implementation complexities that can derail the development team’s progress.

Running a successful ideation phase paves the way for the company to streamline its product roadmapping process. During this stage, product development teams define the features of new products and highlight how they address consumer-specific challenges.

Innovators require access to several work tools that help them organize ideation tasks and simplify concept development processes. These tools are also crucial for establishing a proof of concept and communicating methods in which a proposed product solves an identified consumer need.

Ideation Techniques

Companies looking to develop new products use ideation sessions to bring together multi-skilled stakeholders, who collectively participate in idea generation and evaluation. Ideation and concept development takes time to perfect and materialize. Ideation and concept development techniques vary from one company to the other. Companies choose an ideation technique that is economical and in agreement with the desired market strategy.

Below are popular ideation techniques that companies can utilize to develop and introduce new products to different market segments.

Brainstorming

It is a simple yet effective way to generate ideas among group members. The product development team meets at a common location or a virtual medium. The team leader presents the problem to participants, who begin airing out their personal views or ideas. The team members can support the verbal suggestions or counteract them with diverse product ideas. Brainstorming enables companies to generate ideas that blend multiple product suggestions to create the most innovative solution.

Use brainstorming sessions to generate and communicate product ideas

Brainwriting

This ideation technique is similar to brainstorming, only that participants put down their ideas on paper and share them amongst themselves. An individual suggests an initial idea and communicates it in writing before passing it to the next person who evaluates the concept idea and adds their suggestions or criticism. The other members in the ideation session review the product ideas and list down their alternative suggestions and product preferences. They combine all the suggested ideas and present them before the participants of the ideation session for discussion and evaluation.

Analogies

Not all ideation and concept development techniques require the raw generation of ideas. In some instances, the product development team needs to infer or compare proposed solutions to an existing product design or business model. The comparisons are essential for explaining and clarifying the technical features of the proposed solution. The participants familiarize themselves with the current problem and develop cognitive abilities to view the user problem from a new perspective and generate a befitting idea.

Reverse thinking

It is a radical way for innovators to solve predominant consumer challenges. During the ideation sessions, team leads present a problem statement to the participants. Instead of rushing to generate ideas addressing the particular problem, they begin ideating for reverse challenges. They analyze the user problem by looking into the potential solutions from the opposite direction. For instance, if the company is developing a battery for a hybrid vehicle, the problem statement will be “how to increase the battery range for an ultimate urban mobility experience.” When using the reverse thinking technique, the team may decide to convert the problem statement into something like “lowering the battery range for e-mobility vehicles.” They then generate ideas against the latter before coming up with a concept that addresses the original problem statement.

Storyboarding

It is an ideation technique for visually communicating product ideas and concepts. The designer or product development teams create user personas to describe recurring consumer challenges. Storyboards contain a step-by-step solution approach. When using this technique, the innovator tries to fit into the shoe of the end-user and develop diverse storylines on their challenges. As they generate new product ideas, they visualize how the innovative products will revolutionize how customers interact or use their products. Innovators can also create storyboards from empathy maps, value proposition charts, and user flows. 

The desired outcomes of an ideation and concept development stage

Once a company reaches the ideation and concept stage, it is closer to a market launch. Everyone in the team is eager to see how the creative process translates to tangible products. It includes the target customers and stakeholders who fund the project. Ultimately, each of these categories requires clear communication on the working principles of the proposed product solution and its unique features that set it apart from competitors.

The company or innovator concrete a short report detailing the technical features of the selected product concept or a snippet of the anticipated deliverables. It has to communicate the proposed solution in simple terms and create a solid foundation for future product development activities.

Where possible, create a simple presentation that breaks down the workability of the proposed concept. The concept presentation could feature customer journey maps to ensure that all stakeholders read from the same page and understand how the subsequent stages unfold.

Tips for establishing a reliable ideation and concept program

The consumer market is dynamic, and the associated challenges require futuristic solutions. Each company involved in product development understands that a delay in ideation and concept development negatively impacts the product roadmap. With this information, some companies believe that ideation sessions must be brief. They rush the phase, leaving no room for exploring viable product alternatives. It reduces the prospects of the product succeeding in new and established consumer markets. Whether you are a UI designer, fashion designer, manufacturing company or software developer, there is a need to develop an ideation and concept program that satisfies core business objectives and enhances the quality of processes. Here are some vital tips that will guarantee short-term and long-term product success.

Leverage creativity to generate innovative product solutions

Focus on idea and concept quality over quantity

The general assumption is that the more ideas the development team generates, the better the quality of the final solution. An innovator should indeed have more than one possible alternative. You will need to make several comparisons before choosing an implementable solution.

One mistake that innovators make is they spend more time trying to generate multiple alternatives, with a good number having close similarities. The idea and concept stage is repetitive. It does not mean that the innovator needs to replicate an initial idea with the inclusion of a few changes. Instead, innovators should focus on improving the quality of an original design and minimizing the time spent to create and optimize it.

If the innovator focuses on quantity, they end up with several potential solutions and may have difficulty filtering the proposed solutions and evaluating them against the company’s implementation criteria.

Understand the limits of your creativity

Designing a product is one thing, mass producing it is another. In the idea and concept development stage, innovators use creativity as an effective tool to solve consumer problems. Some companies engage employees from different departments and levels to ensure that the final product meets the technical and retail specifications. For others, they reserve ideation for designers alone. The designer could be overly ambitious, devising practical ideas that may be challenging to execute from an engineering or manufacturing point of view.

During the idea and concept stage, try to tone down the extravagant creativity and place a limit on your imagination to ensure the proposed solution is functional and technically appropriate. It is better to solve a problem using a seemingly boring design than spending several hundreds of dollars on an aesthetically appealing product with little or no value to the end-user.

Optimize available human resources and time

Involving a team of multi-skilled individuals is critical in ensuring the final product concept meets the expectations of a bigger target market. A mix of professionals reduces the need for repetitive designs and guarantees the company gets things done right in the first instance.

Initially, we mentioned that the real world advances by the minute. Getting the right team in place is a step closer to success. When beginning the process, the company needs to set realistic timelines and markers for individuals to track progress. Eliminate non-productive work and speed up the evaluation of potential product ideas. Establish measures for reviewing and validating new product ideas. The review process should go beyond evaluating your physical design of the product and emphasize the reliability of technical features, prospects of future development and sustainability of concepts.

Final words

The idea and concept stage is a precursor to prototyping and testing before launching products to the market. It is a process that requires in-depth research and evaluation of proposed ideas and product concepts. There are several techniques that individuals and companies can utilize to generate and validate ideas. It is a non-linear process and requires the product development team to repeat the analysis of the viability and sustainability of proposed solutions.

Companies can select a specific ideation technique or a combination of techniques to enhance the quality of ideas and minimize the turnaround time for diverse hardware and software products. Have fun brainstorming for disruptive ideas that will change the world.